Thesis: Identifying Categories of Design Opportunites

When I started research on the “people” module, I wanted to understand the Chilean people in the context of a disaster. I approached this from two sides: research into the culture of the Chile and research in sociocultural shifts borne upon by disaster. On the cultural side, I learned that the Chileans have a lot of national pride without a sense of national identity. They enjoy many of the same things that we do but place a greater emphasis on building personal relationships and family. On the disaster side, I learned that the quality of rebound in an area relied on four things: the conditions before the disaster, the government response, the ability of the people to build and leverage social capital, and the ability of the people to construct positive meanings after the event. Each of these areas present design opportunities.

First the earthquake, then the disaster. The Peru case study presented an argument for how underdevelopment and poor planning turned a significant earthquake into a catastrophic one. To avoid the post-earthquake disaster, Peru needed to use more earthquake resilient building materials, improve the distribution of health care, update archaic bureaucracy, create safeguards in its infrastructure, and adapt city planning to the terrain. The most relevant of these opportunities is architectural, which is beyond the scope of my expertise.

The generally favorable government response in the Northridge earthquake helped survivors get back to their lives with minimal interruption. For the underserved immigrant populations, private charities helped with financial and psychological needs. In contrast, the horrific government response in India reinforced a class divide and left survivors in lower socioeconomic classes physically and psychologically devastated 3 years later. Design opportunities are largely policy-related and out of scope.

After Hurricane Katrina, survivors were left with a collective action problem: why would anyone want to go back to rebuild their neighborhoods when they had no assurance that any of their neighbors would also return? This problem was solved primarily by the people, who leveraged and built social capital by exchanging services and building a social community while reconstructing the physical community. The post-Katrina community is now stronger than it was before the floods. Design opportunities address the social aspects of community by creating objects and spaces for people to signal their commitment to each other and the rebuilding process. This might be most appropriate to GFRY.

The book, Mass Trauma and Emotional Healing around the World: Rituals and Practices for Resilience and Meaning-making, presents several case studies that demonstrate the importance of positive meaning-making in the psychological recovery process. It shows how those who dwell on the past never overcome their grief and engage in self-destructive or socially disruptive behaviors. This problem is magnified in underdeveloped nations. Design opportunities include therapeutic objects that help survivors with their emotional needs.

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