Welcome to my project journal.
This page is dedicated to document the efforts I put in place to create the Welcome to Eel town project. The project started with the realization that, with the rapid growth of Brunswick in the past ten years, the major changes the city are going through are not only demography related.
As new residential and commercial areas are built, as new Brunswickians are moving in, part of Brunswick's uniqueness and culture is evolving.
It is not uncommon, in post-industrial car oriented societies, that rapid urbanisation leads to a divide between long time locals, with their family rooted in the city, and new comers, along a partial dilution of the local culture and loss of historical common markers.
Welcome to Eel town is a Proof-of-Concept that aims to not only map Brunswick's features but also generate tools for the locals to create and update their own maps. It is a way for Brunswickians to be agents of their town's own story, development and culture.
The project is named after the first recorded name of the settlement that would become Brunswick: Eel town.
Welcome to Eel town is part of the SHINE initiative supported by AIGA D.C.
Phase — 0
In this very first step I research what ideas I would want to explore and start agregating the essence of what my project will be about
Setting a context
This project started out of my participation to the SHINE initiative from the AIGA D.C.
SHINE is a program that aims to help and support the growth of upcoming creatives in the D.C. area. As a newcomer to the US I felt it would be a great way to integrate the local design scene and at the same time work on something interesting.
Indeed part of the requirements of the program is that all participants must create a "Do good" project as a form of giving back to the community.
The idea of doing such project came as a great way to approach a subject I felt I resonated with. Indeed even though I have lived on different continents in my life, moving to the US came with its own set of cultural shocks and I figured that, as a newcomer, I have a different perspective and a fresh eye on things that could lead to interesting results.
Given the events of January 2021 (and the years that led to it) I wanted to explore the question of social division in the USA. I also wanted to take this opportunity to try out things I did not have the opportunity to experience often in my practice.
Desires to kickstart
Try something new
Address my observations
Do some cool maps
The original inspiration to use Brunswick as a center point came while looking through my phone. I noticed from the geolocalisation options that I would consistently go to the same few places around my house.
As a strong proponent of the idea that we are shaped by our environment I started to wonder: To what extent the way we select where and when we go shapes the idea we construct of the space we live in ?
Could someone have a new perception of their city if they saw it through my eyes ?
Would something as simple as changing your walking habits impact how great you feel about where you live ?
Should people be incentivized to roam their city more often as a citizen initiative ?
Heatmap tracking my most common locations over a five month period.
Oct 2020 - March 2021
Generated through my iPhone
The first step to this new work was to research elements and processes that would support my practice. As I knew my subject would ineluctably lead me to deal with cognitive bias, perception, and social change I looked at educating myself a little more about it.
I used the resources of the AIGA to approach the matter through the lense of design.
Among my research, the webinar on "Design for cognitive bias" by Dave Dylan Thomas proved to be the most interesting.
Educating myself on those matters helped reinforce my design process and see things with a new eye.
Setting a framework
The last step of this "discovery" phase would be to set a proper framework for my project. Having a set of rules, especially when you're working on a very short time frame, really helps staying focus on specific issues, processes or result.
This aspect of the creative work can sometimes be difficult. When you're working to solve a very concrete issue, or doing commercial work many of the requirements are dictated by the context.
The very nature of working on a research project means that the work is exploratory and the rules sometimes fuzzy or hard to set.
A way for me to avoid this issue while staying open to any outcome the project could bring me was to not define what I wanted to do but rather what I did not.
As someone with a strong experience in the branding field I wanted to experiment with:
Based on that I was able to define five key requirements.
Key project personal requirements
No digital work
No commercial purposes
Something to experiment
Phase — 1
The work is starting.
In this phase I research and explore my subject in order to have the proper information and tools to make creative decisions.
Perception is reality
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound ?"
The question of perception being reality is nothing new. From the 1710 quote of George Berkeley to the idea that we might be living in a simulation ( Did you say Matrix ?) subjective idealism has been a long discussed topic. While I would love to engage in an philosophy essay, I took interest on how the division between "new Brunswick" and "old Brunswick" was being driven by how both groups was perceiving each other.
Out of the meany examples I found, the one herein after stuck with me.
