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USC Livable Communities

utilize USC's resources to benefit local South LA vendors

USC Livable Communities in DFA Application Studios

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Soham Dhesi

March 31st

Prototyping and Testing Part 1
You can view our images and protoypes here

https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/prototyping-and-testing-part-1-ba63c981235a

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

March 25th, 2015

Prototyping Stage.

You can view our prototypes here
https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/prototyping-7e8fb699b41d

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

Ideation Phase 2
11th March, 2015

With last weekend’s insights from Azla, a community member and Emerging Markets, we began ideating again. We altered our How Might We Statement in order to better guide us through this process.

How might we use USC’s resources to benefit South LA small business owners?

The main categories that emerged from the ideation were in the form of community events, USC/business connections and forums, on campus programs as well as programs or products that included community and businesses together. Below is the ideas that we decided that we felt were most feasible as well as exciting. Our focus was on making some sort of guide, map or some other sort of information relaying method that could integrate these businsesses further into the community and especially encourage USC students to easily access these resources.

https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/ideation-phase-2-e5a458ca7d8a

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

Redirecting our Focus with Help from Emerging Markets
11th March, 2015

Before our weekly studio meeting on Wednesday (March 11), Matt, Soham and I had to opportunity to speak with Daniel Tellalian, director of Emerging Markets, a consulting firm based in LA that pursues business opportunities in low-income neighborhoods. He sat down with us at the Cammilleri Café on campus so that we could pick his brain on what “livable” means to him.


Emerging Markets, Daniel told us, has two main focuses: supermarkets and banks. These, the firm has concluded, are the systems that low-income areas need the most. Through his time at Emerging Markets, Daniel identified the necessities of a livable community: safe streets, access to healthcare, access to education, and ultimately, an increase in income and wealth.

While businesses may initially be more partial to opening up branches in more affluent areas, there are revenue opportunities to be had in low-income areas like our nearby South LA community. The incentives for institutions to do business in places like these come not in the form of charitable appeals to the conscience, but in strictly financial terms. “These people get up, go to work, buy groceries every day,” Daniel said; “there’s clearly money here.”

However, instead of bringing in large corporations or any other businesses into the community, Daniel suggested that we focus on what we already have a surplus of. For example, USC has a vast amount of potential in providing opportunities to better impact the community. Whether it is having a safe space, or a wider market, or providing other sorts of incentive to businesses.

From our interview with Daniel, as well as other community stakeholders we have realized that the community, which has a rich diversity and culture, already has unique businesses that are doing plenty for the community. Breaking the boundaries between USC and the community could be an essentail route in becoming a more livable community.

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

7th March Saturday

Mercado La Paloma: Interview in a Community Space

Mercado La Paloma is a successful example of a local community space in South LA. It provides local businesses easy access to retail space, hosts arts and culture related public events and helps build community. Walking into Mercado, we got a good sense of South LA’s rich diversity and culture. All the shops and restaurants are very ethnically oriented and represent a local culture. All of these stores build a community through their products and help enrich South LA’s history and culture. We began our interview process with an Ethiopian Restaurant called Azla Vegan.

The are one of the successful organic restaurants in Mercado. “We serve things we would eat ourselves”, says the marketing manager of Azla. They not only serve organic food, but acquire produce from local gardens for their in-house catering. While providing easy access to healthy food in South LA they also team up with schools and local organizations to teach families and children about the importance of eating healthy as well as teach them how to prepare better meals. Azla promotes, preserves and enhances the diversity and culture of South LA by organizing pop up restaurants for collaborative events with local artists and musicians in the community. Their carefully curated photo-digital presence has been instrumental in promoting their food in such a diverse area as South LA. In fact their social media campaigns have been so successful that various local organizations, such as Black Women of Wellness have reached out to them. They believe they are successful because the community benefits from their business. By creating a comfortable and safe space through their food, Azla continues to successfully promote healthy eating in the community.

Our second interviewee was a teacher who has lived in South LA since 1964. “This is such a diverse community. There are so many culturally places to visit”, was the first thing she said when asked about what she thought of South LA. She has seen this place change in various ways, be it the increased gentrification which has leaed to higher property values or the development of a stronger sense of community in DTLA. However, there are various sort of problems associated with these kinds of development. Despite Downtown developing into a better community, it is still very segregated from it’s western areas, the areas where all downtown service workers come from. Thus while these developments have created more jobs, segregation is a huge issue according to her. Additionally she believes that the local community has an enclosed environment, especially with the growth in recent construction. Hence there is a definite need for more open spaces as well as solve the issue of traffic.

