Sabrina Dorsainvil, a Jamaica Plain resident, was recently hired for the position of civic designer in the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), which will have her doing innovative research on the issue of affordable housing for the middle class.
MONUM is the City’s civic innovation lab that conducts experiments that might offer the potential to improve the quality of the Boston’s services.
Boston was selected as one of 14 cities to participate in Bloomberg Philanthropies i-teams program. Boston’s i-team operates within MONUM and Dorsainvil’s position is paid by the program. The i-teams use research- and analysis-centered methodology to find new solutions to long-standing challenges. Bloomberg Philanthropies was founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Dorsainvil began working for the mayor in late August as a civic designer. For the next 12 to 18 months, she said that the i-team will be focusing on the mayor’s initiative about housing, specifically middle-income housing.
“All of what we are doing as an i-team is centered around the mayor’s initiatives. Our first 12 to 18 months are focused on looking at how to lower costs to build and buy lower-income housing,” she said.
Dorsainvil said that there’s a lot happening “in terms of strategies providing low-income affordable housing” and an increase in the number of luxury housing being built, but “what’s being forgotten is the middle space, and we’re looking at how to address that gap.”
While the i-team’s first focus will be housing, it is expected that it will shift to another top mayoral priority within 12 to 18 months in order to cover at least two topics during the three-year grant.
“We know that housing is rooted in deep systemic issues. We feel that now is really the time to make sure we are innovating and questioning,” she said.
According to a job description of civic designer from the City, “the i-team’s first goal is to start a sustainable program that identifies, pilots and scales effective programs that ensure that Boston remains a place that all people can call home.”
The work is part of Mayor Walsh’s 2030 housing plan, which is being spearheaded by Sheila Dillon, the director of the Department of Neighborhood Development. Dorsainvil will partner with Dillon and her team.
Dorsainvil’s job is to “push beyond the way we normally think of things,” she said.
Dorsainvil received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where she was more interested in the human experience of design, focusing on topics like service design.
“My background has design as a key role, but I consider myself a strategist as well,” she said.
She attended Parsons the New School for a two-year masters program in design and urban ecologies, where she focused on spatial and environmental justice, looking closely at community engagement, housing and urban development.
Dorsainvil also worked as an engineering intern with Designing the We, growing in that startup company to become a partner. She continues to work at the company on a case-by-case basis.
Dorsainvil said she has had the opportunity to work in New York City where she encountered “issues of public space with people of color, immigration rights and city contradictions.”
While she looked at New York as a context, she was also given opportunities to work on trips to Colombia, Guatemala and Italy.
“When you’re working with real people on real issues, you really need to be mindful of sustainability of ideas,” she said.
For anyone who would like to work with MONUM on an idea to improve Boston, email [email protected]