How can we empower low-income communities to mitigate the erasure caused by gentrification in order to maintain an affordable, diverse, and innovative atmosphere?
Daniele is a 35 year old black woman. She was born and raised in Raleigh. She grew up near Five Points in Raleigh but moved when she was 12 years old to South Raleigh because her parents couldn’t afford the rent as it grew in the mid-1990’s. She is now an English teacher at Hunter Elementary School where she also attended when she was a child. She currently owns a house by the school to be closer to work and so her child can attend a good school system at the magnet schools downtown. She has a 6 year old daughter with her husband. Daniele wants her child to grow up in a safe and creative environment. Daniele wants to stay connected to the community she has called family for many years. She is worried that what she went through as a child will happen again to her and her daughter. She is noticing that wealthy homeowners are buying properties around her and renovating them. She is frustrated that new developments, like expensive hipster theaters, are popping up dedicated to these new residents rather than resources that this long-standing community really needs. She is afraid of losing the connection to her roots and community as prices raise around her.
Landing on Community Land Trusts
When researching my problem, coming up with a solution 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 all-together. At first, I framed the problem trying to activate low-income areas to strengthen their culture and, thus, making it more likely to persist through the effects of gentrification. Through more in-depth research and looking at case studies across America, I began to doubt the efficiency of this tactic and decided to shift perspective. So much 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 as a viable structure to institute. What attracted me to CLTs is that is 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 was having a hard time understanding how exactly CLTs worked, especially when implemented in a new and widespread area like North Carolina. The resources already available, meant to inform the average person, were just as intimidating and full of jargon as legal resources for city-planners. How would a member of a neighborhood who's not necessarily educated approach such a complex system? This empathetic perspective was fully realized when designing my journey maps. It wasn't until after getting feedback on these maps that I understood the many ways the power of a united community can fight gentrification.
A brand comes from the woodwork
The main factor I was testing with my low fidelity prototypes was how approachable my brand as a whole was. I wanted to deliberately not to make the brand too trendy as not to cater towards the wealthy, young 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 tried to strike a good balance between the two extremes. In the end, the goal of my branding was for my company to appear 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 for 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.