Emily's Perspective


I'm a landscape architecture graduate student with an emphasis in urban design. My goal is to design vibrant spaces which build and improve a sense of community.

As a 2020 Civic Innovation Force Fellow with the Nice Center, I'm working on a project to design a walking tour for Downtown Fargo. This tour will activate the urban environment, invite community members to explore new spaces, and share the unique history of Fargo.

We are following the Leap Kit Field Guide as a framework for the project. A "Leap" is a "specific, time-bound project, designed to help you leave your comfort zone and learn something new." The Leap Kit outlines four phases of a Leap: Discover, Prepare, Act, and Share. Part of sharing my Leap is through this photo journal which will document the way my workspaces fluctuate throughout the summer.

June 16 - Project Timeliness

At times it might be hard to guess what will make it into future history books, but right now there is little doubt that we are in the middle of several major historic events. In the midst of it all, this project idea to develop walking tours with the hope of sharing the history, art, and culture of Fargo feels both timely and superfluous.

Its sobering to realize how little control you have. I cant control the goods stocked on store shelves, the level others follow social distancing guidelines, and the rate business reopen. I cant control the actions of a policeman, the destruction of a riot, or the decisions of political leaders.

What I can control is this project, which was conceived at the end of February but now seems more relevant. People are bored of staying home and longing for activities. People are interested in growing stronger as a united community. People want to reinvigorate the energy of downtown and show pride in their community. These are all things a walking tour initiative can help provide space for.

It's important to stay focused on the positives of what I can control, rather than spiral through the negatives of what I cant. The positives impacts I can make will only be hindered by lamenting over things I have no control to change.

June 9 - Game Changing Tools

Airtable is a game changer. Seriously. Sometimes my inner child surfaces when I get a chance to explore new technology, and while some people might be loyal to one brand or another I'm open to trying it all. Airtable is an application that allows you to build databases, forms, and track projects. Although Airtable has formula capacity, it shines where the data being tracked is less focused on numbers and equations. Our surveys have now been converted to Airtable because the results are cleaner and easier to read.

For digital platforms we have also been playing with OneNote (for research note taking), TickTick (a task management app), InVision (online whiteboard), Squarespace (website builder), Loom (a screen-recording program), and Marinara (a pomodoro timer extension).

June 9 - Meetings

Today we met with three community organizations-- Downtown Community Partnership, Fargo Parks, and Folkways about the project. Each organization was excited to hear about our work and offered to help answer any questions, foster connections, and spread the word about Fargo Walking Tours. These community partners will be integral in the longevity of the Fargo Walking Tours.

Other groups have made tours for the city of Fargo before, but prior to researching this project we had never crossed paths with any. Talking with Folkways we pinpointed some possible reasons why these past tours have struggled to be noticed. 1) They have no physical presence-- everything is online. 2) There is no cooperation or cross exposure between organizations. 3) The work lacks some components of engaging storytelling and professionalism. Hopefully by identifying these issues, we can improve upon them for our tour.

June 5 - Solving Constraints

In design thinking, working within a constraint often results in the most creative solution as you are forced to think past the first idea to find something that will fit the parameters. As we were building out the website prototype, neither of us could figure out how to embed a selection criteria filter like how online stores filter by object, brand, and price simultaneously. The alternative we decided to use was to build out a "choose your own adventure" network of pages where a user works their way from broad questions at the top to a specific tour at the bottom.

It's not low tech, or high tech, but right tech, which is advice we have been given in several variations. Because our tour is self-guided, everything we develop must be intuitive and user friendly. Any audience must be able to interact satisfactorily with the tools provided otherwise there becomes an accessibility issue. A void between design intentions and user experience. Prototyping and user tests will be implemented to mitigate potential flaws and user frustration.

June 4 - Routines

Working from home update 2

Working independently from home on a collaborative project creates unique working circumstances. You might not be logged on and working at the same time as your colleagues. Even when everyone is working at the same time, you either need to work while on zoom or have your phone nearby so you are able to quickly respond. Although ideally I would like to keep my phone in a different room to minimize distractions. When you have a question, how do you determine whether it is worthy of a video chat, a phone call, a slack message, or an email? With few scheduled meetings or other common professional work environment signals, it can be hard to pace out a work day.

I've tried creating beginning of work day, lunch break, and end of work day routines to mimic a mental commute to and from "work". I've even set an alarm to signal the start of each one. To an extant they help me stay focused and set an intention, but still I find a lot of distractions come up like the sudden desire to clean the kitchen or water my plants. I''m open to changing my opinion on working from home, but at least for now I find working from home much less efficient.

May 28 - Community of Support

When thinking of people to reach out to, I imagined the different challenges I would might face, and who I would ask for help. My community of support has a range of specialties, and I'm thankful to have a list of people already written down to turn to if I get stuck on the project.

