design thinking initiatives for a better urban life
Cambridge, is home to numerous world-class universities including Harvard and MIT and over 105,000 residents that can be broken apart into three distinct groups, professionals, a strong working class, and the largest segment with over 40%, the students. More so, the governing bodies including the city and the universities are plagued with misaligned interests exposed through their resource allocation and differentiation of waste streams. Through quantitative and qualitative research including numerous interviews with a variety of stakeholders including the “city”, MIT, Harvard, and a survey that was completed by over 180 students and residents across the city. The research showed that the city has been left holding the “bag” at the end of the day. From each stakeholder’s perspective, waste was merely a byproduct of inconvenience. This spans each socioeconomic group that was contacted, and each institution, no matter how large or small—it is a matter of convenience.
This discovery, novel at best, led us to look for a moment to intervene within the system—one that is universal and would capitalize on current behaviors that could morph based upon the time of year, or the needs of the users.
Initially Curbed City began as a platform that would curb the waste that is created around September 1st, nearly 5% of all the city’s waste created on one day. Most importantly, unlike standard household waste, what is being disposed around this date has a very high alternate value. Also, there is a high correlation between this furniture waste, and attempted alternate disposal methods including gifting it, craigslist, and multiple phone calls to different donation centers. Also, due to the heavy proportionality of students who stay in the city on average just over 3 years, their furniture and household items are typically in good condition upon disposal, while the incoming class is frequently purchasing the same items.
Moving off this notion, in order to further develop the platform, additional research was done to study current and proposed city and institutional policies as well as the best practices used across the country for not only recycling, but also acquiring used items. The systems and channels were quite similar and subsequently, the City of Cambridge’s systems work efficiently as treating all items as waste, yet they failed to address the greater needs of the community. The key to a successful program is to capitalize on current behavioral pattern the city is all too familiar with, the curb, and make a spectacle of it. By creating a platform that embraces the street, the needs, consumption and waste habits of the residents as a public performance that does not penalizes people for handing off their goods to the next users but embraces the most convenient, safe, and accessible local. The current Curbed City is a platform that has the ability to revolutionize not only how we freecycle furniture, but see the city and its’ use of goods and commodification patterns along with the ability to expand beyond the city limits of Cambridge and the notions of merely furniture but into the realms of personal and business relationships, art, and even pop-up events. In future generations of the platform, we see the system expanding to include a whole host of additional features that will maintain the streamline aesthetic and functionality that has been designed but will include scheduling abilities, donation specifications, and alerts when a desired item becomes available around you. This is just the beginning of how Curbed City can embrace the urban context and allow its participants to map a city by its’ commodification, trades, and interactions.
A project by:
Christopher M. Johnson