Client: New School University's Desis Lab
The New School University’s Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Lab (DESIS Lab) received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation’s NYC Cultural Innovation Fund. The goal was to research, promote, and amplify community-based solutions for sustainability. Concentrating initially on the lower east side in Manhattan and identifying four key unmet needs in the neighborhood, the DESIS Lab needed to discover instances of social innovation that could be studied, supported, shared and used as a foundation for imagining new solutions around housing, food, cultural diversity and elderly care.
- What are existing institutions for elderly care?
- What influences people’s choice of institutions?
- What case studies exist globally and locally?
- What does current legislation look like?
- What can we learn from observation?
- What can we learn from residents and involved actors?
- What could a new future look like?
Research had already been completed on community gardens in the lower east side, so we had some leads for initial interviews. The participatory framework of the “gallery” was already set in place, determining the nature of the deliverables.
Not knowing about the current situation around aging, we first started doing research into the larger crisis around the world. We then honed in and started looking specifically at the situation in the lower east side in Manhattan. We discovered that the issue was actually very timely as budget cuts had caused 17 senior centers in the lower east side to shut their doors.
We started to explore this further by visiting some of these senior centers to discover what this meant and what role they played in elderly care.
Having discovered that these closing centers would place burdens on other institutions, we started to explore them. We visited churches, synagogues, community gardens and local businesses that supported seniors.
We interviewed elderly community members, employees of these various institutions and other actors such as a local pastor and community garden volunteer. This let us see how these networks connect and the strain that is placed on these institutions and on seniors when centers have to shut their door. We wanted to begin to imagine solutions for elderly care that could function in a better way than the one currently seen.
We imagined that the whole neighborhood could be a distributed senior center itself instead of specific institutions. We started to look at different services existing in the world and combined these ideas with the ones we learned from the local community members. Taking some of the instances of social innovation we were seeing and developing them further as services that connect with each other.
We then prototyped some of these ideas and invited the community to comment, discuss and contribute more.
- Loneliness is a huge factor for the elderly. One of the worst outcomes of the closing senior center is that the community that was built there gets separated.
- Local businesses become critical meeting points for neighborhood elderly residents.
- People constantly find creative workarounds to limiting legislation.
- Social innovation often involves questionably legal activities.
- There is a lot of waste generated by legislation and fear.
- The government is limited in its activities because it doesn’t have the luxury of flexibility. Private actors have more freedom to adapt to new situations.