Design Strategies for Socio-Environmentally Adverse Territories
Authors: Ana Thudichum Vasconcelos, Joao Cruz
Abstract: In an inland southern region of Portugal, pathologies that intersect social and environmental problems have been identified, such as low density, aged and dispersed population, as well as low rainfall and high temperatures. An applied research and development initiative endorsing those problems was carried out by students and staff of the University of Lisbon along two years. This text reflects on this experience and the role of design on such predicaments.The research questions are: how and what kind of innovation can design bring to the community's quality of life in territories under adverse conditions of that kind?A previous analysis, carried out between local authorities and our design school, allowed us to trace two lines of investigation, one aimed at intensifying the flow of people within the territory, and the other focused on promoting the relationship between Man and his environment.Considering that design can contribute to the process of social change, through design for social innovation and collaborative services, we reflect on the main characteristics that the design projects must contemplate, which are: a user-centered perspective; be a participatory process; to draft with a sustainability perspective; adopt a multilevel perspective; to endorse innovation and; sustain problem solving.The research methodology involves the transversal use of design methods and participatory processes, immersion in the territory, collection of primary and secondary data, definition of the concept, development of proposals, communication and validation by the municipal authorities.The results are a set of projects with a wide range of solutions in the field of social innovation, with the aim of valuing social interaction, valuing culture and regenerating the local landscape, namely: a cultural caravan service; a Lab-desk service; a cultural project to reactivate community wood-fired bread ovens; a website to publicize local projects focused on agroecological food; a Center for the Intangible Cultural Heritage; a co-working and co-living service; an environmental festival; a research service aimed at better understanding the needs of the “silent population”; a garden at the historic urban center of Mértola town; a public botanical garden; and, the renovation of a public area in a small village.The relevance of this work lies in the assertion of the potential of design strategies for social inovation, particularly in a context of social and environmental adversity, where design can fullfill a key role valuing the daily lives of populations. This article demonstrates that there is an immense space for work involving the public institutions managing this type of territories and the design academia. From our experience, a transversal line stands out: the intersection between local knowledge and the external population. This converges it the idea that the value that design brings to this kind of community is the drafting of arenas of social interaction where the local social fabric is nurtured and, simultaneously, beholding people´s awareness of the surrounding environment’s frailty.
Keywords: Design for sustainability, design service project, urban requalification, site-specific, participatory process
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