Harlem First: Mapping the health of a community

Over the last several months PopTech has had the honor to partner with an elite group of collaborators on an emerging approach that strives to understand how social innovation design can influence the health of a community.

Harlem First: Mapping the Health of a Community celebrated our longstanding partnership with Design for Social Innovation at the School for Visual Arts (DSI) in New York, founded by PopTech Emeritus Board member, Cheryl Heller. The project leveraged the talent of PopTech Fellows and tapped the wisdom, commitment and energy of a number of Harlem-based organizations and community members, including the Arnhold Institute for Global Health, directed by PopTech Fellow Prabhjot Singh and Strive International. The role of social innovation design as a pathway to solution development is well documented in several sectors. Our instinct to blend aspects of social innovation (talent, technology, design, research and engagement with the community) has been at the core of PopTech’s mission for many years. Using community mapping as a tool to understand the factors that influence the health of a community was at the center of our work on Harlem First. Our early findings demonstrate the value of community mapping as an engagement tool – enabling community members to collect their own data – and more importantly, providing a path for citizens to co-create solutions to the challenges they uncover. Our notion that residents of a community see things that are invisible to others, and often go undetected in official statistics, was validated.

Harlem First: Mapping the Health of a Community was a multi-faceted initiative that provided numerous points of interaction, contemplation and relationship building. These exchanges, and the subsequent knowledge gained, were made possible through a host of community activities and an interactive gallery exhibition at the SVA Gramercy Gallery, all of which took place throughout the month of January. Our work on this early phase of the project culminated with the Harlem First Symposium, convened by DSI at the SVA Beatrice Theater on February 1. The event brought together health professionals, politicians, local agencies, designers, community leaders, Harlem residents and data scientists to hear a conversation about the insights this initiative has brought to light.

Panelists, including Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.; community leader and public servant, Clyde Williams; Prabhjot Singh, Director of the Arnhold Global Health Institute; East Harlem tenants’ activist Carmen Quinones; and Robert Carmona co-founder of Strive, represented health providers, government, community leaders and residents. The panel discussed community health through the lens of policing, surveillance and criminal justice; the impact of unemployment; the visibility of health services; affordable housing; and what a community loses when its longer-term residents leave. A video of the symposium is available here.

Our work on Harlem First was advised early on by PopTech Fellows Patrick Meier and Jake Porway. We were honored to engage 2016 PopTech Fellow Primož Kovačič, who traveled from Kenya and generously contributed his expertise in community mapping, teaching two master classes for DSI students, Harlem residents, community organizations and health providers. Reflections of his time in Harlem are shared in his blog post.

We would like to express our gratitude to staff and faculty of DSI for the enormous contributions they made. The initiative would not have been possible without their dedication, the commitment of first year students in the Mapping and Visualization Design class, and the creative brilliance of Kevin O’Callaghan, who brought our work to life in the gallery exhibition. The ability to see the invisible through maps was made possible by talented cartographer Gabriel Schuster. A full recap of all aspects of Harlem First can be found on the DSI blog.

Harlem First represents the beginning of a body of collaborative work. Please stay tuned as we continue to share our insights and expand the scope of this promising initiative.

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