USC plays a vital role in the community especially in the sector of education through the organization of various student programs. But there is still a long way to go in order to make dream of USC or a college education more accessible. Most importantly, USC in general seems very off-limits to the local community. “There is nothing inviting about it”, she says. Thus there is a huge potential to tap into various USC resources to better engage and benefit the local community.

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

10th March, 2015

Ralph’s Interviews Pt. II: The Covert Approach (by Katherine)

“Wow, these bananas are really green. It’s going to take like 3 to 4 days before I can even eat them.” A simple sentence like that was how one lady began talking to Tess and I about her decision to make the transition from buying non-organic produce to organically grown produce.

That ice breaker may seem unusual, so it is important to note that Tess and I strayed from the canonical approach of interviewing people and used a different tactic.

Instead of identifying ourselves as students working on a project, we decided to camouflage ourselves in the landscape of our local Ralph’s on Vermont Ave. Because of this tactic, however, we realized that we would have to sacrifice a few components of the interviewing process: we wouldn’t be able to take pictures of our interviewee nor would we be able to ask for contact information directly.

But in exchange for this, we would be able to get a more unfiltered version of the person we are interviewing.

Our choice to do so, however, was well-balanced with Matt’s more frank and candid approach. I thought this was one of the most wonderful opportunities to come from interviewing as a group of 3 instead of the previous group of 2.

Anyways, as Tess and I, spoke to the lady about her choice of bananas, we were also able to learn to that our kind stranger had a family and a few young kids. She told us that she had started buying organic fairly recently and although it is more expensive, she thinks it’s worth it for the nutritional value. She had also recently acquired a $300 dollar blender from Costco, after upgrading from the Magic Bullet blender that she had initially. The new juicer allowed her to make green juices for her husband and kids. And despite the kids’ distaste in juices thus far, our neighbor was determined to maintain the track of buying organic produce.

After speaking with her, Tess and I concluded that there was in fact a desire, or want for organic produce’s presence in South Los Angeles. And that despite the typically expensive price tag that accompanies buying organic, residents are still seeking it, outside of the stereotyped economic status of South LA.

The next lady we talked to, we met near the nonorganic avocados. We asked her if she had any tips on picking the best avocados to which she unveiled that she didn’t really have a particular strategy and that she was also new to the fruit. This led her to telling us anecdotally that she recently brought a few of these avocados home only to be greeted by her family members saying that she was terrible at picking avocados (they were unripe). Furthermore, the lady was informed us that avocados taste great with just some toast and some pepper. And that eating avocados with either salads or sandwiches are a great substitute for using mayonnaise.

In the conclusion of this “interview,” Tess and I gathered that we now had more concrete evidence of the enthusiasm for more healthy eating options around the South Central neighborhood. The persistence of our second interviewee’s actions (in coming back to the avocados, despite past experiences) really drove us to consider framing our problem to improving the knowledge and access of knowledge of healthy lifestyles to South Central residents.

https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/ralph-s-interviews-pt-ii-the-covert-approach-118b40a3e962

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

4th March, 2015
Ideation Phase 1

Brainstorming began with coming up 20 ideas each. The aim was to first for quantity rather than quality.

Following which we sorted the ideas into buckets. There were ideas that dealt with different ways engaging communities and businesses through public events, changing the perceptions of safety for mobile businesses, using apps, websites and forums to create interaction between businesses and enabling them to combine resources, finding ways to make pop up and mobile businesses more integrated into the community and finally dealing wth safety issues for such businseses. We discussed the ones that were feasible and the ones that we felt most excited about. 

However we also realized that some of our ideas had different user than we discussed before as well as that interviewing more local community members would help us understand the user and the problem better.

https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/ideation-phase-1-1dc27009ea35

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Matthew Cheung

A Deep(er) Delve into the Local Community?—?Ralph’s Interviews Pt. I
10th March, 2015

In the midst of the sweltering hot California weather, Angelenos can be seen scrambling indoors to avoid the heat. The scene at the local South Los Angeles Ralph’s is no different except the amalgamation of people cannot be solely attributed to the heat, but to the availability of fresh produce and meat. Tess, Katherine and I took this as an opportunity to interview and get an inside look at what the community members valued, how they defined a livable community and what they liked and disliked about South LA.


