As the Executive Director for the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), Christine Gaspar leverages the power of good design so citizens can understand complex issues and stand up for social justice.
“We bring together people that aren’t used to working together and who speak different professional languages, and we help them talk to each other.”
To the average person, grasping the complexities of transportation policy, immigration law, or predatory lending may seem beyond their power. The Center for Urban Pedagogy brings that knowledge within reach. In describing her work, Christine channels the story of a mid-twentieth century Swiss bureaucrat, Otto Neurath who developed an easy-to-understand visual language to help the average citizen comprehend pressing social issues. He described the people who brought together the illustrator and the economist or policy wonk to “facilitate the creation of these amazingly powerful graphics” as a “transformer.” Christine recalls, “When I read that, I thought, ‘That’s what we do!’”
Christine believes great designs are powerful tools. Her interest lies in empowering “communities who don’t normally have access to them” by actively engaging those who are disenfranchised and getting them involved with the design process. Christine thinks, “It’s what makes our work effective, but it’s also what makes the visualizations so good, because we get lots of feedback along the way.” That two-way dynamic is what elevates the project into something that will actually get used at the end of the day and, consequently, “contribute to a movement towards greater social justice.”
Getting a community involved also keeps CUP from working beyond the scope of what is needed. As Christine explains, “we only work on projects in which the constituency affected by the issue and intended as the audience for the tool we’re developing, is part of the project from the beginning.”
For Christine, it seems design has always been the key to helping others. Prior to joining CUP, Christine worked with an organization “providing architectural and community design services to low-income communities recovering from Katrina in Mississippi.” Then, as now, Christine helped forge connections between design and the people who could benefit from it the most.