It is a simple statement on perceived criminality.
Yet it has so many layers to it.
I do not want to spark a debate on what's wrong and right with it. However I am sure this person's statement is molded by their own perception of themselves, of their neighborhood, and of the city as a whole.
Unsurprisingly the statement I highlighted does not take facts into account.
Indeed contrary to what that person is claiming, the city's criminality rate is not bad when compared to the US national average or even Maryland's state average. Moreover it is lower than some neighboring cities. But the map provided by that person creates a confirmation bias by showing that in the last fifteen years most crime happened downtown...
Fifteen years ago the neighbourhood that person lives in did not exist.
The division in Brunswick is real. But is it justified ?
A screenshot of a local FB group.
Names and photos have been masked for privacy reasons.
A screenshot from the local county county report.
The report shows that the crimes in the city are located in the historical downtown.
⟶ Access here
A look at the available online open data highlights the strong and fast paced change that the city is going through* with the development on new upper middle class neighborhoods that are not built for the historical Brunswick-rooted population.
The data helps understand better the division between "new Brunswick" and "old Brunswick". It also helps to highlight that on many other level like race, political inclination, nationality, origins, etc the Brunswickians are fairly homogenous and from the perspective of a newcomer like me the dissension are mostly the results of skewed perception between communities.
*+33% median income increase in less than 5 years — DataUSA.io
Brunswick's development and settlement can be traced with reference to broader national ideas and issues throughout history [...]
"Rooted deeply in our past" : A landscape history of Brunswick, Maryland
Alyssa R. Fisher — James Madison University
From the sky the city's division appears more clearly. Brunswick is divided by three mains axis. The main historical axis along road 287 toward Virginia to the south, and road 79 to the north. Road 17 going west connects the newer Brunswick Crossing to road 340 toward Frederick then Baltimore or D.C. The last axis follows the Potomac and was built when the town originally expanded.
We can note that the neighbourhoods are not easily connected between one another forcing people to make "detours" in order to access other parts of the city that are not that far away.
Adding a layer of topographic data to the map also helps understand better how the nature of the terrain has shaped Brunswick the way it is. It is ineluctable that such a topography would end up creating division if the inhabitants were unable to mingle or to practice bonding activities.
Refining a concept
At this point it is pretty clear that there is a division in Brunswick. It is arguably motivated by socio-economic reasons and enhanced by topographic ones.
Yet, what can I do about it ?
Already in this early phase of the project maps were a big component into analysing the context and understanding what was at stake. I figured looking more into mapping representation and artistic concepts would be interesting.
I found many types of maps that would allow me to have a different eye on our world. From map made solely based on crowded-sourced memories to maps using scents and smells as reference points rather than geographical one.
Going down the rabbit hole I stumbled upon four strong references that questionned possible tools of concorde, that highlited the universalness of human experiences.
All good starting points for my project.
Humans of NY
Humans of New York is a project by Brandon Stranton launched in 2010 that originally aimed to photograph 10,000 random New-Yorkers.
The initiative grew way beyond its original goal, and Humans of New York now showcasing everyday strangers and highlight the uniqueness of their personal history.
The project is considered a philanthropic inspirations by many as it help bridge the gap between people by showing that we all have similar stories, desires and heartaches.
I selected this project as an inspiration for my work as it aims to really reasses the fact that when you learn to go beyond original expectations, then one might not be so different from their neighbours.
Such project help rehumanizing rhetoric that have become too common and tend to enhance the Us VS Them behavior.
1000 Journal is a project launched in 2000 by Brian Singer, a San Francisco based designer. The project aims to share 1000 journals with strangers and let them fill them up as they see fit with personal writings, pictures, drawings, etc. Once the stranger is done, they pass it along someone else.
The journal act as vessel for a social commentary and are artifacts that connect people through a cathartic experience and discussion.
This project is interesting because it gives people the power to mold their own artistic experience as they see fit. It also creates a connection and value people's collaboration.
Turn left, Turn right (2003) is a Hong-Kongese movie based on a graphic novel. The movie explores the relationship of two people living in the same building only separated by a wall but whom have a complete different experience of their neighborhood as one always turn left when existing the building while the other always turns right.The movie explore this as both the characters, that have met only once, are looking for one another while not realizing that they live in the same building.
