Sasha Constaza-Chock: Hi. Thanks. Thanks for hav­ing me here, and it’s been a real­ly stim­u­lat­ing day so far. My brain is spin­ning with all of the dif­fer­ent talks and pre­sen­ta­tions. I’m going to give you a brief overview of design jus­tice, the the­o­ry and the com­mu­ni­ty prac­tice. And then I actu­al­ly am going to use a lit­tle bit of my brief ten min­utes to actu­al­ly get us talk­ing to each oth­er a lit­tle bit but don’t wor­ry, I will guide you through. It’ll be okay. 

So my name is Sasha Costanza-Chock. My pro­nouns are they/them or she/her, and I’m cur­rent­ly asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of civic media at MIT. And I just came back from Barcelona, where I was doing a keynote at the Smart Cities World Expo and Congress, which was sort of a con­ven­ing of about 170 munic­i­pal­i­ties and the smart city tech­nol­o­gy ven­dors that are try­ing to get the con­tracts from them. Now with­in that, there’s a clus­ter of about sev­en­ty cities that’s called the Sharing Cities Network, and they’re try­ing to devel­op alter­na­tive or dif­fer­ent visions of what it would mean to instru­ment urban spaces in ways that can sup­port demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples, worker-owned coop­er­a­tives, alter­na­tives to the cur­rent exploita­tive and extrac­tive so-called shar­ing econ­o­my or the plat­form econ­o­my or the gig econ­o­my, or the Uber vul­tures or the WeWork— I’ll stop. 

But so, in this space basi­cal­ly there’s a trade show and peo­ple are sell­ing tools for mon­i­tor­ing cities, for city effi­cien­cy, for ener­gy effi­cien­cy, for traf­fic effi­cien­cy, and for—under the the mark of the man­age­r­i­al neolib­er­al city man­ag­er, basically—how to instru­ment cities for sur­veil­lance cap­i­tal­ism, as Shoshana Zuboff would call it. 

But I was most struck as I was wan­der­ing through the stalls by this com­pa­ny, that was sell­ing tree sys­tems for urban envi­ron­ments, where you install a tree—and it does­n’t actu­al­ly have to be con­nect­ed to the true soil—and it will be fed the amount of water that it needs. It’s linked to Internet of Things sen­sors so that city man­agers can have a real-time bird’s eye view of the health of the trees in the urban envi­ron­ment and so on and so forth. And they also talked about addi­tion­al fea­tures that you could add, such as wifi net­works and sur­veil­lance cam­eras to the trees. Which if any of you have ever seen— Have any of you seen Sorry to Bother You, has any­one seen this film? You need to see this film. So, sad­ly you know, fic­tion imi­tates life imi­tates fiction.

And so, this is at the stall. You know, this is an archi­tec­tur­al ren­der­ing of the smart tree sys­tem and this is the actu­al tree that they brought to the expo. So here we have the sad image of you know, tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tion­ist ideas as to how we’re going to cre­ate the green city. And I want­ed to start with this because we need to under­stand that the dis­course that we’re devel­op­ing here and using here around Green New Deal is not the only dis­course, and that one of the most pow­er­ful alter­na­tive dis­cours­es is the smart city dis­course. It’s the idea of the per­fect vision from above which we can use to cre­ate a green and effi­cient city. That was more time than I meant to spend on that. 

Because real­ly what I want to share is one way of think­ing about how we’re going to design and build the tech­nolo­gies and the sociotech­ni­cal sys­tems that we need for a Green New Deal, if such a thing is what we do want to build. And what that could look like through the lens of this com­mu­ni­ty of prac­ti­tion­ers that I’m part of, which is the Design Justice Network.

Design justice is a growing community of practice that focuses on the equitable distribution of design's benefits and burdens; meaningful participation in design decisions; and recognition of community-based, indigenous, & diasporic design traditions, knowledge, and practices.

So what is design jus­tice? It’s a frame­work for analy­sis of how the design of images, inter­faces, objects, the built envi­ron­ment, and sociotech­ni­cal sys­tems influ­ences the dis­tri­b­u­tion of ben­e­fits and bur­dens between var­i­ous groups of peo­ple. The dis­tri­b­u­tion of ben­e­fits and bur­dens between var­i­ous groups of people. 

Because cur­rent­ly most design process­es allo­cate most of the ben­e­fits to those who are more pow­er­ful, and few ben­e­fits to those are less pow­er­ful. And most of the harms to those who are less pow­er­ful, and few­er of the harms to those who are more pow­er­ful. So we could see peo­ple in Silicon Valley not allow­ing their chil­dren to have access to smart­phones and smart devices because they under­stand the harms that are being done through nudge sur­veil­lance cap­i­tal­ism to the young minds of their chil­dren and they’re not inter­est­ed in doing that. Or we can see peo­ple in the Bay Area insti­tut­ing the mora­to­ri­um on facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware used by police because sim­i­lar­ly, peo­ple who are design­ing these sys­tems under­stand… And actu­al­ly, I don’t want to frame it that way because this is the result of com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing efforts, right. But part­ly it achieves res­o­nance because pow­er­ful peo­ple with access to the city coun­cil under­stand the way that these harms work.

