Who Gets to Future? Race, Representation, and Design Methods in Africatown

Picture of potted plants and a bench with the word Africatown in the background, painted in bright red and green colors

Who Gets to Future? Race, Representation, and Design Methods in Africatown

Jasper Tran O’Leary, Sara Zewde, Jennifer Mankoff , Daniela K. Rosner
CHI 2019

This paper draws on a collaborative project called the Africatown Activation to examine the role design practices play in contributing to (or conspiring against) the flourishing of the Black community in Seattle, Washington. Specifically, we describe the efforts of a community group called Africatown to design and build an installation that counters decades of disinvestment and ongoing displacement in the historically Black Central Area neighborhood. Our analysis suggests that despite efforts to include community, conventional design practices may perpetuate forms of institutional racism: enabling activities of community engagement that may further legitimate racialized forms of displacement. We discuss how focusing on amplifying the legacies of imagination already at work may help us move beyond a simple reading of design as the solution to systemic forms of oppression.

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