100% Place, A Gentrification Transition Design Case Study

Transition Design Case Study: School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

6% Place, Part 1: Critique of Existing Project

Transition Design Case Study: School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Team Members: Ashlesha Dhotey, Scott Dombkowski, Eunjung Paik, Tammy Tarng

Region of the World: Pittsburgh, PA

Project Profile

The 6% Place project aimed to fill neighborhood vacancies with creative workers who would be good neighbors, invest in the community, and help the neighborhood to grow sustainably. In order to do this, it planned to find out what would motivate creative workers to move to Garfield through research phases. The project focused on the Garfield and Friendship community as contrasting parts of Pittsburgh.

Project Sector
Transport, Food Systems, Policy/Leadership, Shared Amenities, Economics/Development, Ecological Restoration, Housing

Area of Initial Design Focus
Social Innovation Design

Levels of Spatial Scale
Household, Neighborhood, City, Region, Country

Temporal Scale
No fixed timeline, Up to 2030 if you consider the future plan

Transition Design Potential
Meant to protect, restore, reconceptualize, amplify, and connect

Project Overview

6% Place was a project started by cityLab, a Pittsburgh nonprofit “that performs experiments with the city as our laboratory.” Inspired by Pittsburgh’s aging population, the need for young adults “for a city to be competitive in today’s economy,” and studies that have shown “that a worker population consisting of just 6% creative workers can tip the balance towards a neighborhood that is thriving,” 6% Place set out to “drive a demographic shift by focusing on increasing the creative working population” and to see that “demographic shift … drive economic development.” Rather than focusing on all of Pittsburgh, the project specifically focused on The Penn Avenue Arts District in the East End. The Arts District provided a neighborhood where such a shift could take place and “a neighborhood with existing assets to build on.” 6% Place was designed “to draw from the scattered assets that have been built up over time, from existing networks within the community, and from the hopeful urban pioneers who recently moved there.” CityLab’s research informed an “implementation strategy” which included a toolbox, with “a mix of physical and social incentives that, when implemented, will address many of the neighborhood’s issues; it will provide a path to a community that is more economically stable and demographically diverse, and increase its population base.” This would ultimately create a district that is densely populated, thriving, economically strong that “provides fertile ground for expanded opportunities in the arts, retail, and commercial development.”

Vision & Lifestyle

The 6% Place project had a mid-term vision of sustainable futures. They looked at Garfield as a place for a young population to migrate towards and drive the economic change. They proposed to achieve this through a series of experiments or solutions. These solutions were derived from research and observations of similar successful experiments done globally. The vision was implicitly framed within the context of everyday lifestyles. All the concepts that were generated through the brainstorming sessions were based on everyday needs. They were also the creation of locals from the areas under consideration.

Some examples of solutions were:

  • Tee Contest
  • BBQ Cook-off
  • Community Internet Radio
  • Expand the arts
  • Dream property database
  • Bikes on broad
  • Exercise park
  • Tiny housing
  • Food incubator
Grid of Solutions (Incentives)

From these examples, it’s clear that the project was framed to have a mid- term vision as well as within the context of everyday life. It also considered sustainable futures in some aspects.

The designers were informed by near-term visions. However, the project lacked a long-term vision and holistic approach. Thus the designers have not used backcasting methods to envision the future thus informing the current scope or direction of the project.

The designers briefly mentioned implementation of the project, though they left the execution of the project to the locals. They saw these solutions as various steps that will bring about the economical change. There is also evidence of cosmopolitan localism in the solution. The designers were open to new ideas and concepts implemented globally, but ultimately ended up using the resources of Garfield and neighboring areas. Ultimately leading the entire project to be built on locally available assets.

Theories of Change

6% Place gathered information of various types of data and maps of the creative workforce in and around the neighborhood. Through this gathering of information, 6% Place involved multi-stakeholders to the project so that they all could work collaboratively. They had a brainstorming session with a diverse range of people with the goal of hearing what both current and potential Garfield residents had to say. They also invited experts to convey real stories about what is going on in the city of Pittsburgh. 6% Place approached problems based on migration patterns so that they could truly understand status quo. They then created a Chain Migration Strategy in order to help residents with a desirable, possible and probable solution.

