Straight from a BarnRaise Support Ninja

 Team C Conifer & Friends of the Park discussing ideas and referring back to the design briefs

Team C Conifer & Friends of the Park discussing ideas and referring back to the design briefs

Leading up to BarnRaise, I’d heard this question hundreds of times--from colleagues, students, teachers, and even outsiders. I could best explain BarnRaise as a 2.5-day “thing” where people work in teams to solve a social innovation project. Our organizers set out to make Barnraise more than “just a conference.” What intrigued me was that hundreds of participants, designers, and students were so willing to dive in and navigate such uncharted territory--especially the many folks who traveled from out of town.

I participated in BarnRaise as a student liaison. Mainly, it was my job to ensure that Team C stayed on schedule, that everyone was well-fed, and that everyone was enjoying the experience.  But being Team C's liaison was so much more than being an adult babysitter; in this position I was a team participant who stepped in at times as a facilitator.

Team C stood for Conifer Research and Friends of the Parks (FOTP), a nonprofit that supports park development in Chicago. Miguel Cervantes and Jackie Kutsinski fearlessly led our group of design students and design aficionados through their design process to find research-backed opportunities for Kells Park–an underutilized park in the West Humboldt Park community –to realize its true potential.

Miguel and Jackie set the tone immediately; we had roughly 12 hours to conduct research, sift through it, and provide a vision to redefine Kells Park. We jumped into cabs and set out to West Humboldt Park to speak with residents of the community and to scope out the park.

Half of our team met with Cease Fire, an organization that aims to reduce violence by intervening escalations, whereas the other half met with people on the street. Cease Fire illustrated that Kells Park plays home to many community cookouts and festivals, and is a practice field for the high school football team. On the street, children voiced a need for the park to have programming in the arts, and parents pressed the issue that the park and neighboring alley sometimes plays host to illicit activities.

At Conifer’s office, Team C went through a data dump session in which we discussed all that we’d learned in our research, and began to sift through major themes. By the end of day one, our team had pulled some great quotes and themes, but we didn’t yet have a direction.

Come the morning of day two, I was a bit skeptical in our ability to pull together a presentation for FOTP. We had so much research, and only a small amount of time to synthesize our findings. Nevertheless, Miguel and Jackie quickly rallied our team to distill our findings. In our broader themes, we found that food, art, saftey, and recreation were most important to West Humboldt Park. In our evening presentation, we expanded on each theme to illustrate tangible opportunities for Kells Park.

 Highlights included:

  • A hill for winter sledding and as a summer outdoor theater for movies in the park

  • A commercial kitchen to promote job training and to provide a space for anyone to cook in the summertime

  • An emphasis on cleanliness and landscaping to demonstrate the respect the community has for the park and for each other

  • A gallery wall that spans the park to promote the arts within the community and to show off some of the resident’s best art

What made BarnRaise so special was that it was not a conference, nor a hackathon. BarnRaise was entirely uncharted territory, a territory occupied only by people who were interested in making it work. As a member of Team C, I was especially impressed by the way our group came together to perform such thorough work in roughly 12 hours. I am very excited to see how FOTP will take our recommendations and stories to develop Kells Park, and I cannot wait to see what BarnRaise 2015 will be.

Contribution by Jack Wheeler, Masters of Design 2017 Candidate


IIT Institute of Design, 350 N LaSalle St, Chicago, IL, 60654, United States