DesigNYC was borne out of 2008’s financial crisis. Founders Edwin Schlossberg, Michelle Mullineaux, Wendy Goodman and Deborah Berke established the nonprofit in 2009 just as funding for social projects was drying up and design commissions were on the downturn. The main goal was to connect nonprofits to pro bono design talent, and, in turn, to encourage designers to engage with civic organizations. Together, they could build community-oriented projects that are environmentally sustainable and socially progressive.
This time around, DesigNYC is sending out a call to the city’s NPOs and designers under the theme of Recharging Communities. The invitation seeks proposals for everything from housing projects to communication systems and public spaces that “connect communities, strengthen their social fabric and improve neighbourhoods.”
While it doesn’t award cash grants, DesigNYC will work to facilitate the collaboration between nonprofit and designers. Laetitia Wolff, its executive director, explains, “We do everything we can to educate the two parties and extend our rolodex, connections and partnerships to support the implementation of the projects.”
Proof that such an arrangement works wonders is in projects in development, and especially in those already reaping benefits for their communities. These include the Serviam Garden in the Bronx, used by an intergenerational mix of low-income senior residents and the students of an all-girls Catholic high school. To bring the fully accessible community garden space and urban farm to fruition, the designers, Robin Key Landscape Architecture, worked closely with Enterprise Community Partners and Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, as well as OCV Architects. Says Wolff, “RKLA were devoted to designing and making sure the garden got built, grown and maintained. It’s a fantastic story.” And it’s one that the organization hopes to repeat with future collaborations.
DesigNYC’s multi-pronged and idealistic goal – supporting nonprofits and designers and architects who want to make a contribution on a local scale – might just be an ingenious model that other design professionals might consider adopting in cities around the world.
The deadline for submissions to the Recharging Communities call for ideas is November 15, 2011, at 5pm. For more information, visit designyc.org.
Images of Serviam Garden by Tom Sobolik.