A Journey from Concept to Prototype

NOTE: This article is cross-posted from National Arts Strategies' Creative Community Fellows blog. I am developing a framework for creative dialogue on the future of communities during a fellowship with NAS.

A prefabricated condo development is assembled in the Truxton Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC in August, 2014. Photo credit: Erik Moe

A prefabricated condo development is assembled in the Truxton Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC in August, 2014. Photo credit: Erik Moe

“Who will we build?”

This is the cryptic conceptual question that I posed at the start of this fellowship. Since then, conversations with mentors and my fellow Creative Community Fellows have helped me develop a prototype experience.

The logic behind asking “Who will we build?” goes like this:

  1. We are all products of our environment. We are the sum of the experiences and influences that we’re surrounded by.
  2. We are building a new environment here on earth, here in our cities, and here in our neighborhoods.
  3. Therefore, we are producing a new type of person in our neighborhoods, our cities, here on earth.

Who is this person? How are they different from you and I? What decisions can we make today about the environment we are creating that will give birth to the kind of person we hope to see living and thriving in the places we currently inhabit?

Initially, I thought most of the dialogue in this project would be around common values. What do we agree on about the values we wish to see future humans embodying? My instinct was to avoid imposing my own values in order to let the community I’m working with come to a consensus that could then be used to talk about place-making.

Before long, I realized that we’re all pretty universally committed to seeing future humans be happy, live in peace, thrive, and be inspired. This led me to see the work as building ownership in our individual power to create “inspriring place.”

But what does “inspring place” look like? Is the neighborhood you inhabit now inspiring? What will it look like when you make it more inspiring? Completely inspiring?

So many resources, so many questions

Before coming to Impact House, I was overwhelmed with resources that might inform this project: people, organizations, books, and academic programs connected to this theme. I could continue researching for years without putting any program in motion. Soon after gathering with fellows at Impact House, I resolved that I had all the information and skills and connections I needed. It was time to focus on designing the project itself.

So, what does this work look like? Is it art? Is it urban planning? Community organizing? Is it a performance? An art exhibit? A book? All of these things? I had trouble defining what the project would look like to participants. “There will be events and people will talk about the future of their neighborhood and make art and stuff,” I might have said.

Fellows and mentors at Impact House pushed me to give shape to the project with questions such as:

  • Who is the community? Who will participate? How will you find them?
  • What kind of art will be created and by whom?
  • Why would anyone want to do this with you? Can you make it fun?
  • What impact will this have?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Who would pay for this, and why?

Having many conversations about these questions over the 8-days at Impact House helped me put a more concrete vision together. Lessons on design thinking, experience design, and other entrepreneureal skills helped me feel that the project was within reach, if not fully defined.

Next step: prototypes and iteration

So. What does this look like? Is it a website? A performance? A book? I’m trying not to be tied to a final product just yet. I expect there will be many directions that emerge through experimentation.

To begin, I’m starting out with a very inexpensive prototype. This concept starts with conversation and shared experience. From there, I’ll see what people respond to, documenting the journey, and iterating.

I’ve begun scheduling time with people who live in a variety of places: wealthy neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods, urban, rural, suburban, mountain, ocean, and prairie places. Places I know well. Places I’ve never been. My only costs for this prototyping work are travel and lodging, which I can be very thrifty with.

There are a few pieces I think are important to the experience right now, but iteration will mean adding and removing pieces to figure out what is most valuable:

  • Reflect on personal connection to places, especially childhood connections.
  • Experience the place: walk, smell, see, touch, taste. Does this place inspire feelings? Movements or gestures? Ideas?
  • Reflect on the future. How is this place changing now? Will those changes make this place more or less inspiring? How long will those changes last? What will it be like to grow up here in 150 or 200 years?
  • You have unlimited powers to transform the place you live, but you will not live to see the results. What will you do with your powers?

This final statement is not hypothetical. You do have unlimited powers to transform the place you live. I want you to know it, and I want to know what you’re going to do with those powers.

I expect to be surprised.

I just might need to experiment a bit along the way to getting there.

Are you in?

If you’re interested in being part of this exploration (or can help out with places to stay and ways of getting there), email me at erik@erikmoe.com

Erik Moe

Truxton Circle, Washington, DC, United States

Digital strategy expert working to strengthen the online work of social impact teams, culture-makers, and nonprofits.