6% Place Creative Workers Tracking Tool

6% Place organized and facilitated several workshops. This started with residents, who are engaged in the most basic everyday happenings in community rather than having a session with specialists with insights. They then expanded targeted participants to experts with some common themes and findings/insights that were emerging from resident participants from prior sessions. The theory of change they leveraged is based on understanding residents and community first and getting inspiration from them. Their role between sessions was synthesizing the findings and creating a solid visualized map, which was meant to be utilized for the next session.

Mindset & Posture

Throughout the project they had the right mindset and posture. Their solution has a unique approach where “migration” is used in a positive light as a way to solve the problem. They considered and analyzed various other neighborhoods and why and how those neighborhoods were doing better than Garfield. This project was embedded within the dominant socioeconomic paradigms as they aimed to drive a demographic shift which in turn can drive economic development.

Though they considered other neighborhoods to learn and get into the right mindset and posture while designing they did not keep a holistic mindset. All their solutions and approaches were concentrated towards solving the problems in Garfield but there is no thought given to how this project will impact the rest of the community and other parts of Pittsburgh.

Various images here illustrated their “collaborative posture.” This was seen dominantly throughout the designing process as the people of the community are taken into consideration. Together, with the locals the ideas have emerged. This is the strongest part of the project.

New Ways of Designing

What’s specific about this project was its focus on designing for place. The team behind the project approached the issue with the idea that, in order to implement or move forward with the goal of 6% of creative workers specifically in the Garfield community, they must first hear from those currently in the community. In that sense, the project set out to first determine the lay of the land by gathering as much information as possible, including existing demographic data; maps of the neighborhood’s assets and liabilities, real estate holdings, foreclosures, gas shutoffs, liens and more, and maps of the creative workforce in and around the neighborhood. Additionally, in the attempt to design for place, they spoke with experts and Pittsburgh transplants about how people choose new places to live.

What the team did best, ultimately, was develop a process for human interaction and designed for relationship among the facilitators and community. They talked to a residents with the goal of hearing what both current and potential Garfield residents had to say. They talked to them one-on-one and in pairs and asked them to attend larger brainstorming sessions; at these sessions, many ideas were generated that helped to inform later on how to make the 6% Place attractive to potential residents and a better place for current residents, and these ideas were documented on hundreds and hundreds of sticky notes to maintain a visual element. However, what the project did not do as accurately was bring in a representative sample of the diversity of the neighborhoods into the conversation. What looked like a relatively homogenous pool limited the results, and the 16 ideas, from easiest to hardest, seemed to reflect that and ignore the interconnections and interdependencies involved with brainstorming these potential events and systems.

Connection to Wicked Problems

6% Place had set a goal, reaching an economic tipping point. That’s what the 6% Place experiment was all about: to populate a neighborhood with creative workers, strategically and systematically, to reach that 6% goal. What they attempted to do was link creative workers to economic activity. So all their research, findings, and solutions are for creating the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development. This could be an attractive solution which might bring a lot of people and fill up vacant areas, but there could be potential wicked problems once it reaches 6%, the critical point. This potential wicked problems might include community size and gentrification in that area. So, it should be developed along with other communities so that the entire city is under development equally. Also, it should be considered that the gender, race, and age of new incomers is balanced to prevent the targeted area or community to be overtaken by certain groups.

Green highlighted areas signify areas of impact by 6% Place

Needs & Satisfiers

Each group had a distinctive viewpoint. From neighborhood residents, there were some strong reminders that Garfield’s identity was critical to them. Manfred Max-Neefs Needs such as “creation,” “identity,” “leisure,” “participation,” “protection,” “freedom,” “subsistence,” and “affection” were talked about in the project. This can be seen very clearly during the brainstorming sessions and the interviews with locals. Some of the comments of the locals such as, “I want an authentic place. I want an affordable life. I want a great business district. I want things to do, places to eat, and places to shop. I want good public transportation and a bikeable neighborhood. I want a clean and safe neighborhood. I want creativity and culture. I want cultural diversity. I want a voice. I want room for more than work. I want room to succeed. I want entrepreneurial opportunities. I want access to jobs. I want Garfield to be better. I want to feel part of something” clearly highlighted the needs of the locals being expressed and discussed and taken into consideration. This also showed how these needs lead to ideation and concept generation in this project.

