Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Six Local Projects Poised to Make a Global Difference by Design

Photo courtesy of Rebar

PARKLETS [ Rebar Art and Design Studio ] Parking spaces can be for people, not just for cars. So says Rebar, the small Mission firm that first rolled out a length of grass, a tree, and a bench on a parking spot in 2005. This two-hour experiment became PARK(ing) Day, an annual event that now takes place in approximately 200 cities in 40 countries. In 2010, Rebar principal Matthew Passmore and his team worked with the city to create a pilot for the permit program that would allow people to take over parking spaces for an entire year. Those parklets—slender urban plazas with cafe seating and planters—are now an everyday part of the SF experience with more than 100 throughout the city. Rebar also sells prefab kits called Walklets. “We want to make more livable, pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets,” says Passmore, who is consulting on similar programs in Berkeley, Austin, and Davis. // Support PARK(ing) Day, parkingday.org.


SEE WELL TO LEARN [ Fuseproject ] It’s estimated that in some parts of Mexico half of all children between the ages of 6 and 18 need corrective glasses. Designer Yves Behar is looking out for them. The Fuseproject principal and his team collaborated with the Mexican government and Augen Optics to find a solution: customizable glasses that are low-cost but also fashionable. Made of indestructible plastic in mix-and-match hues and shapes, 300,000 pairs have been given away to students since the project’s start in 2010. This past fall, in collaboration with SF nonprofits Tipping Point and Prevent Blindness, Behar launched the Bay Area program, See Well to Learn. Since then, its bright blue Eye Bus has visited schools, giving free eye exams and glasses to children. “Kids have their own styles and preferences,” says Behar. “With glasses built specifically for them, we’re not just fulfilling 
a need but also a desire.” // Donate to Prevent Blindness, eyeinfo.org.

CLEAN TEAM PROJECT [ Ideo.org ] Often social-impact design is more necessary than sexy. Such is the case with Ideo.org’s Clean Team project, in partnership with Unilever and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor. The project, currently in pilot phase, would create a much-needed sanitation system for some of the poorest residents of Kumasi, Ghana, where less than 20 percent of the city’s 2.5 million residents have in-home plumbing. Instead, most locals must stand in line to use public latrines—and then pay for the privilege. But now, Ideo.org has designed a stand-alone rentable toilet that can be easily installed in homes and regularly cleaned for about the same price as the public option. Creative director Patrice Martin says the project is on track to reach 1,000 families by the end of 2013 and expand throughout Ghana. It’s a life-changing solution based on the residents’ real needs. “It gives people dignity,” says Martin. // Donate at ideo.org


CHANGE BY US [ Code for America ] High-tech solutions to everyday problems are prevalent in the Bay Area. Often those ideas are kept secret within private tech companies. But what if those technologies were more accessible? Could we put them to work to make our lives and cities better? Code for America, based in SoMa, says yes. By working with local governments, the organization aims to spark civic engagement and bring better services to the community. Enter Code for America’s initiative Change By Us. Created by the New York media design firm Local Projects and the urban advocacy nonprofit CEOs for Cities, Change By Us is a social network that gives the public a forum to make suggestions to improve their cities—anything from micro-farming co-ops and plastic bag recycling programs to neighborhood mural painting. First launched in Philadelphia last November, the online community tool is expanding to Chicago and Memphis with the help of Code for America. It will be released as an open-source project so that any city or developer can use it in the future. // Donate at codeforamerica.org

FOOTBALL FOR HOPE [ Architecture for Humanity ] Architecture for Humanity’s latest endeavor aims to foster community for African youth by bringing them together around sports. In association with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and streetfootballworld—a nonprofit that uses football (or what Americans call soccer) to empower disadvantaged youth—Architecture for Humanity is putting the final touches on 20 football centers across Africa. In addition to having soccer fields, each center is imagined as a community hub, with various health, education, and social programs based on specific local needs. In all cases, the buildings fit beautifully into their surroundings. The center in Rwanda offers HIV-testing, computer classes, and a public library, while the Lesotho center has a recycling program to generate income for underserved teens. Rainwater collection and solar panels help with energy needs in areas without plumbing or electricity. But the real winners are the kids, who will at last have the space to play, learn, and work. “It’s about social change through sports,” says Zipp. “These centers provide an amazing benefit of support to young children who otherwise might not have it.” // Get involved at architectureforhumanity.org


WATERWHEEL [ Catapult Design ] In the Bay Area, getting a glass of clean water is as simple as turning the handle on a faucet. But one-sixth of the world doesn’t have it so easy. In many countries, people (usually women) are forced to walk miles to gather their water, which they then must lug home in a five-pound bucket or earthenware jug balanced atop their heads. “Water transportation is a universal challenge,” says Heather Fleming, founder and CEO of Catapult Design, whose five-person SoMa design firm partnered with Wello to revise and improve their solution for transporting water in India. Catapult is updating Wello’s WaterWheel—a basic plastic drum attached to a metal handle that could originally hold up to 25 gallons of water and can be easily rolled over bumpy, dusty rural roads. The project is now focused on the drought-riddled Indian state of Rajasthan, but the possibilities for expansion are practically limitless—wherever water is scarce. 
// Donate to Wello, wellowater.org


This article was published in 7x7's December/January issue. Click here to subscribe.