Public schools in Chicago are being closed in large numbers after being labelled "underutilized." Meanwhile, Chicago residents need more community hubs. Public schools are meant to be a public service for all. Their buildings hold significant historic value, and they are conveniently well-distributed throughout residential areas. How might we better utilize public school infrastructure to serve more local residents?
Since public schools are meant to serve students equally city-wide, instead of demolishing them, we should be finding ways to improve them. Once reprogrammed with resources and training for both children and adults, a regular farmer's market, community activities, and a variety of social services, public schools can transform into hubs of genuine public service and community.
Our commitment to systems-thinking demands us to investigate root causes. With this in mind, our interview questions for users are shaped by some foundational questions that we ask ourselves as a team.
Historic buildings designed and built with craftsmanship currently suffering from neglect.
This intervention recognizes that existing public school buildings are both beautiful and accessibly dispersed (within walking distance of most Chicagoan's homes) almost perfectly throughout residential neighborhoods.
We conducted user interviews with residents, schools, and service providers to validate our initial assumptions.
Thanks to the many stakeholders who offered their valuable feedback.
Based on our research, we brainstormed numerous ideas/features for our proposed solution. They ranged from converting abandon school buildings into vertical farms to co-working spaces empty classrooms.
The design direction we took prioritized features that capitalized on the expertise of service partners. This includes social service providers with long-standing experience working with schools, after-school programs, and neighborhood agencies.
After weighing effort and impact, we devised small slices of our solution to test.
Our entry for Design Makes Change's Sweet Homes Chicago 2012 competition won 1st place! Many thanks to the organizers, jurors, and supporters.
Please contact us about how to get involved.