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PROJECT OVERVIEW The Growing Near West project is an urban community garden project 2 in the Near West Indianapolis neighborhoods of Haughville, Hawthorne, Stringtown, and We Care which present a unique opportunity to foster community engagement, capitalize on existing assets, and build community capacity to address food access issues. Research was conducted by a group of nine senior Visual Communication Design students at Herron School of Art & Design. Many thanks go out to all of the great people we’ve met and worked with along the way: Pamela Napier, Starla Officer, Patrice Duckett, Maria Rubio, Four Girls Design, Rachel Bennett, DIGS, and Andy Skinner.

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INTRODUCTION TO THE NEAR WEST At the beginning of the semester, our team met with two women managing the pilot gardening project. Patrice Duckett is the Near West Coordinator at the Greater Indy Neighborhood Initiative. Some of her roles include working as a Youth Facilitator, organizing residents to build relationships with other communities, and promoting community events. Starla Officer works at IUPUI in the Office of Neighborhood Partnerships (ONP). The ONP works to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between IUPUI and the surrounding neighborhoods. They play a vital role in creating programs to address community issues by collaborating with and engaging students, staff, faculty, and neighborhood residents. During our meeting, Patrice and Starla introduced us to the four neighborhoods of the Near West: Hawthorne, Haughville, Stringtown, and We Care. We were given information about the diversity of each neighborhood and what makes them each unique. The Near Westside is home to a wealth of assets, including 19 parks and recreational areas, 41 churches of various denominations, 14 licensed child-care programs, six public schools and a private Catholic high school, two community centers, the Westside Health Center, a senior apartment complex, the Center for Working Families, several banks, a new library branch, the West District Police Department, the Westside Community Development Corporation, Goodwill Industries, many newly established restaurants and businesses, and a wide offering of social service programs.

“According to the 2000 Census, Near Westside is home to 14,517 residents living in five distinct neighborhoods – the Westside, We Care, Hawthorne, Haughville, and Stringtown. The Near Westside – defined by 21st Street on the north, Tibbs Avenue on the west, the White River on the east and a small wedge of homes between West Washington Street and the railroad tracks on the south – has a long been a racially diverse community, with Hispanic residents comprising the newest wave of immigrants.” The Near West Quality of Life Plan has been in development and implementation phases since 2003. The Near Westside has focused on seven priority areas for the immediate and long-term vitality of the neighborhoods: housing, public safety, beautification, economic development, education, health, and civic/youth engagement. The leaders of this plan share a collective vision for renovated, affordable homes along clean, tree-lined streets with bustling shops and businesses along its busiest corridors. The Near Westside envisions itself as the ideal urban Indianapolis community where people choose to live and work because of its close proximity to downtown. The five-year health plan discusses ways to promote sustainability and environmental awareness. Until this point, there had been a lot of talk and no action. Residents finally came forward in a town hall meeting voicing their desires for a grassroots community garden. This is where we came in. The Near West needed help in planning and building these gardens, as well as leaving a solid foundation behind to ensure their continued success.



RESEARCH The initial meeting brought up many factors, both internal and external, that had to be considered during our research. Some internal factors included neighborhood diversity and dynamics, neighborhood relationships, and income levels. External factors included availability of fresh and healthy foods, garden plot availability, the Near West Quality of Life Plan, budget, and urban community garden best practices.3 Our methods of research ranged from standard web and print-based exploration, cultural probes, ethnographic research, and community observation.

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VALUES, EXPLORATION + INTEGRATION After our introduction to this project, our team was asked to individually visualize our strengths in the creative process 4 in order to better understand team dynamics. We then described which areas of the process we would like to have more active roles in and why we would like to do so. We also discussed our individual values, how they fit into our process, how they might be applicable to this project, and how to keep these values in consideration throughout the duration of the project. These individual values fell under the following categories: economic health and prosperity, social responsibility and equity, environmental stewardship and protection, and cultural vitality.

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TEAM IDENTITY: STRATEGY + DEVELOPMENT Our team of nine took time to brainstorm and develop an identity for ourselves. We discussed what we do as designers, what we will be doing for this community, and what we would like to gain from this project. The strongest concepts revolved around helping these communities lay a strong foundation for gardens designed to bring residents together and create new and lasting relationships. After much deliberation we decided upon the name Take Root, implying that we were creating the roots for these urban community gardens. We also developed a mission statement for the team: Through facilitation, we will help to build a foundation upon which the Near Westside Community of Indianapolis will improve quality of life and serve as a model for other communities.

