Engaging the disconnect
Civic spaces are designed in the absence of the people they most greatly impact. Conventional engagement efforts consist of formalities such as community meetings that deny participants the agency of hand-making and are built upon relationships of obligation. This runs contrary to a body of research that positions hand-making and solidarity as elemental to human nature: Matthew Crawford equates explorations of “manual engagement” to existential questioning, 1 and Karl Marx saw collaboration as integral to our “species character.” 2 The potential outcomes of this disconnect are undignified spaces that fail to accommodate the most basic human needs. 3 This thesis offers a model of praxis to challenge this disconnect. Nadia Anderson writes that praxis is focused on “process and action” 4 as opposed to products, while Marx characterized praxis as the union of thinking and social practice. 5 Accordingly, this model of praxis is composed of two parts. First, an engagement toolkit implemented in a real community; and second, an architectural proposal developed alongside a partner organization. In New Orleans, the disconnect between users and the creation of civic space is manifested in public transit. The RTA (Regional Transit Authority) bus system converges at a few critical intersections in the city’s Central Business District. Each day, thousands of riders must transfer at these stops, despite a lack of adequate seating, shade, and other basic amenities. 6 Currently, the RTA is conducting a feasibility study for a downtown transit hub. In partnership with Ride New Orleans, a local advocacy group, this thesis will deploy a community engagement toolkit that will enable transit riders to shape the design a dignified transit hub.