Lessons from miLES: Fail Early, Fail Often
Since our last update, we’ve been pretty busy. First, we applied to the City 2.0 grant, but didn’t win. After that we decided that this was a good opportunity to to get back on our feet and find new ways to make it work.
OpenIDEO had the chance to chat with Sarah Fathallah and Eric Ho, two members of the miLES team pursuing urban revitalisation efforts in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Here's what they shared on their progress – and how you can help!
Since our last update, we’ve been pretty busy!
First, we applied to the City 2.0 grant with very ambitious ideas for a full-scale vibrancy project in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Unfortunately we didn’t win. After feeling down for a little while, we decided that this was a good opportunity to “Fail Early, Fail Often” and decided to get back on our feet and find new ways to make it work.
This is how: instead of being overly ambitious, we now plan to cut the project into little pieces that are each more achievable. This also means that for each small piece, we can search for the perfect partner to really take the lead and ownership to make it work.
After a lot of discussions, thinking, and editing, we ended up with 5 parallel tracks, feeding off of each other’s learnings and insights:
Engagement track: Led by TYTHEdesign. This track involves the LES community through workshops and community events. We already completed a first engagement exercise with designers at the Design Gym, we are conducting ad hoc interviews and are planning 3 engagement points in August and September around street festivals and other local events, involving community members, community organisations, landlords and store owners. This is a crucial step to inform the rest of our efforts, as we really want any proposed solutions to be informed by community research, the needs and aspirations of the residents.
Research track: This track is led by our university and academic partners working with students from School of Visual Arts and Design for America. The research track should inform the rest of the project with existing literature and quantitative data on demographics, urban and sociocultural indicators, to complement the qualitative research done with community members. As a one-size-fits-all approach might not be applicable, understanding the different language groups and income levels of LES residents is crucial. Students will also be a tremendous help in conducting outreach and interviews, designing and prototyping solutions as well as other project management and logistical efforts. Having the project fall under the academic year means a steady pool of human resources to keep the project going.
Prototyping track: Led by Architecture Commons. The prototyping track will test and iterate prototypes that can be placed in existing vacant storefronts and lots to increase site utilisation and better engage local community members. Our ultimate goal is to findlandlords and small business owners willing to experiment with their space and implement a proof-of-concept small scale model that can be then replicated elsewhere – once feasibility and financial sustainability have been proved.
Technology track: Led by CityAPI (a project that originally started as Opencity in the Vibrant Cities Challenge). The technology track is building a digital interactive platform to help document vacant sites and spark conversations online. It will also help document and disseminate lessons learned, stories and methods used in each site. Currently, CityAPI is being piloted in Sweden and will be rolled outin the next month. Once demonstrated, the platform could then be brought to the LES.
Storytelling track: Led by ListenIn Pictures. This track aims at video documenting the stories of the residents, business owners, landlords, developers and community leaders of the Lower East Side. The produced documentaries will not only help all stakeholders understand who are the users and the communities that we are designing for, but could also serve as a valuable visual asset in our future fundraising and implementation efforts.
Similarly to the way we are re-thinking the different miLES tracks, our fundraising efforts will be targeted to smaller, bite size, more concrete pieces of the project. We are one of the proud finalists of OnePrize 2012, and are keeping our fingers crossed for the awards in September.
And there is something you can do to help. We applied for a GOOD Maker $5000 grant, but only the idea with the most votes will receive funding. Voting ends August 23rd, but don’t wait to cast your vote! If each and every one of you take 5 seconds to do it, it will take us a long way towards our goal.
So this is, in a nutshell, where miLES is at. Two lessons we have learned along the way: first, if you fail, learn from your mistakes, and get back up again; and second, don’t be afraid to ask for help – just by telling other people about our challenges, we’ve been able to attract some amazing new partners who have been incredibly generous volunteering their time and resources to make this happen: Architecture Commons, CityAPI, Design for America, Fourth Arts Block, ListenIn Pictures, Lucky Ant, Projective Space, SVA Design for Social Innovation, The Value Web and TYTHEdesign for believing in us.
Stay tuned for future updates as we've got a lot of exciting things in the pipeline: We presented our project to New York City’s Community Board 3, we made the first cut of the Capstone Program selection at NYU Wagner to get more student support as a full academic year project, and we are in talks with Neighborland for a potential collaboration.