Design jus­tice is an attempt to push a lit­tle bit fur­ther than float­ing ideas around design for social good, or even HCD—human-centered design, par­tic­i­pa­to­ry design process­es, because design jus­tice focus­es very explic­it­ly on how design repro­duces or chal­lenges what black fem­i­nist soci­ol­o­gist Patricia Hill Collins calls the matrix of dom­i­na­tion, the inter­lock­ing sys­tems of white suprema­cy, het­eropa­tri­archy, cap­i­tal­ism, and we can add ableism, set­tler colo­nial­ism, and oth­er forms of struc­tur­al inequality. 

And in her clas­sic text Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins of course is look­ing at how each of us occu­py posi­tions of both priv­i­lege and also less priv­i­lege with­in the inter­lock­ing sys­tem of the matrix of dom­i­na­tion. Each of us, we need to under­stand the way that we move through the world in par­tic­u­lar bod­ies as struc­tured by these his­tor­i­cal forces and the way that that oper­ates both at the indi­vid­ual, the com­mu­ni­ty, and the struc­tur­al level. 

Another way of think­ing about this when we think about how are we going to design the built envi­ron­ment, objects, solar pan­els, urban tree root sys­tems for the Green New Deal is we need to think about who was involved in the design process, who was harmed, and who ben­e­fit­ed. And what does that inter­sec­tion look like. 

I have a lot more to say about this top­ic, but I don’t have enough time to talk about it right now, but I do have a book com­ing out with MIT Press in February called Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. And it’s struc­tured like this. And I’m not real­ly gonna sum­ma­rize this, because I want to get a chance to do some­thing togeth­er. But these are my attempts to sum­ma­rize some of what I’ve learned over the past decade or so of doing design prac­tice and work­ing with the Design Justice Network. Because I want to empha­size that this con­cept is not some­thing that I came up with; it comes out of a com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice, a grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty that focus­es on the equi­table dis­tri­b­u­tion of design’s ben­e­fits and bur­dens, more mean­ing­ful par­tic­i­pa­tion in design deci­sions, and the recog­ni­tion of community-based indige­nous and dias­poric design tra­di­tions, knowl­edge, and practices. 

And it’s a net­work that comes out of the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. Has any­one been to the Allied Media Conference? No, nobody? Wow, I’m a lit­tle bit sur­prised. You should go. It hap­pens every year in Detroit. Actually it’s now going to be hap­pen­ing every oth­er year. It’s been going for about twen­ty years. And it’s one of the most, to me, impor­tant, excit­ing, and inter­est­ing spaces where peo­ple at the inter­sec­tion of cul­tur­al work, media pro­duc­tion, and design work, and many dif­fer­ent social move­ment net­works gath­er each year to share, to build, to devel­op new lan­guage, new net­works, and new ways of cre­at­ing cul­tur­al nar­ra­tives to shape the pos­si­ble future worlds that we might want to actu­al­ly inhab­it and that will be eco­log­i­cal­ly survivable. 

So in 2016, a group of thir­ty archi­tects, graph­ic design­ers, inter­face design­ers, land­scape archi­tects, and com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers gath­ered to con­vene the first Design Justice Network gath­er­ing, came up with a set of prin­ci­ples, which we’re going to see in a moment, and sort of grew from then through a series of tracks at Allied Media Conference. The sig­na­to­ries of the prin­ci­ples has now grown to sev­er­al hun­dred peo­ple. And we just recent­ly launched a for­mal mem­ber­ship struc­ture. You can find us on the gram. And here’s some recent images. There’s a Design Justice Network Chicago local node meet­up hap­pen­ing; I think it hap­pened yes­ter­day. Toronto has a local node. 

So in Toronto, the local node is focus­ing espe­cial­ly on work­ing with hous­ing rights activists and civ­il lib­er­ties activists, and pri­va­cy advo­cates to fight back against Sidewalk Labs, which is Google’s project to cre­ate a smart city where… We don’t have time to talk about it; talk to me after­wards about it. But so block­ing Sidewalk is one of the main goals of the Design Justice Network node in Toronto.