After analyzing everyone’s comments, six main themes emerged. These became the six key priorities that remained focused on. They were the most important issues for both Garfield residents and for the target creative worker group. By framing the 6% Toolbox around these priorities, the projects served both the dual audiences of current and potential future Garfield residents. These priorities were based on the needs and that can be clearly seen here:

Understanding the Scope of the Project

We placed the 6% Place project in the stand-alone individual box. While the project strived to “address many of ‘the’ neighborhood’s issues; … provide a path to a community that is more economically stable and demographically diverse, and increase its population base” while serving “as a blueprint for creating thriving communities across the country,” it seemed to address perceived issues by one specific population and provided a path to a vision of Garfield most beneficial to that same population. The scale of engagement did not reach the system (innovation) or cultural (transformation) levels due to a lack of follow through. While cityLab was able to partly implement two of the sixteen incentives (Garfield Night Market and Tiny Houses), they put the responsibility on the community to manage the rest of the project without setting a course of action on just how to do that. This made it extremely hard for the project to change “the attitudes and behaviors of a community.” The range of expertise did not reach the interdisciplinary (team) or cross-sector (group) levels due to a lack of socioeconomic diversity (Garfield residents from all walks of life) within the 6% Place team.

100% Place, Part 2: Transition Design Proposal

Transition Design Case Study: School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Team Members: Ashlesha Dhotey, Scott Dombkowski, Eunjung Paik, Tammy Tarng

Region of the World: Pittsburgh, PA

Hypothetical Project Profile

We are proposing a shift towards a more long-term and sustainable model for working with gentrification. This includes bringing in non-creatives to the conversation, and working with other institutions around the neighborhood for a robust foundation of resources. With focus on surfacing the underrepresented, we aim to apply the research methods used in 6% Place and making it more sustainable and unified by inviting unexpected stakeholders (such as residents who moved away but are still tied to the community), rising college students, and others who have more amorphous relationships with the influx of different populations.

Project Sector
Transport, Food Systems, Policy/Leadership, Shared Amenities, Economics/Development, Ecological Restoration, Housing

Area of Design Focus
Social Innovation Design

Levels of Spatial Scale
Household, Neighborhood, City, Region, Country

Temporal Scale
No fixed timeline — up to 2030 if you consider the future plan

Proposal Overview

Our proposal aims to utilize the positives of the 6% Place project, but allow it to be more open and scalable while aiming towards a long-term, holistic vision. The designers of the project lament the need for more population within the communities and then jump to the desire to fill that with creative people. The gap we see is in the assumption that a low population means a need to target an influx of creative workers. Creative workers, defined as artists and painters, produce artifacts that oftentimes are mainly supported by people who have the money and resources to do so.

The revisions we propose include taking time to go into the Garfield neighborhood and observe and understand daily life as it is now. By doing so, the designers can understand the demographic more completely and reflect that in the opinions voiced. There is also less of a focus on creative workers, but instead on seeing Garfield in its entirety, including non-creative residents such as firefighters, engineers, farmers, and educators. Our approach focuses on integrated satisfiers, to consider not just the global view that is already in the project, but the holistic and situational. We also suggest reaching out to underutilized resources such as non-residents with a tie to the neighborhood, Pittsburgh institutions such as University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), universities, and libraries. Partnering with local institutions will not only build a stronger sense of unity, but also drive towards a more sustainable attitude.

Vision & Lifestyle

The 6% Place project envisions a Garfield where creative workers “catalyze Garfield’s existing assets and networks to reach a similar tipping point towards vitality.” We believe that this vision is inherently flawed and why the vision for our proposed project looks within and to those who have existing connections to Garfield. Currently, the skills and passions of Garfield residents are not being effectively used to benefit the community. We foresee a future where those skills and passions are utilized to create a Garfield that is thriving and has a energy and quality unique to the community. While the resources to achieve that may not be in the community today, we believe that those resources could come from individuals and organizations who are not active members of the community, but have a connection and investment to Garfield. We believe that our vision of Garfield is at least 20 years out and that our project might find a lack of resources who have a connection and a desire to create a more thriving Garfield. If this is true, we propose to look for individuals and organizations without a direct connection and investment to Garfield, but to the larger Pittsburgh area.

