At-Home Learning From the National Building Museum, Week 3: Identifying Neighborhood Challenges

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The more information you have going into a design project, the better you will be able to think of solutions to address challenges in your community. The best people to talk to about a community are the people who live and work there. They have direct experience with what works well, and what can change.

Interview family members or neighbors over the phone, or from a safe distance, about their experiences living in the area. Here are a few sample questions:

  • What do you like about this neighborhood?
  • What would you change?
  • What has changed in this neighborhood since you moved here? What is the same?
  • What do you wish you had easier access to in this neighborhood?
  • How easy is it to get to work from here? To the grocery store? What transportation options do you use?

When you conduct an interview, make sure to:

  • Speak clearly and make eye contact.
  • Ask follow-up questions to get more information and clarify answers.
  • Ask more open-ended questions (“What do you like about living here?”), which give people the opportunity to talk at length, than questions that can be answered with a few words (“Do you like living here?”).

Sort out the things you learn about the neighborhood that are good (pros) from the things that are not so good (cons). You can:

  • Make a chart or graph that shows the answers you received.
  • Record your own summaries of what you heard from interviews.
  • Go back to your community resource map and add information you heard.

Reflect on what you know now:

  • Which pros and cons match up with your own observations from community mapping and exploring your neighborhood?
  • Did you learn something new or surprising about your neighborhood?
  • Has you understanding of your neighborhood—the way it used to be or the way it is now—changed? If so, how?
  • What about your neighborhood do you still want to understand better? To whom could you talk to find that out? What online resources could you search?

If you live in D.C., here are a few resources to explore. If you live elsewhere, many cities have similar historical societies, local museums, and library collections that can be researched.

If you have children under the age of 5, download this PDF featuring ways to imagine solutions with them.

Next week’s activity will provide some resources on how to propose solutions to the challenges and opportunities you have found.

Week 1: What Is Design?
Week 2: Understanding Your Neighborhood
Week 4: How Would You Change Your Neighborhood?