Design and Civic Engagement: a Talk by Christine Gaspar M.Arch/MCP '04

On November 3, 2016, the Club of New York and the new MIT Architecture Alumni Affinity Group hosted a talk by  Christine Gaspar, M.Arch/MCP ‘04, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy. The Center (known as CUP) leverages art and design to increase meaningful civic engagement—its projects clarify complex policy and planning issues, empowering individuals to participate in civic life.

Mrs. Gaspar began by discussing CUP’s working method, a dual approach that includes youth education initiatives and community programs, allowing it to reach a wide audience while touching on a wide variety of issues including: zoning, housing, law enforcement, energy, and infrastructure. Having explained CUP’s broader goals, Gaspar showed the audience some recent projects, beginning with Power Trip, an investigation into New York City’s electrical infrastructure conducted by students and a CUP teaching artist. Students interviewed energy experts and went on field trips to learn about the subject, consolidating their findings in a poster printed in multiple languages. This poster has since become a resource for science educators.

Gaspar then discussed CUP’s community education initiatives, in which designers and artists partner with advocacy groups to educate residents about important issues. Gaspar discussed Rent Regulation Rights, a bilingual brochure explaining rent law and tenant rights to residents of Chinatown. To make the final product accessible to its intended audience, designers and community advocates worked together closely to understand cultural concerns and local sensibilities. Gaspar discussed a number of other projects before concluding her talk. Engaged alumni asked many detailed and thoughtful questions, creating a lively atmosphere at the end of the event.