Theories of Change

The designers of 6% Place leveraged several theories of change and some of them are pretty solid and reasonable. They also utilized the second “Theory of Change” by Eguren, a set of assumptions and abstract projections, and their assumption is that “the population need is so great in Pittsburgh, we selected a neighborhood for our experiment where success is possible.” The questions is, are these assumption and projections closely related to each other? The reasons for why they targeted a certain neighborhood are not clear. It should not just be because the population need is great in Pittsburgh. They then begin focusing on developing artistic characteristics of the selected neighborhood by bringing various creative workers.

In this case, the theories of change we might employ to seed is “setting several assumptions that might be related to each other or might not be as well. Don’t jump into a targeted solution area (in this case, creative workers), but experiment assumptions that were set previously. Then narrow down to one assumption based on research and create sub-assumptions which then should be developed or changed continuously.” We are ultimately suggesting making one step being tied to the next step so that there is minimum gap between each of our steps.

Place-based, Integrated Satisfiers

The entire project is based on utilizing existing local assets. This approach has a place based foothold. The solutions are not entirely unique but are inspired from globally implemented similar successful experiments. This definitely proves that the designers had a global awareness and place based mindset. These solutions are a product of needs such as sense of belonging, protection, care etc..expressed by the locals. Thus the needs were highlighted in the project as well as addressed in the solutions. Some of the solutions such as Community Internet Radio or BBQ Cook-off satisfy more than one need. It aims to showcase Garfield as a friendly, caring, connected and secure neighborhood allowing for more than one need be satisfied.

These approaches seem to be a good start for a short or mid-term vision. However, these solutions lack a long-term vision and fail to satisfy needs of the neighboring communities that could be impacted. The solutions have a flexible and local approach, and thus can be scaled or implemented in other parts of the Pittsburgh community and beyond with refinement dependent on the cultural social norms and mindsets. It seems hard to directly implement such solutions across different parts of the world without considering the local assets and economic social paradigms. Thus the exchange of information could only benefit to some extent.

Leveraging Under-Utilized Resources

One underutilized resource in the 6% Project was time. What the project could have prioritized was taking a step back from diving into the direct research and interaction to first confirm that the sampling makeup of the population was accurate. An overlooked step that could have been considered or fully utilized would be to spend a week within the community: to see the lay of the land in terms of what the children on the playground looked like, the ethnic makeup of barbershops and bakeries, of who was at farmers markets early in the morning and who was washing cars on Saturday afternoons. The smaller moments that go un-recalled in an organized research setting could be picked up with a fly on the wall design method.

With a goal of getting 6% of the population to be “creative,” an underutilized resource would be the more technical and “uncreative.” While it may seem counterintuitive to augment those voices, we think it serves as a crucial part to the conversation. How do mechanics, cashiers, farmers, pharmacists, etc. play into the ecosystem? How many of them are creative? What is the bridge like, and can things like “off hours” be implemented to bleed the separation a bit?

Emergent Products, Services, and Outcomes

We believe that the 6% Project was on the right track in terms of their research and the generation of the toolbox. What we propose that the 6% Project did not, would be to better involve the research gathered from the existing Garfield population and to place more importance on that group during brainstorming. By doing this, ideas, support, and concerns that may not be brought up by a group of non-residents are more likely to. This also could inspire ideas or activities for a toolbox that would both benefit and be a better fit for the community.

One concern we had with the incentives in the 6% Place toolbox was that they would make it easier for gentrification to occur. By better involving the existing community the incentives would hopefully allow for a more diverse and inclusive discussion on how Garfield should evolve. Our proposal also includes the creation of a committee of individuals with intimate knowledge of Garfield (current residents or past residents).

Creating such a committee would hopefully give members an opportunity to show their passion and love for the community they live in. It would also provide needed resources to enable a feeling that members can make a difference and become a leader and proponent for their community. Such proposals will allow for Garfield residents to satisfy their needs for affection, understanding, participation, creation, and identity.

