From Prevention to Resilience

Re-inventing cities with lessons from the pandemic
DESIGN RESEARCH | UX/UI DESIGN

Context

The pandemic forced people to get more creative on how they use the outdoor space. And while, to an extent, cities did adapt to a new way of living, citizens still expect more from planners regarding what public spaces can offer. From Prevention to Resilience is a research project by the Hogeschool van Amsterdam research group Civic Interaction Design that aims to go beyond the practical prevention approach to explore how Covid-19 interventions can be linked to making neighbourhoods more resilient, both socially and ecologically considering the current opportunity to redesign our cities. We have an opportunity to make our cities more resilient and sustainable from this day forward.

Brief

Our role in this project was to provide insights on what citizens need, and how public interventions can fulfil those needs. We chose to follow research through design method, where we designed two concepts, tested them, and formulated conclusions that can support the wider project that aims to be finished by 2022.

An In-Depth Research Process

We began our project by mapping the changes that the pandemic created in our cities and visualizing how we could intervene to explore the problem space. We hosted more than 3 co-creation sessions, 30+ interviews, a survey with 60+ respondents and explored an average of 100 academic papers and covid design interventions.

A survey was designed to gain information about citizens’ behaviours, needs, thoughts and feelings about city values and how they experience public spaces. The questions fell under 4 main categories: social life, street values, public interventions, and sustainability and nature within a city. We were careful to not just ask for quantitative scalable data, but also give recipients a chance to organically express their views on certain matters such as their feelings before, during, and after the pandemic.

Main Insights

Repurposing Urban Spaces

How can we connect people by repurposing urban spaces for civic interactions? To answer our design challenge, we used non-places as the location we would use to connect citizens.

Non-places are spaces that aren’t common or specific, such as the space between a bench and a tree, or a spot on a sidewalk. Non-places can be repurposed to introduce play, which promotes active and creative behaviour and “breaks the cycle of capitalist functions of public urban spaces. It emphasizes the notion that not everything in urban environments needs to be foreseen and functional but can be spontaneous and simple; free from purpose.” (in The Ludic City).

To design the testing tools, we were going to use for this project, we looked at McCalen’s 3 human motivations to enable us to create a playful intervention:

We chose the Amsterdam neighbourhood Amstelkwartier as a testing site. This area has many non-places that can be repurposed with design interventions to make them more resilient. Furthermore, this neighbourhood was ideal due to the small volume of floating population (a group of people who frequently move from place to place), and we wanted to test mainly with residents.

Testing Tools

We designed two supporting design testing tools to help us gather and analyse data that enabled us us to learn more about how the citizens of Amsterdam react and behave with repurposed non-spaces. We developed and tested the following tools:

Community Platform

We developed a community platform where citizens of the same neighbourhood could be aware of the events taking place in their area, as well as getting in touch with people from their same community.

Open City Museum

This play tool was a concept of an open city museum with AR experiences, where people could explore a new layer of their neighbourhoods and collaborate and create art together.

After the development of each of these tools we tested them in the neighbourhood and interviewed the citizens that interacted with it to see if by repurposing urban spaces citizens could develop civic interactions. All the insights were illustrated and documented in a report format with our conclusions and learnings. In our report, we provide the 10 crucial learnings what city planners and community developers can do.

Reflection

This project was really challenging due to the high level of research, especially since there wasn’t a design output, instead the takeaway was the knowledge we generated on this topic. This project helped me improve my research skills considerably, from desk research to the development of conclusions. To summarize our findings and process, I would say that our main take away from this project was that in a society where "I" is typically the norm, our experimentation on collaboration showed that, due to the pandemic, there is a growing space for exploring interactions that are about the ‘We’, and this is something that we need to keep investigating.

Team & Role

This project was executed with 3 other digital designers: Kays Nayseh, Luca Kler Lago, and Nour Sadat. The main client of this project was the research group Civic Interaction Design, and the duration of the project was of 12 weeks. We executed this project under the Master Digital Design programme of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. My contribution for this project was UX/UI design, desk and user research, and leading the testing sessions.

This survey, as well as our interviews and co-creation sessions made us realize the urge of the citizens for social connection in physical spaces. This made us focus on developing physical interventions that could have the potential to strengthen the actual social resilience.