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9 Design Projects Tackling America’s Poverty Crisis, One Community At A Time

The U.S. economy is technically in recovery, but the number of Americans living in concentrated poverty has nearly doubled since 2000. As people struggle for stability and survival, the communities where public investment has disintegrated are getting creative to meet residents’ needs, from housing to health.

The exhibition “By the People: Designing a Better America,” which opened Sept. 30 at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York City, spotlights 60 projects that use design to solve urgent problems at the local level, from food access to natural disaster response. The exhibition catalog, which notes that “design can be a force for justice,” could serve as a loose guide for others who want to roll up their sleeves and confront their communities’ problems head-on.

The show is curated by Cynthia Smith, the museum’s curator of socially responsible design. Smith selected the current exhibition from a list of 300 projects after spending two years traveling the country and witnessing communities’ solutions to the challenges of poverty in urban centers and rural areas, the borderland and the heartland.  

“Many of [the design projects] are in response to decades of divestment, social and spatial segregation and mounting climate challenges,” Smith told The Huffington Post.

Smith said she was careful to include projects from a diverse set of places with a range of strategies and goals. She said the variety is meant to show visitors that design interventions can take place under almost any circumstances.

The projects do have one thing in common: They were shaped by the people they’re meant to serve, and many are spearheaded by partnerships between professional designers and local organizations.

“Bridging divides or creating alliances, whether it’s listening, valuing or incorporating local community experiences, is really essential for envisioning, designing and building a more just and equitable country,” Smith said.

Here are nine of the creative ways design has been used to confront poverty and inequality around the country, featured in the “By the People” exhibition.

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