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USING GENERATIVE TOOLS Our team had the opportunity to conduct research using generative tools during bi-weekly pilot gardening meetings. These meetings were planned in order to find out exactly what the residents wanted from their gardens. Our role in these meetings varied, but we were always working towards finding out more about the residents' wants and needs. During the first community meeting, we observed the eclectic mix of residents and how they work and interact together. Starla and Patrice were in charge of the first meeting. Information was given about the concept behind the gardens and how they plan to make the idea a reality. Take Root was introduced to the community members as “a group of students from IUPUI who would be helping during the planning stages of the process.” During the two weeks after the initial meeting, our team used that time to conduct extensive research and talk one-on-one with some of the residents of the Near Westside. We created a timeline in order to help us visualize the nearing deadlines Starla and Patrice had given us. With the second meeting coming up, we agreed that getting basic information about the residents involved in the pilot project would be key. We designed “walk-in” cards to hand out to residents at the beginning of the meeting. These cards asked for information about their neighborhood, their methods of transportation, the paths they take regularly in their neighborhood, how much they work, other activities in which they partake, what other community projects they have been part of, and where they buy their groceries.

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For this meeting, we also created a collage tool for the residents to visualize their “ideal garden.” Each kit contained a variety of different plants, herbs, flowers, and garden accessories, such as benches, chairs, and tool sheds. Each neighborhood worked together to decide what plants they wanted to grow and where they wanted them. This helped to show us exactly what the residents wanted to plant and how they envisioned their ideal garden. The next activity planned for the residents was developed in order to address four areas of concern: tool storage, garden security, food storage and collection, and access to water. We used post-it notes to record every answer and posted them onto posters with trees printed on them, creating a “PostIt Tree.” Each neighborhood group had several minutes to address each concern by voicing as many solutions as they could while one of our team members recorded these answers. We stressed the importance of quantity over quality at this point, along with the idea of withholding judgment until after the activity. The Post-It Tree answers were later turned into matrices to visualize how feasible the answers were. After two meetings of gathering information and using cultural probes6 and ethnographic research tools,7 we began to analyze and visualize our findings. We created matrices8 of the plants included in the collages in order to better understand the wants of each neighborhood. The walk-in cards gave us great insight into individual values, neighborhood culture, and the residents’ everyday lives.

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For the third meeting, we planned two activities to address some pressing concerns brought up during our research. The first was the location and availability of neighborhood plots to be converted into gardens. We knew that soil quality was poor in most Near West areas, and that soil testing and getting permissions would take some time. This activity was created by mapping out possible locations on a neighborhood map. The residents of each neighborhood used the maps to rank the various locations from “most desirable” to “least desirable.” We decided ranking was a more realistic tool than simply choosing the best place because of factors like soil testing, permissions, and zoning. The next activity was the “Pick-A-Plant” tool. We wanted to show the users9 how labor-intensive specific plants could be, while displaying other factors like preferable climate, sun and water intake, and compatible plants. The cards were twosided and each contained information specific to one plant. A color-coding system was used in order to immediately recognize the difficulty of planting a particular item. The cards used a simple icon system to identify the factors like sun and water intake. This activity proved to be very valuable because the residents began to narrow down their selection of plants based on realistic time and labor commitments. The final activity for this meeting addressed the extraneous garden accessories that may not be considered a priority, but that were important to some residents. We decided again to use a ranking system. The items to be ranked included things like tool sheds, benches, birdbaths, rain barrels, and garden signage. We knew from our communications with Starla and Patrice that funding was tight, so it was important to encourage the residents to separate essentials from nonessentials. € 19

SEEDING EVENT Lists of seeds were developed from the “Pick-A-Plant” activity for each neighborhood. The lists were given to Starla and Patrice who worked with community businesses to get the seeds donated. A seeding meeting was scheduled to start planting the seeds that could be kept in a safe place until planting day in the gardens. Residents attended the meeting and, after a quick demo on proper planting techniques, they helped plant and water all of the seeds. The next meeting was essential in creating roles for the individual gardens. One of our biggest concerns throughout this process was leaving behind a foundational structure that would keep the gardens organized and running smoothly after our role was finished. After extensive research, we came up with a ‘roles and responsibilities’ worksheet to hand out to residents. We needed to know who would be in charge of each garden and who would be accountable for various other responsibilities. We also created a supply list to start taking inventory of the garden tools the residents already own and what they would need. We needed to know who would be willing to share their tools with the rest of the neighborhood and how these tools would be stored for easy access to everyone. We sent a list of these tools to Starla and Patrice so they would know what still needed to be bought or donated. Along with the supply inventory, we handed out contact cards for the residents to fill out and give back to us. They included contact information, relevant skills, hours available, and any health problems that could be a concern while working in the gardens. These would be important for each garden president to have once the roles and responsibilities were established. € 23

During the fifth meeting, we presented garden layout designs to each neighborhood based upon their collages, the “Pick-A-Plant” activity, the plant compatibility matrix, and the finalized plot locations. The layouts were designed with the help of Rachel Bennett from DIGS (Developing IUPUI Gardens Sustainability). She was a great asset and helped us to understand some basic gardening principles that were key in designing a layout. After some minor adjustments and suggestions from the residents, the layouts were finalized and ready to be put into action.

