Middle Main Revitalization

For ‘Design Advocacy’ Summer 2011, we partnered with PAUSE (People Art Urban Space Engagement) to bring a design intervention to the streets of ‘Middle Main Street’ in Poughkeepsie, NY. PAUSE acts as a catalyst for community development and engagement by placing artists in the position of rethinking and reclaiming urban spaces through creativity, co-creation and making in public.

As an initial step we met with Matthew Slaats, PAUSE director, to tour the area and understand the context that Poughkeepsie, NY provides. We learned that ‘Middle Main’ is the home to vacant storefronts, low-income residents and gang crime—8 deaths have occurred on these blocks in 2011 alone. It is also boasts diverse cultural makeup and authentic eateries, the Fallkill creek, and a location with untapped potential as it sits between a more economically-thriving downtown and Vassar College.

After weeks of collaborative design charrettes and workshoping ideas, we returned to do more research, this time involving the local residents. One group, ‘What Makes You Smile?,’ set up a station to interact with passerbys. They offered conversation, a simple form with space for a drawing or written response, and took portrait photographs of each participant. This exercise acted as a vehicle to create a conversation regarding the perceived assets of the neighborhood.

Our third and final field trip to the area, students created a design intervention that engaged residents and the urban space of Poughkeepsie. ‘Embracing the Obvious‘ created zip-tie murals on existing and non-functional structures such as derelict fences. This innovative approach to creating a mural proved to be interactive in it’s tactile nature, durable (it still remains!) and added color to ‘tag’ the area known as ‘Middle Main.’

Other concepts presented to PAUSE during the final critique were: 1. ‘Cottage Industries‘  a proposal to pursue grants to start a cottage industry using the skills of the local residents; and 2. ‘Design Squad‘ a high school after-school club that would be tied to students at Vassar College.

View the wiki with additional images, syllabus and handouts from this class.