Red Hook Hub Loacation Mapping
Red Hook is a largely blue-collar neighborhood located on the south-western edge of Brooklyn with a large African-American and Latin population. LIFE named Red Hook as the “crack capital of America” and one of the country’s worst neighborhoods in 1990. Although crime has dropped and the highly trafficked Van Brunt Street has seen a recent influx of artists and business, the neighborhood remains one of the most challenged in Brooklyn. The average annual household income is under $24,000; nearly a quarter of residents are unemployed; and between 80-85% of residents live in large low-income housing buildings. The region is geographically isolated and has limited public transportation. Red Hook was one the regions affected most by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, which submerged the neighborhood in up to 10 feet of water; cut off electricity, heat and hot water for up to 17 days; and limited the access to food and aid. The storm and lack of immediate on-site federal aid only contributed to Red Hook residents feeling neglected and unsupported.
The Partnership

We chose to collaborate with DESIGN/RELIEF because we wanted to:
• Work on local, meaninful issues
• Become more connected to our diverse city
• Find the approprate framework to expand the definition of our design practice.

This partnership proved to be a unique match as both teams had strengths in problem solving, relationship building and creating visual impact.

This participatory design initiative was focused on creating authentic markers, physical or time-based, temporary or permanent, that would change the perception of Red Hook post Superstorm Sandy. DESIGN/RELIEF aimed to demonstrate design’s role in creative placemaking and to help these neighborhoods be more livable, walkable, vibrant and enjoyable.

While communication designers rarely design buildings or public spaces, there is growing evidence that the expertise they contribute to shaping built environments can have a measurable impact on communities. Students in this course applied strategic methodologies to engage and understand the needs of the Red Hook community, and then extend what they learned into solutions that might spur a positive outcome. Course curriculum was driven by guest lecturers and methodologies of spatial mapping, ethnographic research, prototyping, tracking/measuring user experience, and co-/participatory design.

The Design Process and Challenge
We aimed to investigate the existing assets of Red Hook with the goal of combating the area’s lack of communication while also celebrating its strong sense of community. The initial scope was to measure space and understand the neighborhood on a street level. Once we incorporated the interview process, our work evolved into a human-centered research project aiming to find the best location for a community-info Hub created by DESIGN/RELIEF.

We determined five key areas that seemed to draw the highest population of Red Hook’s diverse demographic—the Miccio Center, the library, the Recreation Center, Fort Defiance, and Coffey Park—and returned to Red Hook multiple times over the course of four weeks to interview residents in those regions. The below methodologies allowed us to create a rich picture of the neighborhood using sidewalk mapping, water tables, automotive/pedestrian traffic data and interviews that could be open sourced for future projects.

Participants were selected at random on site and asked to draw their normal route on a blank street map of Red Hook. They were directed to mark their home, spots where they think a communications hub would be effective and spots where it would not. Tracing movements on a plan provided a clear picture of dominant lines of flow and areas that are less trafficked.

We compared city assets, land use, population density, topography, flood plane, traffic patters, vacant lots and waterfront environments.

Driven by four specific questions provided by DESIGN/RELIEF, interviews were meant to be organic conversations. Questions included:
• (Multiple choice) Where do you visit? Choose often or rarely: Fort Defiance, Miccio Center, Rec Center, Library, Coffee Park, Other
• (Open Ended) What's the most pressing need in Red Hook?
• (Open Ended) What kind of information do you and/or Red Hook need?
• (Open Ended) What information would be useful during an emergency like Sandy?

The goal of personally engaging with people who experience the neighborhood was vital in objectively discovering key points of interaction. We conducted on-site interviews and reached out to a variety of local groups, including NY Rising, SAVI at the Pratt Center, The Red Hook Initiative, shop and bar owners, service industry workers, government employees, public housing residents, etc. Site visits ranged from 1-3 hours on days with temperatures ranging from 25-50 degrees from January–March 2014 and were equally conducted on the street or inside public places either government or privately owned.

We gathered a relatively small but informative sample population that provides diverse data about the neighborhood and the people. The short time frame of the project and inclement weather impeded our ability to get enough interviews to accurately capture the diversity of the community. Since we received the four interview questions from DESIGN/RELIEF after our first round of interviews, our qualitative data isn’t as rich as our quantitative. However, the data we did retrieve was sourced from organic and reliable connections within Red Hook, and the process of refining our interviewing methods increased our own understanding of the neighborhood and of what kind of Hub would be most useful to the community. Once we received those four vital questions, we tried our hardest to evaluate the tracing and answers as equally as possible.

The entire process was driven by the standards of monitoring human interaction within public space outlined by architect and urban designer Jan Gehl and The Department of City Planning’s Active Design: The Sidewalk Experience.

Creative placemaking has great value; it creates opportunities for people of all income levels and backgrounds to thrive in one place. The points we have selected as possible locations for the hub are centered in highly populated parts of Red Hook, increasing the potential that they will be accessed regularly and integrated into residents’ awareness and daily habits.

We gathered data for the location, functionality and content of the Hub from the residents who need support and information the most; as such, the Hub will support the contemporary, calculated needs of the Red Hook community rather than theoretical solutions. Its focus on community events, job support and lifestyle improvement will offer residents access to the tools they need to improve their quality of life, and will increase their impetus to contribute to its content, fueling its short and long term relevancy and applicability. We are aiming to support a resiliency effort. Because of its location, Red Hook will experience damage from flooding again. Many residents commented on the strong sense of community within the neighborhood, something extremely unique within a large urban sprawl like New York City. Our goal was to convince people that a place can have a different and better future.

Future Needs
This study provided many useful takeaways but was also an excellent starting place. Our initial goals could be furthered by continuing to engage Red Hook residents in 1-on-1 or small group conversations; additionally our interviewing process could be further refined to create a more engaging survey with a greater likelihood of full and active participation. If you're working on a similar project in Red Hook (or in another neighborhood), here are some things to keep in mind:
Increase the duration of the project to allow for more time in the field, we suggest 8 weeks, allocating a collective 10 hours per week.
Meet partners on a regular basis to understand how their project is evolving.
Determine data set requirements at the start of the interview process, i.e. target count and qualitative questions.
Partner with an ethnographer studying the subject and work together to create a more efficient and effective interview process.
Increase the budget so that interviewers can provide coffee or snacks for interview participants. Brand the mission, document the process in a sharable way and provide literature for interview participants so that they can follow the progress of the project and digest their influence on their own time.