Now that the website is functional it's time to reach out to these individuals. During a meeting today, our Civic Innovation Force advisor urged us to take risks. I'm reaching out to frequent contacts and some I've only met in passing. After all, the worst they can do is never respond to the email.

May 27 - Making an Idea Reality

The Fargo Walking Tours project feels more official with an email, an Instagram, a website, and posts on LinkedIn. The more we spread information about the project around, the more it becomes something physical. Now there is no backing out on this idea, which feels both existing and risky.

I am not typically one who overshares. Many ideas I simply keep in my head where they flourish or die with no one the wiser. Because whenever I get an idea, there are suddenly a lot of "what ifs" and doubt attached to it which often keep me from sharing or even starting. What if the project gets stuck? What if no one wants to go on our walking tour? What if someone dislikes the project?

I'm hopeful this project will be different, and that maybe I come through it different as well. Following the Leap Kit I've taken steps to prepare myself for pitfalls, and shared the project idea before starting to develop it. Even if it comes attached to its own "what ifs," maybe this method will increase my resilience. It makes me wonder, what if I had shared some of my past ideas too?

May 26 - Google Sites

I took my Leap on the road, and the flexibility to do so is one of the best aspects of working from home. Over the past few days I started building a website so we can interact with the community as they social distance as well. After overwhelming myself reading through website builder comparisons and pouring over templates, I picked the simplest website builder I've ever used-- Google Sites. What is lacks in customization it makes up for in speed. The website we are currently using took about 30 minutes to structure and set up the first pages.

One tactic we are employing for this project is making fast prototypes to maximize feedback loops. We have talked about the importance of showing unpolished work, and I think it's fitting that the website followed this format. We can continue to refine the site as we go, but by sharing it before it was officially "done" we were able to start interacting with people even sooner.

May 22 - Writing a Leap Statement is Hard

Notice the Leap Map has been flipped? After a week of exploration, its time to finalize a Leap Statement. We wanted to make it specific enough to give us direction, vague enough to allow us to shift course, and realistic enough to complete it in 12 weeks. Predicting how much we can accomplish is especially difficult because of the planning fallacy, which states that people tend to optimistically overestimate what they can accomplish in a given time. With this wisdom in mind, here is the final draft of our Leap Statement.

By Aug 10th we will research, prototype, and design a digital tool that facilitates walking tours in the heart of Fargo. We will work with community members to gather feedback, chose locations, and create a method for adding elements to the walks in the future.

May 21 - Mixed Media

While school has trained me to use digital tools, I enjoy jumping back into a physical work space to garner a new perspective (and make a bit of a mess). Different mediums, be it my computer, drawing tablet, pencil, sharpie, or watercolor all facilitate thinking in a different way. On a computer I can obsessively delete and get lost zooming in to modify tiny details. When using a sharpie, there is no choice to erase, and watercolor can flow out of control. The properties of the medium change the expression of the idea, and this can help me get unstuck or expand the concept in a new direction.

May 20 - Assembling Inspiration

Here is a look at a virtual workspace. It's a quick inspiration board of things that are influencing us at the start of the project. This is a fast and flexible way to communicate visually by posting photos, videos, notes, etc. in real time or asynchronously. I have found a love for virtual whiteboards since transitioning to home for school and work. We used the website InVision to create this board.

May 19 - Taking the Leap

Today I started the Discover phase of the Leap Kit. This phase asks you to assemble inspiration and strengths that will define your Leap. Since I had a project idea in mind, I started searching for inspiration specific to urban design interventions.

One of the tasks was to interview someone about yourself. I interviewed my supervision, a professor, and my grandma. A common thread of the interviews was that I always want to help others.

When I reflected on the interviews, I thought about how I struggle to ask for help. Partially because I don't want to be a burden upon already busy people. But I would consider myself a busy person, and I still love to answer questions and critique projects. Maybe other people feel rewarded when they help too. I'm going to try and remember this as I go out of my comfort zone asking for support on my Leap.

May 18 - Crafting a Workspace:

Working from home update 1

Working from home holds many challenges-- and I fall prey to most of them. Throughout college I've avoided working from home choosing instead to trek to the library the moment it opens or spend late nights on campus finishing projects. So on the first day I decided my priority was to dedicate a location as a work space.

The wall of my existing inspiration board called to me. After gathering photos, thank you cards, newspaper clippings, and mementos for three years, it was cluttered. Taking everything down, I realized I could draw inspiration from many of the items that had been up for years. A stack of my favorite travel photos, cards from local nonprofits, a flyer for the Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists, and a print of the Milwaukee Art Museum all sparked an avenue for research or reminded me of a skill that might be useful on this Leap. When pitching a project idea for the Civic Innovation Force, we had to include a reason why we were well suited to develop that project. After taking down my inspiration board, I feel confident that I have the resources to see this Leap through.