City Slickers: Mobilizing Resources

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The City Slickers are flipping the script on accessibility and mobility. Emily Manetz, an undergraduate in the College of Engineering describes their mission as “bringing the resources to people instead of bringing people to resources.” Working with the Mobile Support Services Initiative (MSSI) that operates in Washtenaw County, the City Slickers designed a bus to bring resources to the rural areas of the county that are currently undersupported.

Story by Malin Andersson

The City Slickers formed out of the BlueLab India Project and is made up of Emily Manetz, Asa De Vries, Madelyn Moore, Zachary Rose, and Brandon Surhigh from the College of Engineering as well as Preethi Kumaran from the College of Pharmacy. They saw Innovation in Action as an opportunity to make real change. When given the chance to work with the Mobile Support Services Initiative, the City Slickers enthusiastically jumped right in, resonating with MSSI’s mission of helping those who lack access to essential services.


Shifting Focus

As part of the Blue Lab India Project, the City Slickers naturally gravitated towards addressing issues miles away. However, through their work with Innovation in Action, the City Slickers had their eyes opened to the areas needing help within their own county. Because they were not able to travel this year, they had to shift their focus locally. Ultimately, the City Slickers realized that they needed to use their skills to help those nearby. 

There is a shocking difference in accessibility between urban and rural areas. Where resources are more densely gathered and available in urban places, availability is far sparser in rural areas. Preethi Kumaran voiced her surprise at this disparity within Washtenaw County, saying how “It was crazy to see how close these needs were – just five to ten miles away from Ann Arbor. The difference within just a small region is crazy.” 

Brandon Surhigh expanded on these differences, saying how “In one community, it might be a piece of cake to go grocery shopping or get a health care checkup – but in others, they have to drive much longer. That’s time that they’re not working, spending time with their families, doing what they want to do – being human. We wanted to use mobility to increase the humanity of Washtenaw County.” 

The result of their efforts is the Resource Ride – a repurposed Ann Arbor transit bus that will act as a mobile resource center. These buses will increase the accessibility of mental health resources, distribute food more equitably (in the effort to alleviate the effects of food deserts,) and provide the space for medical check-ups and vaccinations as well. Additionally, the Resource Ride will act as a Wifi hotspot to provide workspaces for community members. With quick access to broadband, community members can learn more about resources already provided by the county that are currently underutilized. 

Throughout this process, several of the City Slickers wondered if people would actually need a product such as the Resource Ride. That’s when they talked to the county commissioners and local leaders about the needs of the people they were planning to serve. Upon listening to the experiences and needs of people living in and leading rural areas of Washtenaw County, they realized that yes, there is a need for the Resource Ride. 


Presenting their Work

When it came time to present their work during the Innovation in Action Showcase, the City Slickers were ready. C-SED had taught them the importance of storytelling when presenting their work, and they were prepared to share their project. When it came time to travel around Gathertown, they all dressed their avatars as snowmen. It was hard to miss them! 


Moving Forward

During this experience, the approach of socially engaged design really resonated with the City Slickers. Brandon especially saw the value of socially engaged design because of how it stands apart from the conventional approach to design. “Something that incentivizes a company to produce something is money but with socially engaged design, it puts people first instead of money.” (Brandon Surhigh) For his teammate, Asa De Vries, socially engaged design means “working with people, not for people.” 

The City Slickers will bring the concept of socially engaged design with them into every future project. “It’s a great mindset to have and a process to follow when you want to focus your efforts on bringing tangible outcomes that help people.” (Brandon) For now, they will continue to develop the Resource Ride. 

Moving forward, the City Slickers will continue figuring out the actual design of the Resource Ride. They hope to design their buses with enough flexibility that individual buses can be configured for different resources. With a passion for accessibility and helping others, the City Slickers will continue to be driven to help those around them.

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