From Grad Student to Community Builder

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Nov 17, 2011 in , , | No Comments


 Do you have what it takes to be an innovator extraordinaire?

A grad student was pursuing her master’s in urban planning at Columbia University when she left for South Africa. In 2007, Candy Chang was offered a fellowship in a township in Johannesburg, South Africa, to help develop new community information systems–though not as modern as one might think–they were sorely needed nevertheless.

The township Cindy set out to help had no real neighborhood-wide communication–no local radio station, telephones, computers with e-mail–which proved problematic in an emergency. Devising a simple solution, Cindy and her team installed blackboards in well-traveled public areas where locals could post news, events or jobs. It was an inexpensive, effective and easy way to solve a major problem.

Cindy’s experience with that township had an impact on her, she set out to make better use of public spaces, changing the way people interact in their communities–giving residents more control. Her goal: get people invested in their communities through an innovative way of interacting.

In 2008, she asked Brooklyn renters to post sticky notes on a local storefront which revealed (anonymously) how much they paid for rent. This allowed them to have access to information they didn’t have before–knowing the fair market value of their apartments. She has created other projects assisting people in disadvantaged communities.

How can you put your talent to work for the residents of your community? What brilliant ideas do you have to help make a difference, finding a need and filling it with a solution? Make a list of things that you see which could use a make-over, devise a creative way to fix that problem. Try to involve others, by doing so, residents may once again feel they’re invested in their own community.


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Information excerpted from “Live Your Best Life”, by Jessica Silvester, O magazine