What inspires me?

Photo by Hello I’m Nik

It is time for me to pick a thesis project topic that I will be working for the next and final year of my SVA MFA Interaction Design program. I’ve always been a person that likes to complain if I see something wrong or unjust I have to say something about it. When I was little, my parents used to tell me I should be a lawyer because I was always defending someone or an idea. I would see problems or unfair situations and be really mad about them, even if they weren’t close to my life. At times I would be arguing with a friend who hurt the feelings of another friend or other times I would be discussing with a stranger because he threw trash in the street. I didn’t become a lawyer, but instead a designer. As people say designers are “problem-solvers,” I’m not sure if I’m doing that yet, but at least I’m trying. Several topics have sparked my interest over the years, some are too complex and possibly impossible for just one human to solve. Right now these are the two topics I’m interested in:

1. How might we put an end on Catcalling/Sexual Harassment in public spaces?

In Brazil, since I was a teenager and started looking more like a woman, I was constantly being harassed in the streets when walking by myself or with a group of girlfriends. I used to hate the behavior of men at parties and music festivals because somehow it was a norm to be touched on unwanted places, and if you tried to complain with the guy who did it, he would laugh at you and sometimes frighten you. During these parties, my friends and I had some rules, we were together at all times, and if someone got lost we had an assigned spot in the party to meet up, this was before smartphones. We did have cell phones, but it was so expensive to make a phone call that we would only use it in case of emergency. We were lucky that nothing terrible happened to any of us, nobody got drugs in their drinks, got raped or worse. But we heard stories, and we saw in the news that happened to many other girls our age. Now that I looked back I’m so surprised our parents allowed us to go out. I’m sure they were concerned, but they also wanted us to have a normal life.

But what’s normal? Why do we, women, just got used to men harassing us in the streets and public places like it is a normal thing?

I used to think that moving to another country like the United State, where the feminist movement was born things would be a lot different. But it is not. Us women regardless of age have suffered some harassment, walking in the streets, in the public transportation, in schools and the workplace. Even though it is still a challenge for many women, if something happens at your school or work you may have an option complain to someone about it, but at the public spaces what do you do? No laws are protecting us against catcalling.

Babi Souza, founder of “Vamos Juntas.” She published the book Vamos Juntas? — O Guia da Sororidade Para Todas (Let’s go together— The Sorority’s Guide To All Women), of discussions, ideas and testimonies she collected during her awareness campaign. Photo by Yago Barbosa, Divulgação

When I applied for SVA, I wrote in my submission essay about a project that inspired me to pursue a career on Interaction Design, a movement in Brazil, called Vamos Juntas (Let’s go together). It started as a Facebook social media campaign created by Babi Souza, a feminist and journalist, to combat sexual harassment and assaults against women when walking alone in the streets of Brazil. This project encourages women to connect with each other, so they can go to places together and feel empowered and not afraid of the assaults in the streets.

Over the summer, I read this article about France’s ban on catcalling, and that made me wonder why is it not banned in other countries? I wanted to know if other women felt the same way I do in NYC and I discovered this inspiring project:

Catcalls of NYC Instagram page

Catcalls of NYC by Sophie Sandberg. In her Instagram page, she asks her followers to send in messages about their experiences being sexually harassed on the streets, detailing the exact location it took place and what was said. She then goes to the spot in question, writes the catcall on the street in chalk, takes a picture and posts it on Instagram.

Projects like Catcalls of NYC and Vamos Juntas really inspire me to continue to investigate more about this problem.

2. How might we help NYC local small businesses to thrive and continue in business?

Bleecker Street. Photo by Madeleine Crenshaw

I have a love relationship with NYC. I visited it for the first time in 1997, and I knew one day I would come back. In 2008, I moved here for college, and today it is a place I call home. After living here for the past ten years, I’ve noticed that some of mine favorite restaurants and shops that I thought they were successful shockingly closed.

It happens all the time, I’ve been living in the West Village for three years now, and it has already changed so much since then. Bleecker Street is not the same as ten years ago, and like many other areas in NYC that have experienced gentrification. Several small businesses have closed due high rental inflation, and chain businesses replaced them. According to the Small Business Congress, at least 1,200 small businesses close every month in New York City1.

One of the nice things nice about NYC are these small businesses that carry the personality and uniqueness of the city. When I walk around my neighborhood, I enjoyed going to my local bodega, butcher, and my favorite coffee shop. It makes me feel at home. It crushes my heart when one of these places closes.

While some cities like San Francisco are limiting the number of chain businesses, NYC still does not have a policy like that. The Small Business Jobs Survival Act offers a minimum length of a ten-year lease for businesses and establishes the guidelines for the process of commercial lease renewals, but it is not commercial rent control. Also, there is the NYC Love Your Local initiative by the NYC Small Business Services, a public service where New Yorkers can share the local businesses they love and helps small businesses to apply for grants and receive expert advice to continue on business.

Over the summer, I worked as the Service Design Apprentice at the Service Design Studio at the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, and this experience inspired me to pursue this topic. It is a way for myself to continue empowering New Yorkers and helping maintain the city that I love. But I’m worried this is a very complex topic to tackle since the leading cause of small businesses closing in big cities is gentrification, and it may be an impossible problem to solve.

If you are reading this, please let me know what topic you like the most and if you know anything about any of these topics that you would like to share. I’m currently looking for NYC small business owners and women that have suffered catcalling to interview. If you know someone, please let me know. Thank you.

1 https://www.citylab.com/life/2017/07/how-cities-can-save-small-shops/534684/