While initial challenging to instigate a conversation with random strangers, we decided to take a two-fold approach: one, by blending in with the shoppers and organically striking a conversation. Two, to applying the age-old saying of “honesty is the best policy” by simply told shoppers, while they were diligently checking the ripeness of their produce, whom we were and if we could ask them any questions. Tactically, we opted for both options and pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy. Tess and Katherine undertook the first approach and I, the second.


As such, the first women I spoke with has been a South LA resident for 35 years, having been here since the 1980’s. She reflected on the changes that the community has undergone, how it’s gotten a lot safer and resources are becoming more readily available. Yet, despite the grateful attitude she undertook, there was a sense of hesitation. I quickly prompted her by asking whether or not she felt the area could improve and if so, in what way? She responded by speaking to the segment of food access?—?that there was a dearth of fresh food and produce in the area. In reflection, she mentioned that either more stores/resources needed to be made available or there needed to be easier access to these resources. When delving a little bit deeper, I found that she got to Ralph’s via a shuttle provided by the supermarket vendor themselves and that apart from this, it was difficult to get to Ralph’s and back from her house, given the large volume of groceries she bought. Her statement and anecdote about increasing access to these resources was one key insight that served us deeply in our design cycle.


Another key insight was provided by the most unlikely of characters. When I had the opportunity to interview a mother and her daughter about what their likes and dislikes about the community are. Though my questions were directed at the women herself, it was the little girl who spoke up. She told me that, “she didn’t like when people threw trash on the ground”?—?littering. Her mother added on to her daughter’s comment that the issue of littering creates a negative idea or aesthetic to the community that created a self-perpetuating perception, in short, the “broken window” concept. As they seemed to be eager to continue examining their avocados, I thanked them for their time and found another interviewee.


The third person I interviewed defined livable communities as one where it allows all resources to be generally accessible to all levels of income. When asked, therefore, if she felt that this community is a livable one?—?she identified that there is a significant drug problem in the neighborhood, despite the fact that things have already improved. Digging deeper at the root, she identified that the area needed greater gentrification to improve it. I took the opportunity to ask her what she thought USC’s role in the community was, and whether or not she felt welcome on the campus. To this she responded incredibly positively, stating that she didn’t ever feel unwelcome on campus and has studied there as well. She followed-up by stating that she believes the up-and-coming USC Village will create positive externalities by breaking down the barriers between students and the greater community.


After gaining enough from the produce section, the team and I pivoted to the pre-made food section to gain an understanding what drove individuals to buy pre-made food as opposed to a healthier alternative of fresh produce. When I asked this line of questioning to a man with his toddler daughter, his responses were in line with expectations: it was faster, more convenient and that he did not know how to cook well. Beyond expectations, however, were insights into the consumption patterns of these communities. The man reflected that there were not a lot of healthy food options in South LA and that there has been a significant increase in fast food places, overtaking mom-and-pop shops. He did comment that Subway was a healthy option but also noted that Subway is expensive, providing insight into his socioeconomic background.


The interview process allowed me to gain key insights into the values and consumption habits of the community members. These firsthand insights will be valuable in helping our team pinpointing granular issues of the South LA communities and formulating a human-centered solution.

For more information, please visit: https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/a-deep-er-delve-into-the-local-community-ralph-s-interviews-pt-i-968d174523b1

3 years ago ·

Matthew Cheung

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

“How Might We” Statement
3rd March, 2015

With ongoing interviews within the local community, defining the problem statement was challenging solely because we did not have a definite user in mind. We began with targetting mobile or pop up businesses, however it was the community members that were to be engaging with these businesses. In order to refine our problem into a how might we statement, we decided to focus on mobile business as the user. Additionally, we organized our research into a matrix. Our insights were categorized into primary and secondary research. Our research was further classified into direct observations and derived assumptions.

Our first attempt at a how might we statement:

How might we address the lack of diverse resources in the South Central area?

-How might we attract businesses to the South Central area?

