This past semester, Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture and School of Design launched an interdisciplinary course to provide students from multiple disciplines the opportunity to explore linkages between community scale place-making and the postal system.
“Historian Winifred Gallagher describes the postal network as America’s central nervous system that binds the nation together and in which all communities are still treated equally,” explained Lucian and Rita Caste Associate Professor in Architecture and Urban Design Stefan Gruber, who co-taught the course with Kristin Hughes and Andrew Butcher. “We were inspired by the vision of the future post as civic commons and eager to rethink what the post’s universal service obligation might mean in the 21st century. Bridging the postal and place-making divide, opens up a space of opportunity for meaningful social innovation.”
During the 16-week elective course, students focused on developing radical imaginations of possible futures for postal places in order to inspire new types of conversations and possibilities between communities and the postal service. The course utilized strategies of community engagement and creative placemaking to provide meaningful input and insights as to “what is possible” relative to the adaptation of Postal facilities and distribution infrastructure.
Throughout the course, students were introduced to the fundamentals of the postal system and infrastructure including the policy, economics and history of the system that has influenced current challenges. On top of that, students also learned the best practices in community engagement, participatory research and social impact evaluation, as well as design thinking for large scale systems change and social innovation. The course also featured guest lecturers with expertise from local community development; city planning; placemaking and national postal policy and history.
After their research phase, students were charged to research, design and reimagine how the postal system in a transitioning neighborhood can contribute to social, ecological and economic sustainability and serve as a driver for community resilience.
The course culminated on April 26 with the presentation of “Postal Places: A Pittsburgh Forum.” Student teams presented concepts at a first of a kind dialogue between place based stakeholders and postal system experts at a dedicated Pittsburgh Postal Places Forum hosted at Carnegie Mellon University. Through presentations and a series of interactive sessions students and faculty sought feedback in an effort to help prompt information sharing between the postal and place-making domains.