This imaginary person will do this…

27 Jul

The challenge is to create something from sheer potential. Last week, we started to apply a technique called contextual mapping that names the roles and high level responsibilities associated with a design competition in Buffalo, NY. Unlike other competitions, we are seeking to directly involve people from government, business, non-profits and the community (you know, the citizens who just give a damn).

The need for the competition is clear when I look at the region’s business practices. Local developers, out of respect I won’t mention names, over build the infrastructure of the region to three times the required capacity. Especially considering when the local population has decreased over the last 50 years. On one level, the infrastructure’s growth makes sense. Businesses build in places where they can afford to conduct operations. This might require clearing woodlands and building a new building rather than purchasing an undervalued office with unknown and hidden maintenance fees. (Seems like the ideal solution is rather simple here; tear down the overvalued office and build a new one- wait, that’s going to cost more money.) When a business locates into an area, its employees and owners would like to avoid a 2 hour commute to and from work. This means that housing becomes built within a reasonable distance of the company to align with the needs of the people.

However, this kind of thinking is very reactionary because the time scale of all the decisions made within this scenario fits the shelf life of the business, say 20 to 30 years. In most cases, an enterprise will not live beyond 2. In Western New York, many of the governments, which were a response to handle the needs of long-forgotten businesses, remain as well as the houses, offices, gas stations, hotels and retail shops that made it practical. The longer timescale of 50 to 100 years poises a greater problem. The governments are left to handle the excess inventory of roads, sewers, and utility lines at the cost of the people living in the region. The residents pay higher taxes and other unseen costs that affect directly their quality of life and increases the region’s poverty. The wider the businesses sprawl from the city’s center to avoid taxes, the bigger the problem. BLAH! The logic… And this does not include New York state’s sanctioning of these social dynamics as they award nearly$100,000 to a developer who builds in a virgin area and repeats the process.

In Buffalo, we have too much infrastructure, too much government, too little business, and generally too much of the too little to systemically recollect the region’s latent potential. Throughout the city, old factories explode from old age. Fire fighters smother plumes of toxic smoke from fires encouraged by the factory’s dereliction. Old residential complexes like the Red Jacket on Main Street have fantastic facades of red brick, but the best house rats and sea gulls after its roof collapses within the walls. The inspiration for this competition is to encourage current business practices to develop a more human friendly housing market.

The competition is in the stage that its team has already established its vision and purpose. Its members wrestle questions that bring the concept into a more tangible quality. They determine budgets, goals, roles, actions, and resources to bring the conditions together. To name the project’s roles, one tool that we are using is contextual mapping. This tool comes from the field of Information Systems and seeks to answer 2 questions: what roles are necessary for the success of the organization and what do these roles do?

In its early stages of understanding, the contextual map below demonstrates our first thoughts about the relationships between the contest’s process and what roles might be necessary to execute a complex process. Using a brainstorm, the roles are generally populated and then screened for fit. Once complete, the roles are then clarified on a highly abstract level to answer the question what roles do what.

To identify who does what in the conception of a business system or process, a contextual map works wonders to provide an initial visual demonstration.

Now, the group needs to finish this model so that we understand our workforce requirements. [more to come…]


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