This blog is about 3 projects I saw in action in New Orleans that contribute to community development. There are many other projects I could include, but the main three I want to talk about were inspired by the same person so I will focus on them. The three projects I am talking about are “I wish this was…”, “Before I die I want to…” and Neighborland by Candy Chang and friends. Candy Chang is an artist from New Orleans that does work she hopes will help people feel more comfortable in their city. Below I will talk a bit about her projects and how they have spread across communities.

I Wish This Was:
Started in November 2010 with the Ethnographic Terminalia exhibit, this project took the “Hello, my name is _______” sticker idea and altered it to “I wish this was _______”. These stickers were then made available to citizens across the city in cafes, salons, stores and public places. The idea was that citizens could take these stickers to the many abandoned buildings around the city and write what they wanted to see these buildings become. This is a great community development project because it allows citizens to both share their hopes and imagination, as well as influence incoming development. All while using a “low barrier tool” that was made widely available.

The answers I saw were quite diverse and ranged from funny (Sparta), to crude (a whore house), to depressing (on fire), to knowledged (what it was), to hopeful (a grocery), and more. These stickers are now available internationally and have led to other forms of public discussion elsewhere. For example Candy used this idea in New York with post-it notes for people to share now much they are being charged rent and see if they were being ripped off. Below are some of the stickers I found around New Orleans!

I wish this was 1

I wish this was 1

I wish this was 2

I wish this was 2

MORE PICTURES AVAILABLE HERE:

http://candychang.com/i-wish-this-was/

http://iwishthiswas.cc/

Before I die I want to:
Started in February 2011, I feel that the “before I die I want to” wall is one of Candy’s “I wish this was” stickers come to life. With the help of some friends Candy essentially turned the side of an abandoned building into a giant chalkboard. They then stenciled “Before I die I want to _________” many times across the board for people to fill in. Once the board is full from people sharing, Candy takes a picture and then erases it for more people to share.

This means that instead of having yet another abandoned building in the city. One of them has now been transformed into a centre for sharing community goals and dreams, and getting people to think about what they want in life. A question that may still ring deep for New Orleanians after many were shown just how fragile life can quickly become. I decided to make my own addition to the wall by putting “Before I die I want to live in NOLA.” I don’t know if Candy stated this idea or not, but I found that it is used by other artists as well, and has spread around the world. Below is a picture of one of my dreams in writing (2nd column/3rd from the bottom), amongst many other people’s dreams.

Before I die 1

Before I die 1

Before I die 2

Before I die 2

Before I die 3

Before I die 3

MORE PICTURES AVAILABLE HERE:

http://candychang.com/before-i-die-in-nola/

http://beforeidie.cc/

Neighborland:
Still in “alpha testing” as of August 2011 (when I saw their presentation at the Rising Tide conference), Neighborland evolved out of the “I wish this was” project. Candy started to see that not only were people sharing their hopes and getting to see other’s hopes, but people were also responding to each other. The following is one example of the many conversations that arose: first came “I wish this was a grocery”, then a response to this hope “If someone can clean it out, I can provide the fresh produce”, then came “I would be happy to clean it out” and so on.

Neighborland is a website that brings all these conversations together in one place. Instead of going to each abandoned building around the city to see what people want in different areas, developers can now quickly see perhaps 12 people want a grocery in the Lower Ninth, 7 people want a theatre in Midcity, and so on. It also enables people to ask for things that were unrepresented with the stickers. Things like more buses in St Bernard Parish, fixed potholes on N Prieur St in the Lower Ninth, or a safer way for bikers to get across the Claiborne Bridge (see my first post for more on this one).

One big advantage of this website is that people can also share information on subsidies, or how they have overcome tricky building laws in the city. So if someone wants to start-up a restaurant they can learn from other restaurant owners what has worked and what hasn’t worked in order to save a bit of time and money. In some cases this could help make a difference between someone not opening a store because it seems to tricky and deciding to fulfill a dream because they have received support.

Finally I just wanted to touch upon something I saw come up at the conference that is also becoming an indirect benefit of the website. Someone had posted I want StoreX (I can’t remember the name) to reopen in Midcity on the site. To which someone replied StoreX is not in Midcity…its in this neighborhood. Upon hearing about this interaction on the site many people at the conference started stating that it was hard to tell the difference between certain areas, yet people get so defensive about where they’re from. The moderator took this as an opportunity to go around the room, ask everyone where they were from, and wrote a quick sentence on what that area meant to them. If that post continues we can obtain a better understanding of how New Orleanians see their neighborhoods and have another source for community development.

http://candychang.com/neighborland/

http://neighborland.org/

Hope y’all enjoyed this special piece, look for my next blog on the grand opening of the healing centre and an update on the food coop this weekend!
Bryan McGill @ YorkU

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