Introducing The Hub at the Red Hook Fest, June 16, 2014.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October 2012, the waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, was largely unprepared for the storm’s fury. The physical vulnerability of the area was matched by a fragile system of communication that left many residents wondering what to do, both during and after the disaster.
The Hub is a new communication system that will make sure Red Hook stays informed about future emergencies—and everything else that’s going on in the neighborhood, one of New York’s most exciting places to live, work and visit. Working with AIGA/NY’s Design/Relief initiative, Li’l Robin developed the project as part of a team that includes the design studio MGMT. design, the non-profit strategists Amplifier Project, and the communications specialist David Al-Ibrahim.
Red Hook is particularly close to our hearts: Li’l Robin founder Anke Stohlmann lives in the adjacent neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, and has seen first-hand the effect Sandy has had on the community.
The Hub System.
The Hub is a public information system that collects and displays information based on community needs. Conceived as a kind of 21st century bulletin board, The Hub functions as a flexible network of physical and digital platforms that connect the community.
The Hub Components.
Information is shared on two large-scale bulletin boards and a dynamic digital ticker, as well as multiple “Hublets” throughout the neighborhood. The physical postings are augmented by a website (redhookhub.org), a weekly email update, and social media (Twitter). As its name implies, The Hub gives the community somewhere to go for reliable information, and in an area without a true center, strategically spreads out to meet residents wherever they live.
Part of Red Hook’s charm lies in its unique, small-scale sense of place. Geographically isolated, the neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by water, cut off from greater Brooklyn by the elevated Gowanus Expressway on the fourth, and not easily accessible by subway. Plagued by crime in the 1980s and early ‘90s, Red Hook has rebounded in recent decades with a vibrant artist community and DIY entrepreneurial culture in line with the area’s tough, resilient image. However, social and economic divisions persist: 85 percent of residents live in low-income public housing, not far from a rapidly gentrifying waterfront with enviable views of New York Harbor.
The Hub bulletin boards and locations.
The Hub embraces these quirks of location and uses them as strengths, offering a system that feels organic to the area. During our research we discovered that for many Red Hook residents, important information is delivered by word of mouth, through neighborly talk in the streets. Many residents don’t have access to the Internet, and tend to trust their friends and neighbors over government notices.
“What became especially clear during Hurricane Sandy is that not everyone has the same resources for accessing information, and often important news doesn’t reach everyone. Even that there was a mandatory evacuation during Sandy,” says Reg Flowers, a community organizer of Good Shepherd Services, one of the community partners in the Hub.
The Hub website.
The information shared via The Hub includes both official messages and participatory content. Anyone can submit information to be posted; a system moderator reviews submissions before making them public. In addition to emergency information, the Hub shares notices about education, employment and activities. Postings are organized by type (class, event, information, job) and category (art/music, business, emergency, food, health, news, recreation/sports). Visible and inclusive, the program is designed to serve the area’s diverse constituencies.
Meetings, workshops, and testing throughout the year.
In keeping with the collaborative approach of Design/Relief and creative placemaking, The Hub was developed through a community-driven process that focused on building partnerships and engaging the public. We worked closely with members of the community, talking to residents, small business owners, neighborhood leaders and activists, and other stakeholders in a series of meetings, workshops, presentations, one-on-ones, site visits, and workshops—not to mention many informal conversations, which we valued as much as the official communications.
At the Red Hook Hackathon at Pioneer Works, April 18-19, 2014.
At various stages we met with the Red Hook Houses East and West Tenants Associations and the Red Hook Initiative, an advocacy group for youth empowerment. We presented a community design charrette at the Miccio Community Center, and started development of the website at the Red Hook Hackathon, held at Pioneer Works, an art and science center in the neighborhood. (The finished website was programmed by Tim Halbach.) Community partners in The Hub include the Brooklyn Public Library’s Red Hook branch, Red Hook Initiative’s Digital Stewards RH Wifi Program (which is providing online coordination, website content, and a Hub coordinator), the Red Hook Coalition’s Communication Working Group, and Good Shepherd Services, a social services agency. Fabrication of the Hub boards and ticker was completed by Kammetal, a metalwork shop based in Red Hook.
The Hub bulletin board fabrication at Kammetal.
To determine the locations for the Hub installations, we looked at patterns of foot traffic and the places that people naturally congregate in the area. The first two bulletin boards will be installed at the Red Hook branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and the Miccio Community Center, both important resources for the neighborhood. The digital ticker is located on Van Brunt Street, a main thoroughfare, and the Hublets—small postings of weekly flyers—appear at multiple neighborhood locations.
These elements all display the eye-catching graphics of the Hub identity, which stands out in the street in attention-getting yellow and black and is instantly recognizable. The accessible design extends to the layout of bulletin boards and the Hub website. Both platforms are clearly organized for curated messages and public postings, and the Hub website features an easy-to-use interface that guides residents through the process of submitting information themselves. A Hub coordinator then reviews the submissions and selects it for posting, according to a set of community-developed criteria.
“The Hub makes possible a leveling of the field,” says Reg Flowers. “This tool democratizes info sharing. Anyone who can write a note, send an email or make a phone call can submit information.”
The bold design is also a plus: “It’s beautiful!,” declares Flowers.
Introducing The Hub at the Red Hook Fest, June 16, 2014.
At the Ready Red Hook Day with Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, September 13, 2014.
The Hub concept was first introduced to the public at this summer’s Red Hook Fest, where visitors had an opportunity to test-drive the system and pick up Hub swag, including t-shirts and stickers with the Hub taglines “Get it. Share it.” and “We are Red Hook.” Responses to the program so far have been remarkably enthusiastic and positive, and we’re currently in the process of handing over maintenance of the program to the designated stakeholders.
After working on The Hub for the past year, we’re thrilled to see it finally implemented and embraced by Red Hook. Using a human-centered design approach has created something that truly belongs to the neighborhood. As excited as we are about the finished project, we loved putting it together with the community and can’t wait to see where they take it next.