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A Creative Roadtrip Across The Country, With Urban Interventions At Each Stop

From a makerspace in Milwaukee to a community posting board in Chicago, take a trip around the country to see the people trying to make our cities better.

When designer Bland Hoke moved from New York City to Wyoming, he decided to make the road trip a little more interesting than usual. Instead of just driving straight there, he took two weeks to stop in cities along the way, creating new urban interventions at each stop.

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“I was trying to think of a more creative way to travel across the country,” Hoke says. He rounded up two friends: the anonymous artist behind the brilliant Rotten Apple urban hacking project, and filmmaker William Novak.

“We looked for groups who are working on ways to improve urban environments, and decided to try to work with them on really short creative projects,” Hoke explains. “We reached out to people in different cities and tried to more or less chart a line that went from New York to Wyoming.”

Along the way, they made short films documenting what happened in each city.

New York

In New York, the designers held an urban hacking workshop, showing a group of aspiring hacktivists at Learn Do Share how to turn bike racks into makeshift chairs and fire hydrants into streetside chess games.

Detroit

In Detroit, the first stop after leaving New York, the designers met up with Sit on It Detroit, a grassroots group that makes bus stop benches with built-in tiny libraries. “We helped them come up with a new bench,” Hoke says. “They told us they started with nothing, no design background, just high school shop class. We helped push the project a little bit further.”

Chicago

At a Superfund site now under remediation in Chicago, the travelers helped make a community posting board out of discarded scraps with a group called Cooperation Operation.

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Milwaukee

In Milwaukee, they helped a group called Beintween plan a new maker space to help bring the community together. Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the United States.

Omaha

Omaha was the only unplanned stop on the trip. After finding a last-minute place to stay, the designers happened to meet someone at dinner who wanted to collaborate. “She said, ‘we’re hosting 16 middle-schoolers at our contemporary art center tomorrow for our volunteer day. Do you want to come do something with them?’ We said, ‘Sure,'” Hoke says. “Sometimes you can plan these journeys, and take a bunch of time and try to make it perfect, but sometimes serendipity is the best thing.”

Laramie

In Laramie, just before reaching his new home of Jackson Hole, Hoke and his friends helped reimagine a vacant lot as a new community gathering place, with a skillshare board, seating, and a community posting board.

The project and films, called Drive, was funded with part of the money from a Kickstarter project called Softwalks, an urban intervention for construction sites. Because of unexpected issues with city regulations, Softwalks couldn’t be built, so Hoke decided to build these interventions instead. “I think the end product was actually better that what we might have achieved in the beginning,” he says.

He hopes to take another creative trip in the future. “I could have just packed up the car, drove, and got to where I was going,” he says. “But we had the chance to do a creative project. I think it’s wonderful to travel across the country and find like-minded people who are working on really interesting projects.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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