The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) is a nonprofit organization that uses design and art to improve civic engagement.
CUP projects demystify the urban policy and planning issues that impact our communities, so that more individuals can better participate in shaping them. We believe that increasing understanding of how these systems work is the first step to better and more diverse community participation. CUP projects are collaborations of art and design professionals, community-based advocates and policymakers, and our staff. Together we take on complex issues—from the juvenile justice system to zoning law to food access—and break them down into simple, accessible, visual explanations.
The tools we create are used by organizers and educators all over New York City and beyond to help their constituents better advocate for their own community needs.
CUP takes two approaches to improving public engagement through civic education:
- youth education programs in which students work with teaching artists to investigate some aspect of how the city works and create final products that educate others about what they learned; and
- community education programs that bring together designers and advocates to produce tools, workshops, and publications that explain complex policies or processes for specific audiences.
Community Education works with advocacy organizations, policy experts, and designers to produce publications, workshops, and other teaching tools that explain important policy issues for the people who most need to know.
CUP publications and teaching tools are made for and with specific groups in specific places, but they reach a national audience of people interested in civics education and graphic and information design.
CUP’s Envisioning Development Toolkits are workshops built around interactive tools that teach people about basic land-use terms and concepts, enabling them to participate meaningfully in neighborhood change.
For example, the Affordable Housing Toolkit teaches participants about income demographics and the technical definitions of affordable housing to help them analyze proposed developments in concrete terms of units, rents, and incomes. The toolkits are developed in close collaboration with community organizations throughout New York, such as Good Old Lower East Side, the Fifth Avenue Committee, the Municipal Arts Society, and Tenants and Neighbors.
Making Policy Public series facilitates close collaborations between policy experts and design professionals to produce foldout posters that make complex policy issues accessible. For example, The Cargo Chain helped 10,000 longshoremen understand their place in the global shipping network, and is also a bestseller at art and design bookstores in New York. Collaborators have included designers like Candy Chang, Alice Chung of Omnivore, and Thumb Design with organizations such as the Brennan Center for Justice, Community Voices Heard, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Through our Technical Assistance program, community organizations and advocacy groups can hire CUP to create custom outreach and organizing tools. For example, we are working with the Participatory Budgeting Project and Community Voices Heard, along with designer Glen Cummings, to produce outreach and educational materials, as well as maps and ballots for a citywide effort to engage public participation in City Council budget decision making.
Youth Education partners with schools and after school programs to produce experiential, project-based curricula that get students out of the classroom to interact with New York City and the people who make it work. Our education programs vary in length from one day to one semester and reach over 500 students each year – from the Bronx to South Brooklyn and everywhere in between.
Urban Investigations projects ask basic questions about how the city works and answer them over the course of a semester. Where does our garbage go? Where does our water come from? Who built public housing? Students make site visits and conduct interviews while working with artists, designers, and staff to produce award-winning videos, exhibitions, magazines, and other media that communicate what they’ve learned to a wide audience. These products are screened in theaters, exhibited at museums, and used by advocacy organizations to educate others.
For example, the Sewer in a Suitcase, a working model of a city streetscape and combined sewer system developed by CUPwith students from City-as-School, has been featured on the Design Observer website and at the Proteus Gowanus gallery, and is currently being used by educators at organizations like The Harbor School and the Lower East Side Ecology Center to teach people about wastewater management and combined sewer overflow. CUP projects are in-class and after school, project-based curricula for high school students, from semester-long projects to single-session workshops.
For example,CUP recently developed a curriculum with a teacher at the Academy of Urban Planning in Bushwick to help students understand how to use information graphics in their persuasive writing. After conducting an on-the-street survey on a proposed soft drink tax, students created their own figures, charts, and graphs to help them develop arguments for or against the tax.
We also provide Teacher Trainings, professional development workshops for teachers and administrators that help educators connect students to their communities through art and design. We develop custom programs to meet the needs of a particular group, from a two-hour site assessment project to a week-long set of workshops.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has"
Margaret Mead, Anthropologist
(used with permission)
"If you don't like the news .... go out and make some of your own !!"
Wes "Scoop" Nisker, Newscaster
Government is a slow and tedious process. While it often includes citizen and neighborhood involvement, non-governmental, private organizations have created movements and interesting groups which can create positive change in our cities and towns.
I am fascinated by the way groups are created and how they influence public decision making. This blog merely recognizes them and forwards the description of these groups from their own websites.