the Neighborhood Design Center



June 28, 2019

Building Digital Equity—at Laundromats

Libraries Without Borders (LWB), with support from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation and in partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library, is bringing free computer and internet access to a laundromat near you! On June 10th, Libraries Without Borders launched four sites that feature iPad and laptop installations and digital skill-building opportunities. Known as the Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI), the program aims to meet local residents where they are and provide access to digital tools and resources as part of a multi-layered approach needed to address Baltimore’s serious digital inequities.

According to a Deutsch Foundation study, “Research suggests that Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections, with the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey ranking Baltimore 261 out of 296 cities surveyed.” Despite the fact that 70% of teachers assign homework online, more and more medical and banking services rely on internet access, and access to jobs, education and even transportation information are require internet connection, almost 75,000 households in Baltimore have no internet access. This highlights a need for local leadership and cross-sector focus on addressing this challenge.

In March, NDC hosted a D Center Design Conversation to investigate the issues arising for three groups groups working to address digital equity issues. Amalia Deloney of the Media Democracy Fund, Carly Wais of Libraries Without Borders and Terrell Williams of BUILD led an engaging conversation, ranging from the societal and philosophical framing of the role of technology to the specific barriers local communities face, and the initiatives underway to address this.  NDC’s talented graphic facilitator Sophie Morley was on hand to capture the conversation.

NDC is a proud project partner, working with LWB to develop community engaged design process, workshops to source community input on the installations, and design the four installations at Laundry City in Irvington, Sudville in Falstaff, Sudsville in Belair-Edison, and HIPP in Elwood Park. NDC’s Deputy Director, Briony Hynson, along with former NDC-er Laura Wheaton, of Brennan & Company Architects, collaborated on the engagement and site plans together with Carly Wais, Katherine Trujillo and Azure Grimes of Libraries Without Borders and Lo Smith, Tech Fellow with Enoch Pratt.  Warm, enthusiastic reception and active participation from the laundromat managers at each site made the project all the more enjoyable. We look forward to the next few years of activity as these Wash and Learn sites become central community hubs for learning and connection.