Self-initiated practices in the urban community of Balteiro: Design challenges in a post-pandemic setting
Authors: Nuno Martins, Daniel Brandão, Eliana Penedos-Santiago, Heitor Alvelos, Cláudia Lima, Susana Barreto, Ana Clara Roberti
Abstract: This project aims to identify, document, interpret and disseminate current self-regulated community practices in social housing neighborhoods in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, in 2021. The main, specific case study is the neighborhood of Balteiro. We present methodologies and the first outcomes of the ethnographic work developed at Balteiro, namely an analysis of the origins, dynamics, needs and current challenges in face of post-pandemic scenarios in the present and future of two local initiatives: Associação Recreativa Clube Balteiro Jovem (ARCBJ) and (School Workshop of cartoning and sewing (Escola Oficina); additionally, it presents a first set of hypotheses on how Design may contribute to the resonance of these initiatives in other, equivalent similar social contexts.We argue that COVID-19 pandemic regulations, as well as their economic consequences, have had a significant impact on the nature and viability of the aforementioned practices: as a consequence of social distancing and a phobia of the collective, long periods of lockdown and a radical emptying of public space, prior models of creative communal practice will need re-assessing and re-invention.In turn, the proposal to document and disseminate these practices through Design aims to strengthen the mechanisms of empathy and social solidarity among citizens. The research intends to branch out into intuitive, practical and structural issues: preliminary work has been carried out with the Vila Nova de Gaia City Council and the aforementioned residents' associations ARCBJ and Escola Oficina. Emic data is being collected through methods of direct and indirect observation, including ethnographic interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. Audiovisual and photographic content will be collected towards a bank of resources for further scrutiny and employment in exploratory approaches. The research is therefore aimed at providing strategic outcomes, future replication, contextual adaptation and upscaling to national and international contexts. Inner dynamics in these neighborhoods have always tended to be suspicious of external presence and influence, often relying on self-initiated community practices: sports, recreational and cultural activities and professional training in crafts, examples of successful autonomous processes of civic development throughout the years. This contrasts with the broader socio-cultural context of Portugal, where the norm points towards a reliance on institutional tutelage.This traditional reliance has become an issue in the current scenario of a global pandemic: citizens have witnessed the evidence that former socio-cultural practices may come to struggle in current and emerging scenarios. As such, there is an inevitability in enquiring on the nature, purpose, viability and impact of self-initiated community activities in a post-COVID scenario. Furthermore: can we mediate this socio-cultural reconfiguration on a local scale, towards a broader, networked process of regeneration?
Keywords: Communication Design, Community Practices, Citizenship, Social Housing Neighborhoods, Inclusion design
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