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Mitigating the loss of North Carolina culture

Oct. - Nov. 2018

Low-income communities want to maintain and grow the culture they’ve created through decades of establishing roots but old and new systemic issues result in disinvestment and the struggle to keep the culture alive. This disinvestment leads to appropriation, erasure, and replacement by the wealthy resulting in a destructively homogeneous and stagnant culture. Making real, impactful change is purposefully convoluted even in models designed for community empowerment.


How can we empower low income communities to mitigate the erasure caused by gentrification in order to maintain an affordable, diverse, and innovative atmosphere?


Meet Daniele

Daniele is a 35 year old black woman who was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. She grew up near the neighborhood of Five Points but moved when she was twelve years old to South Raleigh because her parents couldn’t afford the rent as it grew in the mid-1990’s. Daniele wants to stay connected to the community she has called family for many years and for her seven year old daughter to grow up in a safe and creative environment.

Noticing that wealthy homeowners are buying and renovating properties around her, Daniele is worried that what she went through as a child will happen again to her and her family. She is frustrated that new developments, like expensive movie theaters and bars, are popping up dedicated to these new residents rather than providing the resources that this long-standing community truly needs. She is afraid of losing the connection to her roots and community as prices raise around her.


Landing on Community Land Trusts

While researching gentrification, coming up with an intervention that put the power into the community's hands was paramount. Throughout the project I was careful to maintain a community-focused scope and not try to take on the challenge of stopping gentrification altogether. A majority of published information about mitigating the effects of gentrification, unfortunately, is geared towards developers and government officials (e.g. building affordable housing or introducing new policies). While looking for other options, I landed on Community Land Trusts (CLTs) as a viable structure to institute because they are a proven, governmentally-recognized solution that empowers communities.

Seeing the forest for the trees

Through researching Community Land Trusts, I had a moment of introspection. I realized that, even though I knew that they had been proven to work, I didn’t understand how they worked. The resources that were already available and meant to inform the average person were just as intimidating and full of jargon as legal resources for city-planners. How would a ordinary citizen approach such a complex system? There is a clear need for an accessible guide for citizen on how to establish, grow, and maintain a CLT in their neighborhood. 


A brand comes from the woodwork

The main factor I was testing with my low fidelity prototypes was the approachability of the brand. I didn’t want to make the brand too trendy and cater to the young, wealthy people moving into the neighborhoods. On the other hand, I needed to make sure that the brand wasn't too stark and boring as not to look like a government agency. Through many iterations and feedback, I struck a good balance between the two extremes and made the brand warm, welcoming, and familiar. This also translated to my name development. Oakroots was coined to call to mind the tone of strength and historical significance while referencing a common North Carolina tree.


Mailer: signed, sealed, delivered

The mailer is the first touchpoint in the system that users would interact with. It would be sent to houses across North Carolina who are at risk of being gentrified. Oakroots as a business would be in charge of monitoring these areas. The mailer is designed to get the attention of community members who are already thinking about making change. Once the mailer is opened, the user will find a booklet that explains the what and why of Community Land Trusts. The wording of the booklet is clear and easy to understand. The recipient will also find a postcard to mail back to Oakroots to receive a free guide on setting up their own CLT. 

Guide: an open book

The guide is the main artifact. It consists of five books each giving a comprehensive blueprint of an important section of setting up and maintaining a CLT: Getting to Know CLTs, Engaging the Community, Governance and Legal Structures, and How to Use the CLT for Good Development. Just like the mailer, the guidebooks are written in a simple and approachable format giving the reader clear, step-by-step instructions and information without legal jargon. The brand extends through the pages too— featuring full bleed images and straightforward data visualizations.