While I have not seen this movie, I find it's concept interesting as it highlights how such a simple decision as turning left or right when exiting your house can have an impact on how you perceive your own space.
Folded Map is a Chicago based photographic initiative by Tonika Lewis Johnson. Her project aims to investigate the city's urban segregation and its impact while connecting residents.
Tonika took advantage of the mirrored mapping system the city has to compare local residents' housing and the underlying divisions.
This project is a great inspiration as it uses the power of maps to question an existing context and its limits. Yet it does so without trying to antagonize the people that are unknowingly part of it. It aims to connect rather than condemn.
While the city is no longer the whirlwind of development it has just been just a hundred years ago, city residents never forget their railroad roots.
"Rooted deeply in our past" : A landscape history of Brunswick, Maryland
Alyssa R. Fisher — James Madison University
But is it worth it ?
At this point it seems that Brunswickians are all living in their own bubble while sometimes despising their neighbor. A local told me it was "America in a nutshell".
Still there is a true interest for the city and what it has to offer.
There are initiative to preserve the city's collective history. Many Brunswickians are vocal about supporting local small businesses. And everyone seemed to enjoy the local events before COVID took over the world.
There seem to be a true desire to reconnect the city and it's inhabitants in a more synergistic ecosystem.
There is a true power in mapping things. Maps have been used for thousand of years to categorize people, to claim ownership over resources, to support political agendas, etc. Even in a world where everything seems to have been already mapped, maps are still used as reference for sovereignty disputes ( Hello nine dash-line ) and most of us do not realize that maps depiction are always wrong (on purpose) and skews our perception of the world.
Yet, as a "map is a symbolic depiction emphasizing relationships between elements of some space, such as objects, regions, or themes"* it is also a tool with real life impact.
A fitting example is the initiative that was put in place to map out some of the street art in Montréal, Canada.
The historic Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood was for a long time one of the less rich part of the city. As many poorer neighborhood in major north american city it was also the epicenter of the local street art movement. With time the Plateau became a hot spot for tourist looking to see something different. Different maps appeared online through shared Google maps (1), or on Reddit (2).
Aware of that, the city launched in 2015 its own initiative to provide an actual paper map for tourist (3). The map highlights many of the Plateau (and overall city)'s street art.
Such endeavor is a testament on how maps can positively impact the value and image of a city and its quality of life.
What now ?
Laying out the facts, this is where I go from now.
People live in self built "bubbles" even though they share the same space.
The city has untapped cultural value.
The city is built in a way that separates people.
There are divisions.
Most people are turned toward "the outside".
Help people connect.
Boost local life.
Bring some magic.
Create a system allowing locals to share more about their city and the usage they make of their "own space".
Phase — 2
It's now time to put things in motion and get the proper content we need to make the project happen.
Building a survey
I figured the best way to get proper results and insights would be to find a way to get the locals opinion rather than work solely off my personal experience, biased perception and limited intuitions.
I would have loved to have the opportunity to interview locals one by one but given the COVID situation and short time frame, an online survey came as a much more reasonable solution.
Although an online survey would allow me with the possibility to get in touch with a wider range of people in a smaller time frame it came with its own downside.
The biggest of it would be that in general people are not interested in filling them up. They are simply not engaging.
This means that the survey would have to be short (under five minutes) and simple (no complex questions). After looking up online the best practices regarding how to get the best out of a survey, I brainstormed as many questions as possible. The original set spanned from pretty straightforward questions such as "Rate Brunswick" to more conceptual one like "What is a community ? Please define with your own words.".
The next step was that, after a careful review by pairing of the questions by similarity and getting rid of the redundant ones I made a mock up survey that was very complete but painfully long. Nonetheless that first draft was a good starting point to draft more straight to the point goals and questions I would need to reach to have a minimum viable dataset. Those three goals where:
In the end the final questionnaire was articulated in four parts in order to match those goals:
The final survey was done on Tripetto.app. This platform was chosen as it is free, has a nice WYSIWYG edition system, and allows for complex functions like branching.
