Homewood is a neighborhood on the east end of the City of Pittsburgh. It has a population of roughly 6,000 and total area just under a square mile. It is predominantly African American (~98%), and is subdivided into 3 neighborhoods: Homewood North, Homewood South, and Homewood West. Each part has it’s own unique challenges. North has a high rate of children and a very large hill that public transit no longer goes up. West and South have much larger senior populations with limited mobility, and West is also affected by the terrain and limited public transportation.
In planning a pilot test in Homewood, we worked with the Bible Study Church group and their leaders, two of whom are also professors of social work at the University of Pittsburgh. The more we got to know the community and assessed how to improve access through our Food Oasis system, we were continually faced with issues that were so closely tied to access that it became clear that isolating and addressing just one issue was difficult, if not misguided.
Instead of running a test based on a prototype of the Food Oasis system, we decided to dive deep into the community to gain a better understanding of the problems facing consumers here, and also to see how they could frame their own problems.
This turned our work on its head in a sense, as we had been coming to a business or community with an idea, and seeing if it fit into their world. Now we were reversing that process, and trying to see what came out of a community’s problems and challenges.
MAYA ran two research & innovation sessions, one with Homewood residents to let them frame their own problems, and one with business owners and community leaders to ideate around possible solutions to these problems.
The main takeaway was something that challenged one of our main assumptions going into this project. We thought we could build an application for people who want healthier food options, but have low access to them. The more we learned about the problems facing neighborhoods like this, we realized that the challenge is not only that, but creating demand for healthier options. There is an opportunity for a much bigger, longer lasting impact if there can be progress made in that regard. Changing priorities of food desert residents, many of whom do not prioritize healthy eating, in support of a system or application that can provide better access is one heck of a challenge. And that’s where we’ll go next.