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VOLUNTEER DAY A volunteer day was scheduled to prep the gardens for planting. The day included clearing debris, tilling soil, creating paths, building raised beds, and other activities. Community involvement had been somewhat underwhelming, so we knew promotion would be key in attracting volunteers. Our group brainstormed on ideas for areas of Indianapolis to promote within, methods of promotion, and target audiences. We discussed viral 10 and guerilla marketing 11 techniques, along with press releases to local news stations, radio stations, and newspapers. We designed and developed a guerilla marketing campaign on a non-existent budget to raise awareness for Volunteer Day. We used readily available materials to screenprint on canvas scraps to create posters and banners with pull-off cards that included logistical information.

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Volunteer Day started off bright and early with breakfast and planning. Every volunteer who attended received a free t-shirt, tote bag, and buttons designed by the junior team of Four Girls Design who had been working to develop an identity for the Near West urban community gardens. Rachel Bennett once again volunteered her time to help the residents plan and create lasagna beds. Soil quality in the Near West isn't exactly desirable for gardening, so lasagna beds were created instead of tilling the soil. Lasagna beds are named so because the method of building these beds involves adding layers of organic materials that will break down over time, resulting in a rich soil that will help plants thrive. After several hours of labor, the gardens started to come to life. We began by clearing trash and debris from the ground. We then referred to the garden layout designs our team had created and used stakes and string to identify the areas that would be planted in. The next step was to lay down cardboard that had been salvaged from recycling centers and grocery stores. Manure and straw were donated by a local farm and hauled to the garden locations by a pickup truck. Mulch and compost were also donated and delivered to the locations in the same manner. Using wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes, we created the layers of the lasagna beds. Cardboard was the first layer, followed by manure, straw, mulch, and finally compost.

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CONCLUSION By the end of the day, backs were sore and hands were blistered, but it was apparent that we had been part of the beginnings of something incredible. Our team was vital in the planning stages of these urban community gardens, and now that this role is finished, the residents will step up and take charge. We had the opportunity to create something of great value for the residents of the Near Westside, and the gratitude expressed by them was both powerful and moving. We are all grateful to have been part of this project and to have met so many great people along the way.

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INDEX OF TERMS 1. Service design :: The activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication, and material components of a service in order to improve its quality, the interaction between service provider and users, and the user's experience 2. Urban gardens (urban agriculture) :: The practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in, or around, a city. It is generally practiced for income-earning or foodproducing activities. Urban agriculture contributes to food security and food safety 3. Best practices :: Generally accepted, informally standardized techniques, methods or processes that have proven themselves over time to accomplish given tasks. Often based upon common sense, these practices are commonly used where no specific formal methodology is in place or the existing methodology does not sufficiently address the issue 4. Creative process :: while there are many versions of the creative process, the one utilized by our team is the Basadur Creative Problem Solving Profile. There are four stages: Generation (of new problems and opportunities), Conceptualization (defining and understanding the challenges and creating new, potentially useful ideas), Optimization (of practical solutions), and Implementation (of the new solutions). Each stage requires different kinds of thinking skills

5. Generative tools :: methods employed to empower everyday people to generate and promote alternatives to the current situation 6. Cultural probes :: A way of gathering information about people and their activities by allowing users to self-report. Information gathered from cultural probes is particularly useful early in the design process [] 7. Ethnographic research :: Ethnography is the study of living cultures, and ethnographic research is the methodology and results of studying ethnography. The ethnographic method is used across a range of different disciplines, namely anthropology and sociology 8. Matrix: Connects the dots of the user experience in order to see configurations: patterns, interfaces, contexts and results of interaction 9. User :: People making use of a thing. Any person, organization or system that uses a service provided by others is a user 10. Viral marketing :: Marketing techniques that use preexisting social networks to produce increase awareness or achieve a specific marketing objective 11. Guerilla marketing :: Techniques that are unexpected and unconventional, potentially interactive, and users are targeted in unexpected places. The objective is to create a unique, engaging and thought-provoking concept to generate buzz and consequently turn viral

INSPIRATION “The evolution in design research from a user-centered approach to co-designing is changing the roles of the designer, the researcher, and the person formerly known as the “user.” The implications of this shift for the education of designers and researchers are enormous. The evolution in design research from a user-centered approach to codesigning is changing the landscape of design practice as well, creating new domains of collective creativity. It is hope that this evolution will support a transformation toward more sustainable ways of living in the future.” -Elizabeth B.N. Sanders & Pieter Jan Stappers


Takeroot Casestudy  
Takeroot Casestudy