The survey is 12 questions long. It takes less than 5 minutes to complete. Yet it has some more complex question that requires the surveyee to fill up more personal answers.
A request was posted on several Facebook groups in order to cover as much as possible of the online Brunswick population.
The survey were open from March 29th to April 5th 2021.
The groups included:
The ORIGINAL Brunswick — 7.7k members
REAL Residents of Brunswick, MD — 1.5k members
Brunswick/Lovettsville Community Page (and Knoxville too!) — 1.4K members
Brunswick Crossing Residents — 1K members
Brunswick, MD population — 6,491 people
Brunswick, MD households — 2,203 households
Total Brunswick, MD Facebook population — 11.6K aggregated group members
Total survey participants — 70 people (1.08% of the city's population)
Analysing the results
The Tripetto surveying platform was great for designing the survey and gathering data. On the other hand it was less great when it came to analyzing it as it does not offer any functions for that purpose.
All the surveyees' results were thus downloaded as a .CSV file and opened in Microsoft Excel to get a good look at it. The software proved to be a useful tool to filter out specific categories and calculate aggregated results.
All calculations were done by hands.
Herein after are some of the key results:
after 7 days
Avg. years lived in Brunswick, MD
Overall quality of life rating
Would recommend the city for a quick gateaway
after 7 days
Would rather live elsewhere
Negative keyword qualifiers
Want more shops and restaurants
So what now ?
Out of the survey analysis, and without taking into account that most of the respondents were from one specific neighborhood (Brunswick Crossing), a few specific things arose:
Probably the most interesting and unexpected result to me was that even though most people gave such high ratings to the quality of life in Brunswick - 68% of respondents rated 8/10 or higher, 15% gave a perfect 10/10, and the lowest rating is 4/10 - and 6/10 people would recommend the city for a quick gateaway, there was a real dichotomy with later results.
More specifically over 1/4 of respondents said they would rather live elswhere, and overall it seems that people had rather negative qualifiers when it came to describing the city (20%) or assessing their needs (85% think the city's offer of entertainment and business is insufficient).
Hence the direction the survey process was taking would be to be designed in a way that would:
*Blue Ocean strategy is a originally a market analytical framework that aims to assess and create new explored areas called blue oceans.
In our case that would mean trying to highlight part of the Brunswick with untaped value in terms of tourism, activities, etc.
Phase — 3
The concept has been refined and it's time to design the "vessel"
Desire to experiment was part of this project from day one.
I wanted to make the final survey an actual hard copy print for two reasons:
I already had experience with risograph printing but I heard about the possibility to rent studio hours in Baltimore and print myself, giving me not only the occasion to keep 100% ownership of my project at every step but also to learn some new skills.
After an evening class to get certified I designed my sixteen page long survey.
The visual design was inspired by the actual printing constrains and a desire to have something modern and minimal with a hint of vintage bold colors and fonts.
It's design time
The survey was shaped as a small booklet. Its size, shape and colors were limited by the constrains of risograph printing.
With said constrains the survey would be limited to:
Still I made sure that the mapping survey would include a proper presentation of the project and a way to contact me. I also added at the very end a series of optional question to get a better understanding of the surveyees while keeping the result anonymous.
I also illustrated my own bicolor textured map of Brunswick.
One of the biggest challenge of multicolor risograph printing is to maintain a proper alignment.
I added manual alignment marks on my design but making it happen proved to be more finicky than expected.
The survey was divided in four exercises.
The exercises come as a pair with a mapping exercise designed to get some geographical data, and a writing exercise to get some commented answer regarding what was asked.
Overall the main goal of the survey is to get aggregatable geographic data while also getting some more emotional informations on the city's "non-obvious" places of interest.
Final mapping survey booklets.
The risograph printing process was a very pleasant yet dirty experience.
The design of the booklet made them slightly overloaded with green ink and ink would transfer and stain any surface even after two weeks of drying.
Phase — 4
It's now time to give my project some visibility.
Getting it out there
The survey was now printed, cut, folded and bound. It is time to get it out there.
However, since to the first survey, I felt that the concept had evolved quite a bit and that, even though the booklet was offering explanation and guidance, sixteen pages would not enough to get properly into the subject matter.
