The Mary E. Brown Center is a community center located in the south end of East St. Louis, IL. Erected in early 1960s to serve as a safe community space for area youth through the provision of sport and academic activities, the Center is located within walking distance of three housing projects and a major assisted living center for seniors. The Center’s urban context is the city of East St. Louis, which was created as an industrial suburb and entertainment hub with lax zoning and tax policies that ensured maximum profits for industry. Once known as an “All-American City”, the city has seen significant population decline (83,000 in the 1950’s with approximately 50% Black to 30,000 in 2008 with 98% Black). Businesses have declined from 1,527 (mainly large industrial) in 1967 to 202 (mainly small) in 2008. Slightly over thirty-seven percent of the population lives in poverty (compared to 10.7% for Illinois), including over half of all children. Thirty percent of the population over 25 does not have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Participants in a community informatics studio course during the summer of 2010 developed two design proposals using evidence-based design methodologies to make over the computer lab located within the Mary Brown Center. The lab was comprised of 13 computers and was often at maximum capacity, particularly after school and during summer youth programs. The goal of the redesign was to apply principles regarding light, color and flexibility to create a space that was more inviting and functional for both private and public computing activities. University of Illinois students created initial design proposals by combining input from the staff and current lab users at the Mary Brown Center with observations from a variety of public computing spaces and findings from literature searches.
These proposals were then presented to Mary Brown Center staff and computer users for feedback to guide subsequent revisions. Posters of final proposed designs were displayed in the center along with post-it notes that encouraged further feedback. Mary Brown Center staff and University of Illinois researchers used the design proposals and community feedback to implement the collaboratively executed final makeover. At the same time, the AmeriCorps program secured state funding through a state of Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity “Digital Divide” grant to replace the original 13 computers with 25 new computers. The makeover was completed September 2010.