Work for English Avenue this semester

English Avenue is a neighborhood on the edge of downtown Atlanta, historic for its and past residents as well as its recent social decline. As a food desert and civically neglected neighborhood, its residents have faced declining resources and prosperity. Since 2008, the Friends of English Avenue organization and others have contributed to reinvigorating the environmental and social space, including engaging with Georgia Tech. Along with other Digital Media students, we accepted our client Suzanne Baker of the Friends of English Avenue organization to develop improvements to their community vegetable garden via digital media and interaction design.

My first steps on the project included studying existing works and publications that may be useful in describing the ethnography of the garden’s use and public role. Reading an article on design ethnography, I prepared myself to look deeply into what the users of the garden do, what tools they use, and how to improve some aspect of their involvement or the garden itself. I then visited the farm to examine the everyday usage patterns of the garden, specifically for the conception, design, and development of my future project. Compiling a list of concerns and suggestions by the common users (volunteers, leaders) formed the basis of understanding the more fundamental daily life of the garden. That way, by better understanding the basic behaviors and frameworks of the users, I could better fit their needs and yield a product that can be successfully integrated into their lives as a complement rather than something conceived as newfangled or inconvenient.

My method for studying daily life at the garden relied on contextualizing my records of the users’ acts to design and development parameters. First I wanted to figure out who my user groups were to better identify different perspectives a user may have. Before arriving at the farm, I came up with the following categories:

  • Administrators: responsible for bookkeeping, finances, and PR

  • Gardeners: responsible for operations in the garden, inventory, teaching less experienced gardeners

  • Transients: less frequent/responsible gardeners or people seeking produce

 

At the farm I spoke with some of the people there, and I could extrapolate some role domains to consider different perspectives:

 

Roles

Tasks

Situations

  • Workers

  • Transient workers

  • Organizers

  • Consumers

  • Curious people

  • Other gardeners

  • Uninvolved locals

  • Planting

  • Pruning/Disposing

  • Harvesting

  • Distributing/Storing

  • Teaching/recruiting

  • Bookkeeping

  • Networking

  • At garden

  • Near garden

  • Away from garden

 

With these perspectives, I could better contextualize information gathered about what each person may do and why, eventually mapping the actors in this system and describing a tuple of any three role, task, and situation. With sufficient information to understand how each person interacts with others and in what role (I imagine some people have many different roles), I could start to map out the garden’s system itself. I returned to the garden for its biweekly distribution to get to know the export side of the system to map out a customer’s journey through the garden’s system.

My classmates and I brainstormed ideas in several boards’ worth of sticky notes, eventually synthesizing them into like ideas and feasibly achievable works in our three-month timeframe. We pared them down to three ideas that achieved what our client needed and provided for the elements we observed at the farm and gathered from other related sources such as local government and media. I worked with Amrutha Krishnan to gather all of the community’s stories and history into an easily presentable timeline to be featured on the developing website.

The timeline itself is a starting point for other communities to understand English Avenue for more than its poor clout for being an area of poverty and troublemakers. Using Timeline.js, we allowed our client to easily update and modify its content via Google Drive spreadsheets, as she was most familiar with Microsoft Excel in terms of computing. This allows the community organization’s website to not fall prey to rapid development and no long-term support as we found was common to low-visibility non-profit organizations who had insufficient technical knowledge and time available to spend updating a website. Our contribution of the timeline also permits other users to submit their own stories via a simple, standard online form also provided by Google Drive spreadsheets. We wrote documentation for Suzanne to transfer these submissions to the timeline if she approves of them, allowing the responsibility to be distributed to continue improving a neighborhood in desperate need of an improvement to their clout.

 

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