Reasons We Love New York City: Stories of Resiliency During Crisis by TYTHE Design and Aly Miller
Here at Brooklyn Creative League, we love hearing about how our members collaborate with one another. It happens all the time, but this particular project—Reasons We Love New York City: Stories of Resiliency During Crisis—merited a deeper dive (you can find the Screen Reader version here).
This past summer, as New York City was in the midst of the Covid crisis and shaken by protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder—BCL members TYTHEdesign and Aly Miller teamed up to create a map of how New Yorkers are building a more resilient city. The resulting map is a love letter to New Yorkers and our communities, but also a guide to how the City could build back better. We sat down with Kristina Drury, founder and Principal of TYTHEdesign, and illustrator and designer, Aly Miller, to talk about their resiliency map.
A Love Letter to New York City
BCL: Kris, Aly, Tell me a bit about your work. What inspires you to get up in the morning?
Kris Drury: TYTHEdesign is a mission-purpose firm. We look at how we can use the lens of design and strategy as a way to help build the capacity of the social sector. What gets us up in the morning is helping social sector organizations, government agencies and non-profit foundations build healthy communities and create living cities. One of the things I love about my job is that we get to work with organizations that are doing really good stuff, really trying to make an impact, no matter the context, the budget, or the current crisis.
Aly Miller: I’m a graphic designer and an illustrator, with a special interest in working with clients who work on the environment, food systems, and sustainable agriculture. There’s a lot of overlap with the work TYTHE does, so this was a perfect opportunity to work with a great organization to promote the values of social justice and sustainability that are at the heart of my work. As a designer, I jumped at the idea to combine custom illustrations and map-making for organizations that have a lot of heart. It was a perfect fit.
BCL: Tell me about the genesis of this project. How did it come about?
Kris Drury: Over the summer, it often felt like people were criticizing each other, and we wanted to remind everyone of the amazing work and innovation happening across the city, no matter the situation. When something you love is hurting, you want to offer comfort. This was simply our version of a love letter to New York City.
We are really fortunate because our work puts us at the intersection of so many different organizations. The majority of the people we ended up featuring in the Map were either from our community or were our clients. Our work allows us to see what is going on in the Department of Health and the Department or Education, even if those departments don’t typically talk to each other. We were in a position to say, “Hey guys, we are doing really great work. Let’s support each other during this crisis versus let’s be tearing each other down.”
Building a Resilient City
BCL: How did you identify organizations and projects that you wanted to highlight?
Kris Drury: This June, in response to not only the Covid-19 crisis, but the protests over police violence and criminal justice reform, we wanted to be especially conscientious about the work that we were doing. We wanted to be sure we were working with individuals and organizations that were addressing the underlying issues. So we took a hard look at who we were working with and why? Within that, our team built more clarity regarding our role and focus regarding building resiliency. With that in mind, we focused on groups that were addressing the underlying injustices, but doing so in a way that helped build a resilient city.
BCL: What does that mean, “building a resilient city”?
Kris Drury: Well, we have a whole definition of a Resilient City, which really shapes our work, but in a nutshell, a Resilient City is always evolving to sustain a sense of place and belonging for all residents, ensuring all people can adequately live, work, play, engage, and thrive. In short, a Resilient City promotes a just society.
This definition really helped us to fleshed out the organizations we wanted to feature. In many cases, it was a matter of calling people up and saying, “Hey, this is what we want to do. Are you interested? Would you be available for either a quick interview, or to respond to a few questions over email?”
BCL: How did the two of you decide to work together?
Aly Miller: We had been chatting regularly at Salad Day [BCL’s formerly weekly potluck lunch], and even before this project was on the horizon, I was super interested to learn about what Kris and her team were doing because I love learning about urban planning. I also studied geography as an undergrad, so I found that Kris and I had a lot in common. When she brought this idea up, I jumped at the opportunity.
Kris Drury: From our end, we were looking for someone that we liked, that we appreciate, someone who does really good work, and that would be fun to work with. Aly had the perfect skillset, temperament, and background for this project.
BCL: What was the creative process like?
Kris Drury: From my perspective, it was a very streamlined process. In most cases, after a few initial Zoom meetings, we came up with a creative brief, and Aly took it from there.
Aly Miller: I asked Kris a lot of questions about their visual preferences, and Kris, because she’s a designer, she knew how to communicate what they did and didn’t want. We talked about colors. We talked about the level of detail for these illustrations. We knew they’d be very small so it was a goal of mine to communicate as much information as I could in a tiny illustration.
I start out all my illustrations with sketches, and then flesh it out from there. For the Brooklyn Bridge Park scene, for example, there’s just so many details we wanted to cover. That was probably one of our more challenging scenes because there’s so many different views of that park. And there’s so many different ways to depict small businesses, for example, or transportation, or the concept of urban planning. So, these illustrations were all the result of very clear back and forth and brainstorming sessions that we had individually.
Shifting Perceptions of What’s Possible
BCL: What’s your most ardent wish for this project, maybe from a policy or thought leadership perspective. What’s your hope for how this love letter will influence policy debates?
Kris Drury: I’m really hoping that it can help shift people’s perceptions of what’s possible. In the face of so much systemic injustice and a health crisis, people tend to focus—understandably so—on what is not working. Without being Pollyannaish, I would like us to look at what is working. What can we leverage or use? How can we acknowledge what’s working and go from there? Please note, I am not saying that every agency and every decision has been good. That is not at all what we’re saying. But there is some really wonderful good work happening across the city.
BCL: What’s in store down the road for you guys? Are there any other collaborations between the two of you? Any other kind of projects where it might make sense to collaborate?
Kris Drury: At the moment, we don’t have anything on deck, but I’m hoping that we will get some things teed up. I’m hoping, from our side, that we find more opportunities to incorporate the great work that Aly is doing. Her lovely illustrations just make material so much more engaging and enjoyable to read.
Aly Miller: Thank you! That’s so kind.
Kris Drury: It’s true! This was great. I look forward to updating it six months from now!
Kris shares that the project has been well received and they’ve had a lot of great feedback. “The people who were a part of it are really excited about it and are starting to share it,” says Kris.
We look forward to bringing you more member news and project updates in the New Year, please don’t hesitate to reach out and share your projects with Neil or Erin!