Jane Pirone, interim dean of the School of Design Strategies (SDS) at Parsons and assistant professor in the School of Art, Media, and Technology (AMT), employs her knowledge of media and design to help "make the invisible visible." Pirone began this effort nearly 20 years ago when she created Not For Tourists (NFT), a series of nontraditional guidebooks that reveal cities' lesser-known features. Treating the urban context as dynamic, diverse, and composed of living systems, the guides are designed to make readers feel as if they had been living for years in the neighborhoods described. NFT was originally released in print but is now available on mobile and Web platforms as well, in a shift that reflects Pirone's embrace of new communication technologies.
Pirone brings to Parsons a focus on local perspectives and expertise in using design to connect people and ideas. She is working with Jessica Irish, director of Academic Affairs at AMT, on DataMyne and the Urban Research Toolkit (URT), two research projects that, like NFT, are designed to bring to light hidden or overlooked phenomena. Pirone says, "To promote collaboration, we created a media layer that captures, amplifies, and builds on research and projects undertaken at the university and in urban areas."
The idea for URT grew out of the Global Exchange Lab, a project addressing the role of design and social science in rapidly urbanizing populations. In fall 2011, Pirone and project collaborators Brian McGrath and Victoria Marshall from Parsons and Vyjayanthi Rao from The New School for Social Research took New School students to Brazil to research quality-of-life issues with local students and staff from a governmental organization in Heliopolis, one of Brazil's emerging population centers. "This project is incredibly complex," Pirone says. "How do you design for systems and ecologies that you're unfamiliar with and that are constantly changing?" Making data as accessible as possible is part of the solution. URT, which uses open-source mapping technologies to give geographical context to urban research, was conceived to help meet this need.
One of the things Pirone likes most about teaching at The New School is working with students to address real-world problems. In spring 2011, she offered the first Urban Bike Studio, a course that grew out of her own passion for cycling and her participation in a university committee for bike sharing. Pirone says, "I started to think of bicycles as not only a transportation system but also an interface between the rider and the city; bikes affect the rider's experience of the city." The course considers the bicycle in relation to activism, community building, sustainability, and urban design. Course projects were so successful that Pirone was able to secure outside funding to build on the work done in class. Six students are currently redesigning bicycle cargo packaging for a real-life client.