— How might we alleviate safety concerns for businesses?

https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/how-might-we-statement-9fa3b243f3fc

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

Soham Dhesi Feb 24th, 2015
Quick Brainstorm of Potential Challenges
24th Feb Tuesday

Potential Challenges from Round 1 of Interviews

Reduce/Waste of Food
Reduce consumption
Packaging/ Packaging of Food
Awareness/Mentality of being mobile
Ease of being mobile
Safety of being mobile
Access to more mobility for fitness
Access to healthy food resources

Each aspect of a livable community is strongly related to another where in they all form a interdependent network. By trying to focus on one single issue, we realize that we may be directly or indirectly affecting another either positively or negatively. Understanding the bigger picture or larger context was important. However it seemed that further research would be imperative in truly understanding core needs of the community. We began with a rather broad sense of what the community at large might need. But to zoom into the problem we identified that having a connection into the community especially through a local organization could be especially valuable in moving forward. We considered local organizations such as DTLA Rising, LABC, Repower LA, etc. Following which we will further ideate and possible interview community members as opposed to only mobile or local businesses. Our change in direction for interviews from businesses to community members is a direct example of the relativity between the various challenges we discussed.

https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/potential-challenges-from-round-1-of-interviews-514d343224e0

3 years ago ·

Matthew Cheung

3 years ago ·

Matthew Cheung

Last week, Tess and I had the opportunity to explore the farmers’ market and get some locals’ insight on how they defined a livable community, what they thought of South Central and what would make South Central more livable. When we got there, we first identified that we wanted to speak with a myriad of different owners to get a wide variety of perspectives. We first talked to Albino, who sold fresh fruit from San Luis Obispo. After introducing ourselves and explaining the scope of our project, we asked him what he felt were core issues of any community. Albino was characteristically optimistic and said that ‘communities were good’ (Note: his English was a bit difficult to comprehend). However, he did leave us with the insight that communities seem to be racially separated, based on his experiences in selling at various farmers’ market locations.


Though Albino was not incredibly instructive to meeting our needs, it was a good experience to get to know him and hear his views. We then moved on to Baba foods, where one of the shopkeepers shared his experiences with us. After delving deeper into his experience, we learned that he actually used to live in South LA and it was security and safety factors that contributed to him moving away. He followed up that statement by saying that in West LA, safety was never a top-of-mind thing, since there are gated communities, police and private security. Our time with him was unfortunately cut short as his booth was getting increasingly populated and we did not want to hinder him from his business.


We wandered around for a bit, formulating what to do next, where to go. Suddenly, we stumbled across a gentleman who was incredibly vocal about “kiwis and flavored walnuts” at Hampton Ranch. We passed by, but I stopped for a second, thinking about the implications of his “advertising”. Two things came to mind: his booth wasn’t currently populated; the fact that he was vocal could be indicative of his willingness to share/speak. We turned around immediately and went back to pick his brain. Turns on, he was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. He told us that he saw factors of safety as being the biggest barrier to a ‘livable community’ because it didn’t allow citizens to feel safe, but furthermore barred business from entering the community. Furthermore, he identified safety as part of the root of segregated neighborhoods in Los Angeles, as living standards (based on socioeconomic factors) were vastly different. Illustrating this point, he talked about the USC/South LA divide and how the two were vastly different. Before we left him to do his work, he left us with one other contribution, the differences between safety and perception of safety.


All in all, we found their exogenous perspectives to be helpful, next time, we hope to take these key insights into more primary research with the community members themselves.

For more information and pictures, please visit: https://medium.com/@mattcheung/ed61862fe5f8

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

February 22, 2015

Fighting Insularity with Mobility at the Flea Market (Katherine's Account)


Sundays for most students are stereotypically spent silently dreading the onslaught of another week of midterms, papers, and project deadlines. But on this particular uncharacteristically drizzly and cold Southern California Sunday, Soham and I had the opportunity to visit Artists and Fleas, a flea market on Mateo Street in the Arts District.

The flea market, for those who haven’t yet visited, occupies an inconspicuous tarmac lot sealed by a black wrought iron fence. However, the air around the market is far from inconspicuous?—?with a variety of people coming from all walks of life. (Some even literally, as quite a few people brought their four-legged friends.)

