Shifting Thresholds Road Show

July 27th, 2012 : : : :

A lot has happened on Shifting Thresholds in the aftermath of Trugs, Stored Potential, and Elevate. We have been working tirelessly on the mapping research, conducting interviews, community engagement, and considering the project’s next evolution. Kayla and I have clocked over 1,500 miles driving around the diverse landscape of Omaha’s southern suburban/rural edge, and have to date interviewed 45 local residents, including farmers, the development community, county officials, and suburban residents. On June 26th, we held a charrette with an advisory team comprised of Sarah Thomas, Sloan Dawson, Emily Andersen, and Drew Seyl. We received critical input about the final stages of research and the project’s future phases.

One major accomplishment of the charrette was developing a strategy for a Shifting Thresholds Trailer, a response to the challenges we discovered while seeking how to best engage the community in the project, beyond the one-on-one interviews. An important part of our proposal for this project was to conduct ‘workshops’ that would solicit more information while engaging folks in its future. We discovered that holding traditional ‘workshops’ in such a decentralized place is inauthentic to what we have discovered about the suburban/rural edge here in the Great Plains. It became apparent that the ‘workshops’ would be most effective if we adjusted them to how the communities actually function – at the scale of the car, where civic activities happen primarily in privately owned public spaces, and with a few key places where the different sectors of residents (farmers, developers, etc.) cross paths – parades, churches, and grocery stores.

The trailer, designed and built by Design Fellow Nick Rebeck and super volunteer Amy Chittenden, could go to these places and be seen/experienced on the vast road networks characterizing these landscapes. The trailer could be used to visually show how all the components of the research (aerial photography, personal stories, and historical landuse mappings) are beginning to tell a compelling narrative, and act as a catalyst to gather more personal stories and perspectives. One side of the trailer displays Alex MacLean’s aerial photography in addition to a map of the county where people can mark special places. Identifying these important community places is crucial in places where traditional community space is redefined with rapid growth patterns. The other side of the trailer displays a timeline showing specific moments in history affecting growth and development as well as a forum for people to share their ideas and opinions about the future; What characteristics will it have? What values will guide it? What do you envision?

For the weekend of July 20th, Design Fellow Kayla Meyer organized an engagement packed three days for the trailer to travel to different locations around Sarpy County. The trailer debuted at three locations; Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion, the Gretna Days Parade, and the Commissary at Offutt Air Force Base. My personal highlight from the weekend was participating in the Gretna Days Parade. Not only was it the first time I was in a parade since being a Girl Scout cookie princess, but the project was received with way more interest than we anticipated from people along the parade route.

In addition to candy, we handed out postcards with content annotated aerial photos specific to each location. The aerial perspective is a special one in the Great Plains, as there is a deep ritual of having one’s property aerially photographed each year, framed, and displayed in a prominent place next to last year’s photo. This ritual has underpinned Shifting Thresholds from conception, embodied in the act of mapping the changes over time in this culturally relevant way. We received substantial feedback through the medium of the trailer that will continue to inform our research and future phases of the project. Watch for us rolling down Highway 370, as we are going to continue trailer engagement activities every week into this fall, and we will keep you updated on our location.
We would like to extend a sincere thank you to the National Endowment for the Arts, Nebraska Humanities Council, and Nebraska Cultural Endowment for allowing us to undertake this ambitious project that is constructing a strong foundation for better understanding the unique conditions of the Great Plains suburban/rural edge.
Photos taken by Taylor Meyer.