Thus I designed a simple landing page that would introduce the concept, the reasons behind it and who I am. I also did a simple mailing campaign to the twenty-three that signed up during the previous survey.
I did not do any tracking on the landing page.
The returns on the mailing campaign where not impressive.
23 emails sent.
It was however an interesting first experience with the Mailchimp emailing client.
I'm the mailman
It's now time to get those surveys out there.
Just like las time I used Facebook to seek people that would be interested in filling up the surveys.
Surveys are handed out on a household basis. The goal is to be able to compare results in a family and see if that impacts the diversity of results.
Surprisingly most of the participants that responded to my request where from the older part of town. The online survey participation was completely the opposite. Even though this is only a POC project and that the survey are very different it would be interesting to see if some valuable insights could be extracted based on the very different demographic of surveyees.
I took the opportunity of dropping off surveys to enjoy the diversity of mailboxes.
There is even one shaped like a pig !
I ended up driving 60+ miles across town, to survey, photograph unique locations, and drop off surveys to willing participants.
It was for me the occasion to see parts of the city I had never been to before, to be invited at a BBQ party of a council member and witness the police find a lost rifle.
More than only discovering new places, it also gave me the opportunity to see more known neighborhoods in a new light like quiet rows of house I was used to turned into streets filled with playful kids when the sun was low.
after 14 days
Mapping surveys were made available
Number of household who were interested
Number of household that participated
Number of survey distributed
Mapping surveys completed so far
Of participants that are not from Brunswick Crossing
Show time !
Even though the project is still ongoing I had the opportunity to introduce it to my fellow SHINE members at a critique session.
The results were pretty positive.
Concomitantly a member of Brunswick Economic Development Comitee (EDC) got in touch after seeing my request for surveyee on Facebook.
On May 18th I presented my project to the comitee as a guest speaker. The comitee showed interest as Welcome to Eel town is the kind of initiative that can help live up the city but also provide valuable data for their decision making process.
The comitee really like the ideas and system I put in place but, them and I highlighted that the low participation (1% of Brunswick population) and return rate (6% of surveys on that day) created a bias. The comitee also inquired if I forsaw the data to still be up to date as the city grow.
Yet the EDC really would like to support the project and are looking into ways to either expand the project's reach (by making it digital for instance) and increasing the return rate (by providing a network of supporting local businesses and financial incentives).
Overall the outcome was very positive as a comitee member said he was "mentally salivating" at my project and the presentation followed by a Q&A went far beyond the original allocated time.
So what's next ?
Originally my plan was to finish the project and wrap up everything by June 1st to coincide with the official end of the AIGA D.C. SHINE Initiative.
I was aiming to create some sort of paper guide that would highlight the profile of specific yet diverse community members and share some of their most important Brunswick memory and location, along an aggregated maps of all the surveyees.
However as the project is gaining traction and is growing beyond my expectation I prefere to take my time to refine the end result and make sure the project lives up to its potential and the expectations of every participants that gave some of their time.
Points of interest through notes and sketches to prepare the next phase of the project.
1 — I wanted to do a cool project to help people see things differently.
2 — I decided to set it in the city I live in.
3 — I designed a data based mapping system that highlights locals' favourite places.
4 — The goal is to bridge the gap between communities and help people overcome preconceptions.
5 — About 1% of the city's population completed my survey.
6 — People liked my idea so much that the city council got in on it and wants to support my project.
If you want to learn more about my overall SHINE project process you can look it up ⟶ HERE
Thank you for reading this far.
For now the project is still growing and I am looking forward to reaching the next stage.
As I wait for the project to reach its next stage of life I would like to thank Mike Bell (Inkable.media) for helping me staying focused and supporting my work, and also the AIGA DC chapter and all the great team of the SHINE initiative.
Of course I would like to thank the very good people of Brunswick that are showing interest into revitalizing their city.
Lastly I would like to thank my wife that is very patient with me especially when I have the weirdest ideas.
Stay updated by following me on instagram ⟶ @studio_juliuscornelius
If you want to learn more about my overall SHINE project process you can look it up ⟶ HERE