When we arrived, three trucks had already set up shop at the entrance. The first being a blue truck called: “The Library Store on Wheels.” Soham and I were enticed by its glowing fairy lights and cozy interior and quickly scampered up the steps leading to the truck’s entrance. We talked to the vendors there and one of the first things we learned was about the frequency of the flea market. It occurs every third weekend of every month. “The Library Store on Wheels” was now quite an established store at Artists and Fleas for several months now, despite its true roots being located at the original store in Downtown. The lady we talked to, very kindly, provided us with a business card of the store/truck. Despite explaining our purposes and being more personal, we weren’t able to get anymore information past that.


However, undiscouraged and still with childlike wonder, we moved to the next vendor, who happened to be incredibly engaging and informative with us. Her name is Lucia Reynolds. By explaining our aim to seek and study livable communities outside USC’s campus, Lucia began sharing with us her own journey through her company, “Beautiful Things LA,” in trying to solve the issue of insularity through mobility by bringing the product to the consumer. She shared with us, her observation of the difference between New York (where she was originally from) and Los Angeles. We bonded over the fact that frequently people are trapped in little bubbles, even after they have driven to somewhere new. People tend to stay in the same block of the same cafe that someone might have recommended to them at one time.


Lucia and I in “Beautiful Things LA”
The idea of “Beautiful Things LA” is to get people to go outside and away from the computers/internet to realize that the street is not a scary place to stand on (through the appeal of a uniquely curated collection of products). The mother-daughter duo that ran the company also recommended a precedent to us, a book that was published regarding a parallel relationship between Yale and New Haven (like USC vs. South Central). Unfortunately, she didn’t remember the title of the book?—?but I googled it and found an Yale organization called “No Closed Doors” with a similar mission statement. [edit: The book, I believe is called: The Fence Between Campus and a City]

Lucia also shared with us, her dream of creating a team of trucks that would be able to literally make Los Angeles more walkable, by bringing the “market” to the individual. We are definitely considering this as a possible ideating component.




As the afternoon went on, we talked to nearly half a dozen different vendors at the flea market. And gathered a lot of opinions under the category of mobility. Soham and I concluded that the positive manifestation of trucks was to us an unforeseen solution to the issue of walkability in Livable Communities (which was a point we had brought up during last Wednesday’s meeting). Definitely something to think about!

We also further realized that the act of interviewing people is a two-way street. Some people are more hesitant than others. And after interviewing many individuals, Soham and I are (for sure) better conditioned to sensing hesitation from them.

Some vendors also gave us insight on other locations and events we can visit to get a better sense of our design problem.

We even met a graduate of USC who now does illustrations (!) who told us about her ‘gypsy-like’ ways and her love for having a transportable store.
And design entrepreneurs that are also interested in sharing their knowledge of building a start-up store through selling a uniquely curated collection of items.

For more information and picture check out https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/fighting-insularity-with-mobility-at-the-flea-market-d7dae3df21b5

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi joined the project

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi

On Feb 19th we begun our DFA journey with the topic of Livable Communities. To say I’m excited to start a project that promotes ‘Livable Communities’ is somewhat of an understatement. The Spring of 2015 has brought together a strong team comprising of Matt Cheung, Katherine Xiong, Tess Cobrinick and myself (Soham Dhesi).

Granted our topic is rather broad, but at the moment we are exploring its avenues and discovering all the ways to fulfill the vast potential of solving related issues. We started out with our understanding of what livable communities mean and tried to view it through the lens of the surrounding usc neighborhoods.

Brainstorming Session
Following which we came up with potential how might we challenges that focused on certain subject areas such as Energy Efficiency, Health Accessibility and Safety/sense of community. The following week we plan on visiting the Eco op house, Artists & Fleas event & the Farmers Market for research. We are looking forward to gaining some valuable insight, partaking in interesting conversations and just really getting to know the community that surrounds USC. Cheers to a new and exciting journey! ?

For more information and pictures check out our blog post at https://medium.com/team-livable-communities/defining-livable-feb936d5ec53

3 years ago ·

Matthew Cheung joined the project

3 years ago ·

Jean Pongsai joined the project

3 years ago ·

Soham Dhesi joined the project

3 years ago ·

Robert Sachs joined the project

3 years ago ·

Sara Yang joined the project

3 years ago ·

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