The Center for Urban Pedagogy
The Center for Urban Pedagogy
CUP Staff: Valeria Mogilevich, Christine Gaspar, Sam Holleran
CUP Teaching Artists: Douglas Paulson, Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, Lindsay Catherine Harris
CUP Teaching Artist Assistant: Amauris Hernandez
Students: Marberd Bernard, Brando Campos, Shanty Castillo, Misael Castro, Lisette De Jesus, Richard Heard, Isiah Jaime, Brandon Khirodhar, Inés Loja, Marimar Mantuano, Gregory Feliz Moquete, Xavier Pérez, Claudia Ramirez, Shimu Siddika, Chavonne Stokes, Katherine Taveras, Nicole Ureña, Gongga Baerde, Adriana Deonarine, Destiny Lopez, Safiya Mann, Remorn Radway, Zoya Seaforth, Oscar Fermin, Adams Peguero, Zoya Seaforth, Richard Heard, Mehnaz Sultana, Shakira Ali, Berhtier Francois, Horace Trim
Urban Investigations are CUP’s education programs for public high school students. These projects explore fundamental questions about how the city works using collaborative research and design methods. Each investigation begins with a key question: where does our water come from? Who owns the Internet? To find answers, students go beyond the classroom and out into the city: visiting real sites and interviewing decision-makers and stakeholders. After researching the issue, students collaborate with teaching designers to produce innovative and accessible teaching tools that break down the issue visually. These products are used by neighborhood organizations and advocacy groups to educate others.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Urban Investigations break down the city’s complex systems—systems that genuinely impact students’ everyday lives, but are often hidden or so complicated that it’s hard to participate in them. The design challenge they face is making these abstract and complex issues accessible and legible to their fellow students and community members.
In 2012, the Center for Urban Pedagogy launched three Urban Investigations. Funky Fresh took a look at supermarkets and food access in the Bronx. Students created a booklet and presented their work to a standing room-only crowd. The project has since been distributed to food justice organizations throughout the city. Old School, New School untangled the process that New York City’s students must go through to choose among the city’s 400+ public high schools. This project resulted in a colorful, interactive website to break down their findings for fellow students as well as a “giant bookmark” with a visual timeline of the application process. Finally, Lotto Zone looked into New York State’s lottery system and where the lottery profits actually go. This Urban Investigation resulted in a documentary short that premiered for a sold-out crowd at New York’s Anthology Film Archives.
In each of these investigations, our challenge was to use design as a tool to unravel a complex system in the city and collaboratively visualize it in a way that makes it imminently knowable.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
CUP engages students, as collaborators because they’re really good at breaking down issues to a level that everyone can understand. They make mystifying issues more accessible because they bring a strong sense of humor and weirdness to the projects, and are great at breaking concepts down to the basics. In contrast to many youth educations programs where the adults steer the course of the project, Urban Investigations are student-driven endeavors. Teaching artists in these investigations serve as collaborators who enable students to carry out their own design work and communicate issues to those most impacted by those issues. CUP fosters students’ voices, their creativity, their sense of humor, and their sense of civic agency.
While our tools are created by young people we want them go well beyond the boundaries of youth art. Works that are created teach others outside of the classroom. We expect the final products that come our of our youth education projects to reach a high level of usefulness and production value.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Urban Investigations begin with CUP staff conducting background readings on the issue and research to find a wide variety of stakeholders to interview. CUP teaching artists train students to be investigative journalists, placing a particular emphasis on developing interview skills. Students learn how to take photographs, record audio, shoot video, and take in-depth notes to document their interviews. After conducting interviews with a variety of stakeholders, often with conflicting opinions, students take all the information they’ve gathered and process it visually; breaking it down into understandable elements so more people can understand how the systems work.
The design process for Urban Investigations teaches students how to visualize and frame the research they have done in a way that is accessible for the audience they are aiming it towards. This means that there is a constant iterative loop between students, their teaching artists, and CUP staff as they develop a product. Urban Investigations have resulted in documentary videos, comic books, posters, and zines. They have been widely distributed as educational and organizing tools, and much praised by the communities they reach. In the past two years CUP has widened the reach of these projects, distributing them to educators, community organizations, and advocates.
