Midtown Sustainists: Our Journey So Far

By Neha Tadepalli & Luisa Solano

Our very intent is to bring people together. In the beginning and our goal toward the end: help bring about a social change that makes community members come together, believe, and dream together. We aim to be a catalyst for the community that is not only to be resilient but to stand “together” and have shared values within Midtown, Savannah. With this in mind, we share with you our journey through our process, interactions with the community members and our ideas that are currently being prototyped and brought to life.

Our process so far has been: Understanding the scope of the project > Research (secondary & primary) > Insight generation > Concept development > Prototype development after evaluation.

During our research and insight generation phases, we have been immensely involved with the community and have invited members to our presentations for feedback, discussions and generation of ideas. This played an important role by understanding further information which emerged from the discussions.

To understand the scope of the project, we wanted to discover how gentrification was affecting the Midtown community in Savannah and other communities that have either tackled or embraced such situations. Our research was conducted using books, case studies and online sources to discover more about the history of the neighborhood and demographics, aligned with characteristics that the Savannah, Midtown community has.  All this directed us to move a step closer toward our design solution.

In our secondary research, the most significant cases of other cities were Wynwood, Miami; Detroit, Michigan; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York among others. These case studies, as well as additional frameworks, allowed us to find significant conclusions such as resilience being costly and time consuming, thus less feasible than just letting gentrification occur naturally. However, some frameworks such as ABCD, Better Block and initiatives like Monday Means Community in Savannah are more feasible and serve as great building blocks for resilience.

Our process also involved primary research, a phase that revealed key actors in this community and the voices that understand neighborhood issues. We conducted multiple interviews with residents that live in or are closely related to Midtown. These people that want to see a difference in their neighborhood without losing values and respect for its rich history, culture and inhabitants. By creating associations, Midtown community could start a different path of development that brings important issues to the table and ways to address them. People have expressed how important it is to preserve identity and willingness to step up for community issues. In our second post, we introduced some of these actors who have been working within the Midtown neighborhood by committing to their actions.

We identified how important the voices that come from the streets of the neighborhood are. By walking and talking with some residents we discovered important opinions and issues that the community dreams and worries about. In these observations we saw the lack of spaces for kids to play, excessive speed of cars and how the elders love and care about their community.

We applied affinitization as the method of forming and finding patterns that have become our insights and design principles. Then, we developed our concepts and presented them to the community. We hope that our presented concepts will drive toward improving the situation in Midtown, Savannah.

After presenting 10 concepts we asked participants to vote and give us feedback, which helped us to filter ideas for prototyping and final deliverables and to pass them on to community actors. We hope our final deliverables will be adopted and developed for further growth.

We’re just about done making the three of the most voted concepts into actionable and executable prototypes to invite members of the community, see the receptivity of the ideas and help bringing residents together. They were put on display at a the Midtown Block Party co-hosted by our team:

  1. A Pop-Up Park

  2. Community Voices Boards

  3. Neighborhood Clean-Ups

We’ll alsoo deliver comprehensive and useful toolkits to community members and city agencies. These toolkits will allow them to develop and to continue prototyping for fostering community resilience, a more connected neighborhood, their culture, and values. We believe in this as we have witnessed how the energy is spreading and new connections are forming in Midtown.

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