Chicago design studio has MAPPED out local community-based resources

An online database launched this year is trying to fill an information gap on Chicago-area community projects.

MAPPED, a project of Design Trust Chicago, was started because the three founders of the trust realized there was a lack of accessible information about community design programs.

“The website, we wanted it to be playful, fun, engaging, conversational,” said Emma Jasinski, the community designer at Design Trust Chicago. “A lot of this information lives on city websites or on other platforms, but oftentimes it’s really dense information that’s hard to navigate.”

Clio Lyons, the operations manager for Design Trust Chicago, said the goal is for the site to act as a “Wikipedia of community projects,” where anyone can submit or suggest a project. Anyone is also able to complete a training course and become a volunteer editor, which would involve making sure information is up to date and accurate, Jasinski said. 

The public site, launched last spring, documents a range of design projects around Chicago. The database allows different designers to submit businesses, organizations, initiatives and spaces to the project, so other designers can view other projects’ cost, funders and partners, Lyons said.

“We want to democratize information about community projects for all to use,” Lyons said. 

Lyons said the only criteria for projects being added to the site is for them to be a community project. On the site, projects are labeled as community spaces, guidelines/toolkits, placemaking, public spaces, research/studies or urban planning. 

Design Trust Chicago is a design studio founded by three women of color — Paola Aguirre, Elle Ramel and Katherine Darnstadt. It specifically works with organizations, nonprofits and government entities to help connect them with design resources and services, according to Lyons.

Jasinski said MAPPED shares design projects focused on communities of color in Chicago.

“With Design Trust Chicago, one of our missions is to bridge that gap and provide more access specifically in South and West side neighborhoods in Chicago that don’t have access to some design services that are centralized downtown.”

El Paseo Community Garden in Pilsen is a volunteer-led garden featured on the website that has served as a space for local residents to grow fruits and vegetables, and also learn beekeeping and composting, take outdoor yoga classes or have a picnic, according to El Paseo Community Garden Leader Paula Acevedo.

“We are an outdoor community space,” Acevedo said. “An outdoor community center because, basically, we’re a platform for anyone who’s willing to share resources or programming or anything like that.”

MAPPED features a range of resources focused on urban agriculture. Farm on Ogden in Lawndale sells produce from its 7,300-square-foot greenhouse on site while also teaching classes on aquaponics — where fish and plants are raised together. 

Scott Cypher was the architect behind the lot that opened in 2018. Cypher said along with the greenhouse and aquaponics on the property, he designed a market area, classroom and offices that would allow visitors to shop and learn about aquaponics and produce. 

“We’re not seeing this as a venture to make tons of profit because we’re selling countless heads of lettuce,” Cypher said. “It was more about how to be impactful in the community and really help an underserved community.” 

Cypher said Farm on Ogden hires ex-convicts to provide them with work opportunities and provides fresh produce to local residents who face higher risks of diabetes.