But the main stakeholders in any Urban Investigations are the students and their communities. Students learn about how the issues they see in their neighborhood affect themselves and those around them, and it is up to them to use that information at the community level. It is powerful and exciting for students to see their work displayed and circulated publicly, and to have a voice in the issues that affect their city and their lives.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
By participating in Urban Investigations, students gain the skills to investigate their own communities. They gain access to the decision-makers that affect the world around them, and engage in active citizenship. Students learn how to creatively communicate their ideas through design. Project-based learning allows students to shine in multiple ways: from interviewing to illustration, from audio production to writing. CUP’s arts education curricula are designed for minority and low-income students, young people who are often negatively affected by the urban environmental issues that they explore through our programs. Many students are residents of public housing or subsidized housing, and attend public high schools in low-income neighborhoods in New York City from the South Bronx to Bushwick. Through Urban Investigations students learn to see the city as the product of a decision-making landscape and are empowered to participate in it.
Young participants learn cognitive and developmental skills including leadership, self-motivation, collaboration, and interpersonal communication. Students learn visual arts concepts and design techniques that set them on a course to follow further careers in the arts. Most importantly, students gain confidence in their abilities to shape their own environment through the visual arts, and to participate in democratic processes that affect the fabric of the city itself.
The products created over the course of an Urban Investigation have a life that extend well beyond the timeline of the project. They find real audiences and impact communities outside of the school in arts and social justice fields.6. Describe the overall philosophy that drove the design brief, research methodologies, tools and outcomes (e.g. self-defined or client-defined briefs, participatory briefs, process outcomes or artifacts outcomes, etc.).
CUP believes in the legibility of the world around us. What can we learn by investigation? By learning how to investigate, we train ourselves to change what we see. Our work grows from a belief that the power of imagination is central to the practice of democracy, and that the work of governing must engage the dreams and visions of citizens.7. How did the project, program or curriculum improve the students’ learning objectives, the institution’s overall learning and teaching and/or beneficial impact to outside community or industry partner?
These programs are at the forefront of a new kind of civics education— one that uses the city as its classroom. During Urban Investigations, students have rare access and opportunities to collaborate with neighborhood stakeholders, community groups, and city agencies. This is in keeping with CUP’s interest in fostering cross-disciplinary collaborations that result in new understandings of the city itself, and how design can be channeled for social engagement.
The impact of this year’s Urban Investigations also extended to the broader communities that have used student-generated projects in their own work. In the case of Funky Fresh, the students’ work was featured on WBAI Radio and their booklet was distributed to food justice organizations around the city. The web and print tools created for Old School, New School have already been distributed to hundreds of middle schoolers around New York to help them through the tricky high school application process.
These products are directly relevant to educators and advocates working around the city; they have been distributed by guidance counselors, and community organizations, and city agencies.
The jury really liked this entry because it gives the tools to the kids to participate offering empowerment and an introduction to the basic foundation of life long learning, not only for interacting with(in) the city but also for general life.
It is a Hands on, decision making process, that creates to space for understanding abstract community and political decisions to non abstract local needs and solutions through a holistic and community wide interdisciplinary thinking & action orientated process.
It introduces and encourages active citizenship, participation and Collaboration through dialogue and creative problem solving through projects that the community all have a stake in.
The fact that this project introduces all this at an early stage, allowing children and young adults to participate in social challenges that they would may have previously been sheltered from or felt powerless to support is highly recommendable.
It creates the opportunity for children from all social statuses to engage and inspire communities and civil policy upwards
We strongly suggest that this process is made even more clear and shared so that other schools and teachers can benefit and facilitate the process confidently. So a workbook could be created.
We see this as a well-designed method for the students to explore and solve problems and social needs & decisions behind them. We recommend that you are careful about using the term Design in the outcomes from the kid’s projects as we see the element of design in the making of the education and methodology, but what they produce are not designs. This refers to your wording in the Q&A.