A digital public art project from Philadelphia's Design Activist Institute based in design thinking

How might we make public transportation work for the people who depend on it?

Public transportation improves quality of life for the poorest Americans by providing access to jobs, healthcare, schools, and grocery stores, and reducing dependence on cars and their associated expenses. Yet 45% of Americans have no access to public transportation according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and often the systems we do have fall short of providing the service people deserve.

SEPTA has reported a recent loss in ridership and a slowing of route times. We can hold transit agency officials and local lawmakers including City Council accountable for making improvements to our crumbling system. We can learn from other cities around the country and the world who have designed their transportation systems in ways that work for the people they serve. More concretely, according to recent reports, SEPTA can: eliminate the transfer fee to simplify connections, expedite service, and encourage riders to use the system; redesign routes to increase the speed of bus service overall. The city can: create dedicated bus lanes and redesign traffic patterns along bus lines to expedite service.

How might we be better neighbors?

Fully one-third of Americans say they do not know their neighbors and according to economist Joe Cortright, only about 20% of us report regularly interacting with them. Rather than getting to know the people who live closest to us, more and more we are choosing social interaction that takes place online and across great distances. This shift in our social interactions leads to less social cohesion, or the benefits that come from trust and cooperation in a community. Only 3 in 10 Americans report having a sense of trust in others, down from 5 in 10 in the 1980s. Rates of reported loneliness have also doubled in that time. Furthermore, online interactions often reinforce our own views of the world, expose us to fake news and conspiracy theories, and make it easy to mistrust and dehumanize one another.

One solution is to demand more from our online communities. We can hold the companies who create them accountable when things go wrong and mistrust builds. We can also support the social fabric of our communities by showing up in person at neighborhood association meetings, community events and social meetups. We can participate in neighborhood cleanups and tree plantings, offer assistance (or even just a quick hello) to neighbors, and vote for elected officials who will support the wellbeing of our communities.

Why Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” by Linda Poon for City Lab

The Vanishing Neighbor” by Marc Dunkelman

Americans Don’t Know Their Neighbors Anymore—and it’s Bad for the Future of Democracy” by Joshua Faust for Quartz

We Don’t Know our Neighbors Anymore” by Meaghan McDonough for the Boston Globe

October 4, 2018

How might we expose city council’s corruption?

Both locally and nationally, the desires of people do not become policy unless powerful lobbyists happen to agree. Researchers at Princeton and Northwestern have determined that the U.S. no longer functions as a democracy, but more like an oligarchy. This plays out locally, too, as Philly is one of if not the most corrupt cities in the country, powerful millionaires buy their seats onto city council, and poverty is deeper than in any other large U.S. city.

One solution taken by communities all over the world to enact a more direct democracy hinges around the concept of legislature by lot: a large, rotating decision-making body made up of average people. Chosen at random, this group would have the same demographics as the community (in Philadelphia’s case, this would mean a group that is younger, is mostly of African American descent, and consists of a group made up of more women and non-binary people than men). A large group like this would make decisions more in line with the wishes of our neighbors in non-coercive situations of deliberation, and would create a more nurturing and caring community for the common good, towards liberation.

How might we start cooperating as a civilization?

New research contradicts three widely-held views about human civilization. Contrary to cynical belief, we are not innately violent and war is only a recent product of debt and capital, there is no such thing as global scarcity, and competition is not the sole driver of human progress. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku states that in order for humanity to reach the next stage in evolutionary development will require “a remarkable degree of social cooperation on a planetary scale.”

In order to solve the existential threats we face in the 21st century, like climate change and inequality, we will all have to learn how to cooperate. These are problems we can solve together, not through fighting amongst each other while the world’s most powerful people hoard resources.

The Disposessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin

How the Science of Human Cooperation Could Improve the World” by Diane Davoine

We Don’t Need a ‘War’ on Climate Change, We Need a Revolution” by Eric S. Godoy and Aaron Jaffe


Eros and Revolution” by George Katsiaficas

October 4, 2018

How might we dismantle authority within our own souls?

In 1925, the German anti-fascist Otto Rühle wrote: “What is needed today is the gradual dismantling of authority within people themselves…in the general, daily practice of life in society.… Dismantling it in the theory and tactics of class struggle is more important. But most important of all is dismantling authority in the human soul, because without that it is impossible to abolish authority in either organization or tactics and theory.” As a schoolteacher, Rühle was speaking on his theory of education in the ways of liberatory revolution, but the message here is apt for contemporary American society.

One of the most important keys to ensuring that the future is free from dictatorial, genocidal regimes is to build the self-confidence of individuals within societies. People with confidence and more fully realized selves tend to place more trust in one another and the systems that they build together rather than in political and cultural strongmen who sow fear, promote pseudo-fascist aggression, and merge entertainment with politics. Banding together to create a better world through community and workplace organizing, environmental activism, and coming up with new ideas through creative endeavors help inspire collective determination.

Can it Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America” by Cass Sunstein

Authoritarianism, Self Esteem and Insecurity” by Knud S. Larsen and Gary Schwendiman

6 Ways Activism is Good For You” by Victoria Albina and Jules Netherland

December 8, 2018