Balancing Needs in the Design Process

Have you ever considered the difficulty of balancing so many competing needs in the process of making a community farm?

An ambitious project like Frogtown Farm has to accomplish three things, each a task in itself.

  • First, it must create a vision for what it (as an organization) wants to do and what it wants to change by doing that.
  • Second, it must refine that vision to both be realistic and to satisfy the many diverse people and interests circulating around the project and the neighborhood.
  • Third, it must implement that vision in an effective, authentic, and cooperative way.

Our work at Rebar exists somewhere in between the first and second steps. We are trying to help the Frogtown Farm board, the community members taking part in the Design Advisory Committee, as well as the many many other folks invested in the design process (like you!), to refine the vision for what the farm might do, and what it wants to accomplish in doing so. That’s why so much of our October 12th Design Workshop focused on the concept of ‘yields’ (that is, what we want to see come out of the farm—besides the obvious: food!).

The more challenging part than just creating a vision is matching that vision to the reality on the ground: the budget raised, the people involved, the existing legal and political parameters, and importantly, the community’s desires (which keep in mind are often inconsistent or incompatible!).

Some people may want more green space, while others claim the right to use a car to get to the farm, which will require parking on site (and thus consume what could be green space). Some neighbors might want a farm stand, but perhaps there isn’t enough money in the budget to staff it? We heard many calls for a neighborhood gathering/event space, but we have to figure out how to create such a space over time, as there isn’t enough money to build a large building right away (buildings are more expensive than farm fields!).

Designing this complex project, with so much potential and so much passion revolving around it, takes the work not just of designers, but of community members themselves. Board members, the DAC, and individuals all need to consider the options beyond their own initial desires. Recognizing that not all Frogtowners think or are alike, and that diverse needs need to be met in diverse ways, every person who has a stake in the farm has to occasionally step outside themselves to see how someone else might be thinking or feeling about the farm.

This isn’t to say that it’s inappropriate to ask for certain design elements, or push for certain program outcomes. It’s just to say that, at a certain point, the farm can only do what the farm can realistically do, and that requires the community to prioritize certain yields. We hope that we are providing options to do this, to tease out what works best for this community, and to hold a space for the recognition that there is always room to readjust the plan and the program in the future, should it not be satisfying the balance of needs in the community.

One of our next blog posts will be about this process: ideas our team has for how to set up the Farm’s programs in such a way that we can revisit, revise, and reconstruct the farm to be better and better over time.

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