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Theory of Change IDSE 203 Studio Class

Saturday, December 21st, 2013 | Posted by kurt.hanley

I had the opportunity to interview survivors of the Onion Creek Flood. What I learned from their experiences has deeply touched my heart and has been often on my mind. I have transcribed their stories and expanded my data by putting our conversations into transcribed utterances.  By doing this, I gain a better visual map to view survivor experiences to discover patterns and develop design solutions. As I have been analyzing data and  grouping the utterances  I have become aware of a couple of prevailing themes.

To get an up close and personal perspective of the events that occurred during the Onion Creek Flooding, I decided to go on location.  In early November 2013 I traveled to the affected area. I canvassed the disaster site and observed multiple people in volunteer groups cleaning up homes with survivors. There were many groups helping clean out and restore homes. Many of the survivors are living in camper trailers out front of their homes as they worked to make it habitable again. One of my first encounters was a woman and a man sitting on the back of a truck’s tailgate.  They appeared deep in thought but I approached them as they stared at the house across the street. They suspiciously eyeballed me as they pulled heavy drags from their cigarettes as I approached.

I introduced myself and asked their permission to interview them.  The woman sharply replied, “What are you with the paper or something?”  I explained I was a design student.  Her eyes grew with confusion and she blurted out, “Design!? What the hell does “this” have to do with design!?” I responded, “Well, I am not sure yet but, I would like to know your story to find out.” Not the best response although it was enough to gain access into the world of a survivor.

It was not long before the two folks I approached wanted to tell their stories, in fact they started to pull in other neighbors to add to my interview.  They directed me specifically to a disabled man they stated was important for me to meet and interview. He lived alone and lost everything in the flood, his home completely destroyed. Each person who told me their stories recounted where they were on the fateful night and how fearful they were.

The residence of the neighborhood also vented frustration about the aftermath of the flood. I heard a common theme of “loss of choice.” I was uncertain what they meant by that so I continued to ask questions. They shared feelings that the City of Austin was attempting to displace their community, one of lower socioeconomic standing.  They expressed disappointment and sorrow of the loss of their community.The group was frustrated with waiting to hear what options they have and limitations they had to move forward in getting their lives back.

The group talked about the media coverage of the flood. They felt underreported and forgotten about and that the trail construction at lady bird lake took precedence over them.  Personally, I can agree with the knowledge of this flood was extremely low. During conversations with people in the Austin community it was evident most were unaware that there was even a flood. It’s debatable that this is due to reporting or the community not recognizing tragedies that unfold within it. Their discussion reflects a view that reflects the themes of Austin’s gentrification and displacement of the lower class more so than media coverage.

From my research, I saw relief on the faces of victims who were greeted by support entities. For example, the American Red Cross has been a presence since 1881 and brings comfort and immediate support to survivors immediately after a disaster strikes. Thereafter it is up to the community and other entities to rebuild a community and support individuals who experienced a loss.

Since my initial interviews I have stayed in contact with some of the survivors. There has been some alteration to the recovery efforts. The biggest change in particular is FEMA’s involvement now that damage reports have estimated at $107 million.  Many of the people I interviewed still have no clue on what to do. They are waiting to hear their options on what they are allowed to do next.

After being apart of the efforts of recovery and interviewing survivors I have the same questions that everyone does at this point. I feel that some of the efforts for recovery are redundant and can be replaced by technology advancements. I have developed a theory of change to put the insights that I have developed into a method. I plan to use this theory as I move forward in the third quarter. Insights and a strong theory of change the foundation of my work and I look forward to using this knowledge to build sound design solutions.

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