Why we're launching a Do Tank (2015)

*Originally posted on the miLES blog on September 9th, 2015.

miLES got started with a few online conversations on the OpenIDEO platform as part of the Vibrant Cities Challenge. While the challenge brief called attention to communities like Detroit, Madrid and Athens, we observed a local phenomenon of 200+ vacant storefronts and lots in our own neighborhood, the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Applying the principles of human-centered design, with the abundance of untapped spaces in mind, we started testing the need for these underused spaces with a range of people in New York City. miLES was a civic initiative that started with a simple quest: how to make our local neighborhood more vibrant and diverse by using untapped spaces for emerging businesses, creatives, and the community. From there, we prototyped opening up our first storefront to test the reception of different types of space uses (co-working, retail, film festival venue and more). We got an overwhelmingly positive response and decided to run a kickstarter campaign to jumpstart the idea.

It has been two years since our first storefront and since then we have produced over 100 pop-ups, using untapped spaces in our neighborhood. The popups, diverse in both function and style, have included a teen art salon, supper clubs, a museum of beautiful people, indie electronic shop, a stranger's story project, a short-film festival, a startup demo, mini fashion show, art galleries, fashion brand launches, sewing workshops, a gelato shop, a design thinking studio masquerading as a taco shop, and more. In working with popuppers, we aim to incubate these new emerging ideas and to help them execute within real physical spaces -- where neighbors and the public at large can be invited into their vision.

The miLES Do Tank is a new initiative that we are launching this Fall. Inspired by the Human-Center Design process we followed to get started and by the action-oriented spirit that drives popup entrepreneurship, the miLES Do Tank will be a way to cultivate a conscientious process of DO-ing. We’ve partnered with OpenIDEO and NYU School of Engineering to create and run the Do Tank, with an emphasis on the follow through of ideas beyond ideation. We want to see good ideas enter the real world. While the Do Tank starts at square one, with inspiration and ideation, we stress the importance of DO-ing and facilitate the process of moving onwards to the prototyping and implementation phases. With each three month cycle of the miLES Do-tank, we make an investment into helping our fellow New Yorkers find a way to DO something that they are passionate about. In addition to active sessions facilitated by Foossa, the Do Tank provides a storefront and $1000 for Do Tank teams to use to execute on their ideas.

For the first Do Tank, we have chosen the theme of FOOD x SUSTAINABILITY. This is inspired in part by OpenIDEO’s current focus on developing initiatives on environmental sustainability and in part by our own relationship with food. New York is a city for food lovers, but as in too many other places, it is easy to be out of touch with the full life cycle tied to the food we eat and the waste involved in every step of the food system (from production, to consumption, to disposal and beyond). Our city is home to many foodies, but also to many that are hungry. Our restaurants are filled with mouth watering creations, and our streets are filled with garbage. Our supermarkets offer us an impressive array of produce regardless of the season, but so much of it comes from far away. We throw away lettuce that goes soggy and bread that gets moldy when left uneaten in our big refrigerators. We both need and love our food, and we are excited to see how the Do Tank participants will tackle the challenge of reducing waste to create a more sustainable food system.

This is an open invitation to be a part of something that can be impactful on a local level (and that could potentially scale to other cities). It’s an invitation to commit to learning and creating with a group of strangers for 3 days or 3 months.  It’s an invitation to engage with the human centered design process (whether you’re a HCD master or have only just heard of it) to better your relationship with what’s on your plate. It’s an invitation to put ideas into action and we’re here to support. I have found the deepest collaborations come from an alignment of people based on our values and our openness to possibilities.

I hope to see you at our first meeting of the miLES DO-tank on September 25th at Impact Hub NYC!

- Eric Ho
Founder, miLES