RED HOOK, Brooklyn
Strong social bonds are one of the main conditions for a community to be successfully resilient in times of shock, trauma, and disaster, but there were few efforts after Hurricane Sandy towards building community. Seeing this gap, the DESIGN/RELIEF initiative as a whole aimed to cultivate social resilience in the community by building public spaces in which information and communication could be shared among community members. Red Hook was one of three sites that were chosen, along with Rockaway and South Street Seaport.
All three projects were funded through grants. AIGA NY received a $200K from Artplace, a consortium of foundations, national and regional, interested in advancing the practice of creative placemaking. An additional 65K grant from New York State supported the work done through the Artplace grant. For over a year, AIGA NY worked with designers in all three sites towards community-building projects.
The neighborhood of Red Hook was one of the areas most damaged during the storm; prior to the storm, the area was already suffering from serious socio-economic issues that were compounded in the aftermath of the historic hurricane. There were many initiatives focused on rebuilding the infrastructure of the Red Hook area, making it more physically resilient to future storms, but few addressed the community in the way that DESIGN/RELIEF did.
Working with the community, design teams designed and implemented a public information system, called The Hub, that could also be described as a digitally enabled bulletin board. Residents and community groups could display information in phyiscal space on two large-scale bulletin boards, a dynamic digital ticker, and multiple "hublets" in the neighborhood. In addition, the same messages could be found on the hub's website (redhookhub.org), a weekly email newsletter, and Twitter.
Red Hook is the poorest of the three neighborhoods chosen for Design/Relief interventions. 85% of Red Hook residents live in public housing, and 15% of the community is located in more affluent waterfront areas. This socio-economic gap between the residents contributes to the lack of community-wide communication. DESIGN/RELIEF sought to first address and then bridge that communication gap by partnering with three organizations that had never collaborated before: Red Hook Initiative, Red Hook Coalition's Communication Working Group, and the social services agency Good Shepherd Services. All three partners had worked in community engagement, but in different ways. Combining them was the key to creating an all-inclusive project that addressed issues of communication and engagement in the community.
In talking with the Red Hook Coalition in particular, the need for centralized dissemination of information rose the the surface, and The Hub was born. A central and universally accessible space for facilitating collaboration and coordination between community members, the project would take the form of both a digital and a physical public communications system that helps to connect, inform, and engage the diverse constituencies of Red Hook.
[03l] The Red Hook HUB's information was mediated by a coalition of designated partners (including the Red Hook Initiative, Good Shepherd Services and the Brooklyn Library/Red Hook branch), providing different kinds of information in digital and/or analog formats and was designed to address community information needs of Red Hook residents during crisis and non-crisis times. Now managed under Red Hook Initiative’s Digital Stewards, redhookhub.org has its own dedicated content coordinator in the person of Dabriah Alston, a longtime Red Hook resident and nonprofit specialist who will ensure a comprehensive and sustained community outreach.
Three physical locations were selected for the HUB: at the library, at the Miccio center, and in the center of Coffey Park. Ultimately, the Red Hook team installed bulletin boards at the library and Miccio center, and a ticker at Realty Collective on Van Brunt Street. Once the boards and the website were up and running, ownership and stewardship were transferred over to Red Hook Digital Stewards.
Time and Money
Despite concerted efforts to stay small in accordance with the Project for Public Spaces manifesto (lighter, quicker, cheaper), the team considered seeking additional funding and joining forces with other information-centered projects. Even after staying small, there were challenges. AIGA NY had decided to split the budget evenly to support the various roles, anticipating some would be involved for only the beginning of the project, and some extending to the June 1st deadline. However, two teams out of three asked for extensions in order to complete their work, and most of the team members, to their credit, stayed involved throughout the entirety of the project, regardless of their role and level of remuneration. In the end, all gave 150% of their time to this project, and provided a considerable amount of work pro bono.
The Hub is still doing very well in Red Hook as a platform that strengthens the social bonds, beyond divides of age, socioeconomics, and other differentiating factors. The Hub experiences a large flow of traffic for a site of its nature and that traffic increases by double on average when the area is experiencing a storm of unusual strength. People turn to this platform in times of uncertainty as well as times of success, so it is fulfilling the basic goals of the team—Alicia Cheng (MGMT., designer), Anke Stohlmann (Lil’ Robin, designer), James Andrews (community engagement strategist), and David Al-Ibrahim (storyteller)—who brought it to life.
Design/Relief: Red Hook Blog Post #1, October 29, 2013
Design/Relief: Red Hook Operations flow, April 24, 2014
Design/Relief: Red Hook Core77 story, December 5, 2014
Design/Relief: Red Hook Debrief notes, June 12, 2014
Design/Relief: Red Hook Budget, June 17, 2014
Design/Relief: Red Hook Final Report, February 2015
Designers: Alicia Cheng, Anke Stohlmann
Community strategist: James Andrews
Storyteller: David Al-Ibrahim
Red Hook Hub partners
Good Shepherd Services at the Miccio Center, the Digital Stewards at the Red Hook Initiative, Brooklyn
Public Library in Red Hook, and the Red Hook Coalition’s Communications Working Group
Supporters and advisors
Dabriah Alston, Jonathan Baldwin, Devin Balkind, Josh Breitbart, Amy Cohen, Glen Cummings, Eli
Crumrine, Jill Eisenhardt, Reginald Flowers, Fritz Francis, Craig Hammerman, Stephen Hrivnak, InDepth
Marketing, Kammetal, Carlos Menchaca, Charlie Meyers, MGMT. design, Annie Minguez (GSS), Manuel
Miranda, Jesse Montero, Gita Nandan, NY Rising, Vietnhi Phuvan, Tony Schloss, Robert Smith, Mike
Spiegel, Sandra Sutton, Rafael Vasquez, Miguel Vias, Dan Wiley, Marcus Willock, Laetitia Wolff, Willy Wong,
Greg Yang Design, and Jennifer Zanger