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Cooperative! Part 4
Torn between me and we

by DK Holland

The world reached out for the comfort of connection after the tragedy of 9/11: We had never known such collective grief. Within days, graphic designer and lifelong New Yorker Milton Glaser delivered solace to a world in shock by creating his artful declaration “I Love New York More Than Ever.” He enlisted the help of the School for Visual Arts to print a poster. Assisted by friends and colleagues, he broadcast his message in the media. His image of the singed heart was instantly and eagerly embraced by a paralyzed world. Glaser, who also designed the graphic identity for Windows on the World (the legendary restaurant high atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center) says, “It was like someone you knew died and now they are gone and you realize how much you cared about them.”

Once before, in the bankrupt ’70s, Glaser had donated his talent to help New Yorkers rejuvenate. He recalls, “Morale was at the bottom of the pit. I always say you could tell by the amount of dog shit in the street. There was so much dog shit because people didn’t feel that they deserved anything else, right? I mean you were just walking through all this dog shit day after day, in this filthy city, garbage, and so on. And then the most extraordinary thing happened: There was a shift in sensibility. One day people said, ‘I’m tired of stepping in dog shit. Get this fucking stuff out of my way.’ And the city began to react. They said, ‘If you allow your dog to crap on the street, you have to pay a fine of $100’ and within a very short time it became socially untenable to allow your dog to shit on the street. I don’t know what produces those behavioral shifts. From one day where it’s OK, and then suddenly the city simultane­ously got fed up and said, ‘It’s our city, we’re going to take it back, we’re not going to allow this stuff to happen.’ And part of that moment was the campaign, ‘I Love New York.’ More than anything else it was a device to encourage tourism.”1

Like many major cities, New York relies on visitors for revenue—and it relies on visitors to spread the good word about the city’s offerings. So much has changed since those bad old days. Tenyears after 9/11 and 35 years after the start of the statewide “I Love New York” campaign 51 million tourists visited the clean, green streets of the city’s 5 boroughs, spending 34 billion dollars in its hotels, restaurants, institutions and retail stores. Once again New York has become one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

Design by Milton Glaser.

But Glaser’s “I Love New York” (a gift to New York State) didn’t just help New York rebound: This pride-of-place concept helped many cities, eventually spinning way out of control with kitschy clichés of love for just about everything—from “I Love Jesus” to “I Love Mustaches” to “I Love Porn.” But iron­ically it was the original, the ubiquitous 1976 “I Love New York” rebus that prepared the world to instantane­ously embrace “I Love New York More Than Ever” at its moment of need.

As effective conveyors of ideas, designers draw people into dia­logue. The power of design, when mindfully and powerfully applied, can reconfirm or disrupt or challenge belief systems. It can open people to ways that might improve the world for everyone. Glaser adds, “But the design must be insight­ful. Arresting. It must challenge the existing condition of the mind by offering an alternative.”

When balanced on the edge of a precipice, one may consider more radical solutions: Do or die. For instance, a housing cooperative affectionately known as The Coops, formed in the 1920s in the Bronx. It was built by Russian Jews, Communists and Trotskyites, many who had immigrated from war-torn Europe now desperate to relocate from the squalid conditions of New York City’s Lower East Side. So 700 families pooled their money to build a new home together, a utopia. Members of The Coops called themselves “cooperators.” Their mindset was unity within community. The Coops housing com­plex, designed by a progressive architecture firm, featured spacious apartments, large open communal areas, a gymnasium and library. There was a child of working-class immi­grant parents from Transylvania raised in The Coops, a genius child who would grow up to revolutionize graphic design and illus­tration—a cooper­ator named Milton Glaser.

The cooperative movement is designed to provide resolutions for pressing social dilemmas. It’s now a multi-billion dollar inter­national industry. A fire insurance co-op was started by Benjamin Franklin with firefighters in 1752 in Philadelphia (it’s the oldest co-op in the US). There are divorced and widowed women’s worker co-ops in Morocco (where such women are often disowned). Gas co-ops (Canada). Rat catchers co-ops (India). Beekeepers co-ops (Chicago). Consumer co-ops (Japan). Daycare and food co-ops and credit unions, which are essentially co-ops, dot the map.

Universal cooperative principles encourage altruism, fairness and community:
1. Open, voluntary membership.
2. Democratic governance.
3. Limited return on equity.
4. Surplus belongs to members.
5. Education of members and public in cooperative principles.
6. Cooperation between cooperatives.
7. Concern for community. Holland
DK Holland writes about design and teaches in two MFA design programs in New York, one at SVA and one at Pratt. She is an advisor to Project M and Design Ignites Change. Holland has been the editor of Design Issues since she started it in 1990. She is the author/producer of many books on design as well as Branding for Nonprofits. She is the producer of CitizenME, which creates transmedia tools that engage students in understanding how to become proactive citizens. Holland lives and works in her tiny nineteenth-century restored Italianate house and garden in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.