Article, Social Justice

Design Studio for Social Intervention: Workshop

March 24, 2016

On Thursday March, 17, the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI) hosted a workshop on social emergencies — the different forms they take, how they may be identified, and how to productivity respond with a social intervention.

DS4SI was founded in January 2005, emerging from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. They are an artistic research and development outfit for the improvement of civil society and everyday life, situated at the intersections of design thinking and practice, social justice and activism, public art and social practice and civic/popular engagement. The studio is dedicated to changing how social justice is imagined, developed and deployed in the United States. Their mission is to design and test social interventions with and on behalf of marginalized populations, controversies and ways of life.

DS4I Sector Organizing and Strategy Lead, Kenneth Bailey and Program Design Lead, Lori Lobenstine, spent a week observing and identifying some of the most urgent social issues in Vancouver, after which they facilitated the workshop. The conversation began with attendees expressing their personal conceptions of what makes a social emergency. Bailey and Lobenstine presented a slideshow featuring images of social emergencies in the United States, including racially motivated police brutality, which lead to the Ferguson unrest and the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the mass closure of public schools in Chicago, and the Flint water crisis.

“For us, social interventions are actions taken to reconfigure social habits, unspoken agreements or arrangements that, prior to the intervention, add to the durability and normalcy of a social problem. We focus on social interventions because we believe they can affect both formal hierarchical systems like school systems and complex nonlinear systems like cultures.”

– DS4SI on “Interventions”

Between these images, familiar snapshots were inserted, depicting the Vancouver skyline, towering glass condos, the Olympic Tent Village and related public action and protests. Vancouver’s social emergency was identified as housing, because it is a crisis that touches the majority of the city’s residents. The crisis encompasses homelessness, a lack of social housing and affordable market rental options, speculation and the ever-rising real estate market. In their short time in Vancouver, Bailey and Lobenstine noticed the severity of the housing crisis within their interactions with individuals they encountered, and worked with the participants to articulate the various, complex levels of the issue. Within the conversation, ideas organically emerged for social interventions and advocacy initiatives, which could be effectively implemented within the city.

Read more about the social interventions organized by DS4SI across the United States.

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