Restoring & Strengthening Relationships

A relationship that can be strengthened and leveraged would be partnerships and support from institutions. Universities, libraries, and UPMC, for example, could have been significant in giving a voice to rising creatives of the 6% and in providing settings and inputs on the 16 possible events. This would have been especially effective, since the concept of keeping Garfield authentic is messily interlinked with the influx of professionals to higher education, and for them to be in conversation with each other is crucial to finding strategies that addresses all aspects of the goal.

With the goal of harmonizing the local ecosystem, the six common themes that emerged in the 6% Place project could implement more effective ideas — ones that strengthen community relationships. Instead of a BBQ cook off (one of the 16 ideas), for example, local restaurants could provide ingredients and strengthen community unity by seeing the neighborhood as a more cohesive unit. Additionally, objectives of the resulting ideas could be more creatively minded and specific with the goal of restoring natural systems. Instead of “expanding the arts,” the objective of the solution could be to use existing art practices to build more sustainable communities, whether that is restoring water barrels or planting beautiful local farm designs, conserving resources can also restore relationships.

Barriers and Challenges

Some barriers we faced included the gray area of gentrification and what our goals would be as a result of that. In this case, barriers did not arise because of an absent theory of change or lack of vision, but rather too many opposing views. Some would argue that gentrification is inevitable and that there is a population that would prefer it, we were challenged with understanding how to understand and address the root of this.

To do this, we stepped into that mindset and tried to find angles that would connect the differing paths. Instead of looking for a solution that would eradicate gentrification, we opted to think about how to include all sides. The unwillingness of people to understand others’ perspectives was another thing we wanted to take into account and weren’t sure, at first, how to approach. Ultimately, the problem became part of the solution: by seeing the gentrifiers’ points of view not as the barricade but as a tool, we were able to recognize that we could use this at the core of our goal.

Scaling Your Solution Spatiotemporally

Visualizing a Transition Design Solution

In visualizing a transition design solution, we took the outcomes of the 6% Place project and broadened the scope, which meant thinking in terms of magnitude. How could we make these solutions trigger social and economic change across the board — how could it be applicable to neighborhoods like Garfield? This led us to proposing new initiatives that spread across various facets of society, ones that trigger socioeconomic change including food incubators or tiny houses. By doing this, we aimed to make solutions specific to the neighborhood but large-scale in its sustainability factors.

The magenta circles in the chart indicate the areas our solution has direct impact. One example of this could be the food incubator. The incubator is an example of how Garfield can support other fledgling businesses other than tech. In conceiving this, we took inspiration from the Smallman Galley in Pittsburgh and other similar models. We took the brainstorming further to imagine what Garfield residents could do with the 16 proposed solutions. For example, barbecue cook-off contests or community dinners that use locally sourced goods to promote a sense of unity and education, while benefitting small business owners and cultivating creativity.

Our next focus was to emphasize the need for place-based solutions; our vision is that each neighborhood supports each other so that the community becomes stronger and can resist change, and we believe that implementing all of these experiments at various facets will trigger that change. In the near future, our program will support neighborhoods and communities that promote each other and celebrate diversity. Right now in Pittsburgh, the communities are disparate. With this model, we aim for them to support each other.

Shown below is our projected vision from past to future, and the toolkit to be used to achieve it.

For Garfield specifically, we envision connected communities that invite incoming immigrant talent, promotes old business, and pushes for growth of the local residents. Part of this process included recognizing that there is a possibility gentrification will inevitably happen and accepting that. If successful, Garfield has grown to become a strong community, the initiatives set in motion have made it a good place for immigrants to come in with the focus on helping the community and the incoming talent to participate in the emphasis on local goods and production. Examples of this include starting one’s own business but employing existing residents, and using the local materials such as steel and nearby farm shares, and collaborating with upcoming artists.

In effect, this structure will become a self-nourishing cycle; because these systems are in place, those who come continue to support and make the community more vibrant. Bike incline improves, farms grow bigger, and what begins as small initiatives make Garfield a place for locals, made by locals, with the goal of inviting a larger, implementable change on a global scale.