Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

Design critics: Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of Ecosistema Urbano

I’ve had a few decent ideas and a few missteps so far but on Monday I hit upon something that might have some mileage in it. The studio instructors seemed interested this time and several of my studiomates told me they thought it was a strong idea and to develop it further.

I’m proposing developing a system that allows people to donate money to people begging on the street via an online interface. This solves a problem for both the donor and the recipient.

The donor gets to avoid a situation they feel uncomfortable in (for a variety of reasons) that might keep them from helping someone in need. And since we all pay for everything with our debit or credit card, they can donate to someone when they don’t have any cash or change on hand. Or if they pull up at an intersection and the light changes before they can help someone standing there.

The person who is begging for money can now get help from all the people who aren’t carrying change. And can do so in a way that might be less threatening to people walking past on the street.

At the moment I envision giving panhandlers signs with QR codes on them. Potential donors can snap a photo of the code and later, when they have a few spare minutes, can process it with an app then decodes it and launches a personalized webpage that is A) linked to that specific individual and ready to take a secure online donation or B) linked to a shelter or food bank where those donations can be paid in toward meals and a room.

Donors have the additional comfort of knowing their money isn’t getting used for alcohol or drugs.

There are several potential opportunities for community tie-in on this proposal: Street Roots newspaper is a possible partner. This would provide additional revenue for their employees and also reduce the paper waste they have now. Businesses could choose to advertise or somehow subsidize a portion of this process in return for ad space on the coded signs and the online pages. Local artists and writers could work with the homeless to “brand” them and raise the chance they’ll attract donors through creative approaches or increased visibility.

There are obviously issues to sort out here, but I think the idea has potential to benefit people in need in Portland.

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