In Philadelphia there’s a node that start­ed meet­ing recent­ly. In Barcelona, there’s a group that links togeth­er design­ers from Italy and from Spain who are meet­ing to think about how they can use design­er­ly prac­tices to chal­lenge the Fortress Europe idea. And local nodes are mush­room­ing all over the place. So just recent­ly we’ve got New York City Design Justice Node had their first meet­up, and so on and so forth. 

But with the last cou­ple min­utes I did want to get us to think about how can the Design Justice Network become more con­nect­ed to and involved in the strug­gle for eco­log­i­cal sur­viv­abil­i­ty and the Green New Deal. I do think it’s part of that. And so what I want us to do now, is we’re going to look at the Design Justice Network prin­ci­ples togeth­er. There’s ten of them. And we’re gonna read them togeth­er as I put each one up on the screen. And whichev­er one gets read most loud­ly, I’m then going to do some­thing togeth­er with all of you. So, read the one you like the most the loudest. 

First, we use design to sus­tain, heal, and empow­er our com­mu­ni­ties, as well as to seek lib­er­a­tion from exploita­tive and oppres­sive systems. 

Two, we cen­tered the voic­es of those who are direct­ly impact­ed by the out­comes of the design process. 

We pri­or­i­tize design’s impact on the com­mu­ni­ty over the inten­tions of the designer. 

We view change as emer­gent from an account­able, acces­si­ble, and col­lab­o­ra­tive process, rather than as a point at the end of a process. 

We see the role of the design­er as a facil­i­ta­tor rather than an expert. 

We’re halfway there. 

We believe that every­one is an expert based on their own lived expe­ri­ence, and we all have unique and bril­liant con­tri­bu­tions to bring to a design process.

Just in case that did­n’t sink in… 

We share design knowl­edge and tools with our communities. 

We work towards sus­tain­able, community-led and ‑con­trolled outcomes. 

We work towards non-exploitative solu­tions that recon­nect us to the earth and to each other.

It’s your last chance to go big. 

Before seek­ing new design solu­tions, we look for what’s already work­ing at the com­mu­ni­ty lev­el. We hon­or and uplift tra­di­tion­al, indige­nous, and local knowl­edge and practices. 

Okay. So, I’m just gonna leave this one up here. And what I’d like you to do now is turn to the per­son next to you. And if you’re not right next to some­one you can turn around in your seat and talk to some­one behind you or in front of you. And I’d like us to take just about two min­utes, I think I have, to share with each oth­er how might a project that you’ve worked on in your own work, your own design­er­ly prac­tice relat­ed to the Green New Deal look dif­fer­ent if you focused and cen­tered prin­ci­ple ten. So let’s do that for just the next two minutes. 

You have six­ty more seconds. 

Okay, wig­gle your fin­gers if you can hear me. Wiggle your fin­gers if you can hear me. Wiggle your fingers…

Awesome. Okay. so I have time just for three, maybe two or three quick pop­corns, if any­one wants to share back a key takeaway. 

Audience 1: My name is [indis­tinct] and I’m from Brown University. One of the things that I’ve noticed—I don’t do design. I do [indis­tinct] stud­ies. But I did an agriculturally—

Constanza-Chock: In a tweet. 

Audience 1: In a tweet. 

Costanza-Chock: In a tweet.

Audience 1: There are farm­ers [indis­tinct] experts where they’ve shift­ed the dis­cus­sions, where farm­ers have to make up 50% of the crowd and the experts can’t talk. 

Costanza-Chock: I love it. I love that. Thank you. Someone else? Everyody’s shy now.

Audience 2: Hi. We’re a local solar com­pa­ny, NEC Solar. This applies to chang­ing pol­i­cy in order to give peo­ple what they need from solar, ver­sus giv­ing them a cook­ie cut­ter shape to fit into. 

Costanza-Chock: Absolutely. And maybe one more burn­ing takeaway. 

Audience 3: So we had this design chal­lenge on a prop­er­ty that I worked on where there was too much water. Clay soil, you know, every­thing was a mud pit. And they paid a for­tune for this irri­ga­tion sys­tem that is overir­ri­gat­ing every­thing on top of the already sog­gy [indis­tinct]. So instead, we designed a cis­tern to catch the extra water and pump it back into the irri­ga­tion sys­tem. So instead of using extra water, we’re just col­lec­tive what we already have and repur­pos­ing it to where we need it.

Costanza-Chock: Exactly. Thank you so much for those three exam­ples. You know, we already have so much of what we need. And in the Design Justice Network we’re try­ing to build a com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice that rec­og­nizes that and advances it. 

So you can sign on to these prin­ci­ples at design​jus​ticenet​work​.org. And you can also join us for our next net­work gath­er­ing at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit in late June of 2020. And I hope that we have a chance to dis­cuss this a lit­tle bit more. But I think my time is up for now. So thank you.

Further Reference

Climate Futures II event page


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