Act Calumet

Reactivating abandoned and vacant properties in post-industrial territories

During Spring 2019, I co-taught a design studio for graduate-level students to explore how new technologies, infrastructures, and emerging financial services could empower residents in the Calumet region to reactivate abandoned properties and vacant lots.

Over 14 weeks, students applied advanced design models to conduct design research and hosted co-creation workshops and panel discussions in collaboration with leaders of community-based organizations. The resulting intervention was a system of solutions that focused on enabling five actions: Investing, Training, Managing, Activating, and Tracking. Prototypes were developed that connected those actions with the following scenarios:

  • Repurposing: Owners and residents receive incentives for repurposing vacant lots and abandoned sites. There is an infrastructure that tracks the type of exchanges and businesses happening in that space.
  • Building skills: Residents receive on-the-job training to fix local properties strategically. Compensation is flexible and can be directed towards immediate needs, mid-term, or long-term goals.
  • Liquidity: Residents with a proven track record can access funds in advance of completing a job to pay off burdens like parking tickets. Calumet Coins left to grow over time can be spent at a future date.

​Through the lens of systems design, we worked at the intersection of environmental justice, digital technologies, and new marketplaces to reframe issues of abandoned properties in the Calumet Region. By incorporating considerations of financial stagnancy, centralization of power, short-term profitability, and segregation, this work opens new doors worth exploring for transforming properties that are currently being considered bereft of value and benefit into assets for equitable local economic development.

Contextual Report

Design Brief