Lost, but in a Good Way
Janice Rodriguez-Andujar (she/her) is a 2021 Youth Civic Design Fellow with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM). She spent her summer exploring the practice of civic design, learning about city government and supporting key MONUM projects. This year’s 8-week fellowship was made possible through the Youth Engagement and Employment SuccessLink Program for youth and young adults.
Do you ever start off the summer knowing exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, but somewhere in the middle of late July and early August realize you are lost? That’s me. I’ve been questioning the meaning of everything and feeling completely lost in the world of civics and design. I used to be somewhat content with my ignorance of all things related to government. Now I stay up at night wondering how to use public spaces for community engagement. I also find myself thinking about which processes can make the public’s interaction with the government more delightful. I can say for sure that most eighteen-year-olds don’t lose sleep over their part-time summer jobs.
I used to think the summer between my senior year of high school and my first year of college would be filled with vacations and trips to the beach. Due to the pandemic and the high cost of an undergraduate degree, I chose to work from home this summer, save money, and boost my resume. I was very lucky when the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) hired me as one of two Youth Civic Design Fellows. I want to express my gratitude to the MONUM team for providing safe spaces for me to challenge my understanding of civic design. Thank you for posing questions I have never considered before and allowing me to lose myself within this type of work.
Over the last few weeks, Maggie, the other Youth Civic Design Fellow, and I worked together to define civic design. We also spent time researching what it meant to be a civic designer. Before this opportunity, I had never heard of these terms before. I was quick to try and investigate the textbook definition. I would later realize that my understanding of civic design had little to do with those few words I jotted down that first week of the fellowship. I always hated the idea of uncertainty and not knowing, but this summer I was forced to be open with the concept of not having a concrete answer to the question “What is civic design?” It was through the presentations and events I attended and the project support I provided that I was truly introduced to the work civic designers do on a daily basis.
Being a civic designer can take many forms. Civic designers provide residents with a platform to share their own stories, ideas, and concerns within the community. They also work behind the scenes every day to improve the lives of people in the city. I recall being in awe of how community members worked alongside artists during the Request for Ideas Sketch Night, an in-person event held for this year’s Housing Innovation Competition. This was the first time I met with the civic designers of MONUM and the Housing Innovation Lab in person. There they were encouraging everyday people to share their thoughts on the future of triple-deckers in Boston.
There are so many projects that MONUM has worked on with the collaboration of their partners and other city organizations. Still, many residents and community members are unaware they exist. I was born and raised in Boston and it was only this year that I learned about the Public Space Invitational for example. This year’s program will expand Project Oscar and help add compost bins throughout Boston for the benefit of our city’s environment. I’ve learned about the work the Engagement Center has done to help those who have faced or are currently facing homelessness and substance use disorders. These projects should be more well-known throughout the city of Boston. The rising generations of youth, our future leaders and change-makers should definitely know about them.
My summer of 2021 was not at all what I expected. I got lost, in a good way. I learned, I connected, I challenged myself, and I grew as a person because of it. I will now be entering my first year at Northeastern University with way more insight and knowledge about my city. I am now also more aware of the people that work nonstop to better the lives of Boston residents. I will use what I have learned and apply those skills to my future career, whatever that may be. A civic designer is not only someone who receives some degree in design and works for or in connection with the city government. A civic designer can be me, you, or anyone who chooses to use their power and strengths to improve the quality of life of the community. I challenge each of you to embrace the state of being lost. Find ways to learn from that experience and some of you might find the civic designer within yourselves.
Janice is a first-generation, self-identified Afro-Latina. She was born and raised in Boston, currently residing in Dorchester. She is a recent graduate from Boston Latin School and an upcoming first-year student at Northeastern University. She will be entering with an undecided major in the College of Engineering, yet has interests in mechanical engineering, architectural engineering, and urban design. Previously she has worked for the Peer Leadership Institute under the Boston Public Health Commission and for the Boston Public Schools Exam School Initiative as a teacher’s assistant. By joining the MONUM team as a Youth Civic Design Fellow for the summer, Janice hopes to gain knowledge about the importance of community engagement, build connections, aid in the development of projects, and overall grow as an individual. In her free-time, Janice is often watching the latest Netflix show, going on some spontaneous adventure with friends, or eating out way too much.
About the Fellowship:
The New Urban Mechanics Youth Civic Design Fellowship is designed for youth interested in working at the intersection of design and public service. We are prototyping ways to honor the reflections and contributions of youth in civic design work, foster curiosity about government, and encourage imagination. In addition to working on their own projects the youth civic design fellows connect with city staff based on their interest and reflect on the work being done by our team through their perspective.