What Would Your Neighborhood Currency Look Like?

DNAinfo New York - Suzanne Ma - Students at the School of Visual Art's Communicating Design class
have taken on the task of designing local currencies for 18 Manhattan
neighborhoods.

Each student pulled a neighborhood out of a hat and went about researching
their assigned nabes to determine what characteristics should be represented
on its currency.

In the end, they created local currencies for: The Financial District,
Little Italy, Times Square, the Meat Packing District, Chinatown, Chelsea,
Central Park, the Fashion District, Harlem, Greenwich Village, Stuyvesant
Town, Tribeca, the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, Columbia University
and Alphabet City.

Their work is up on display at the School of Visual Art in Chelsea.

"Obviously this isn't a class about economics so it was more of an
interesting design challenge," class instructor Jason Santa Maria said.

Local currency designed for the Upper East Side, by student Stephanie Aaron.
The currency’s name is the “Mula," an acronym for, “Museums: our Local
Asset.” The Upper East Side is home to more museums than any other Manhattan
neighborhood.
"How does typography or color as a system affect the design of what that
currency looks like? And how does that impact the person who has to use it?"

Santa Maria said it was important for his students to consider how
accessible their currency would be.

"If they're blind, can they understand that one size of the bill might be
valued more than the other size?"

Eric St. Onge designed the local currency for Chelsea. Inspired by the
Chelsea Market, which was once a factory for Nabisco, he made coins instead
of bills with each coin shaped according to the different sizes of Nabisco
crackers.

St. Onge described his work on the School of Visual Art Web site:

"The building’s architecture is inspired by its factory roots," he wrote.
"Each denomination in my currency adopts the form factor of a Nabisco
cracker: Nilla Wafers, Fig Newtons, Oreo Cookies, Ritz Crackers, and Saltine
Crackers. The geometric design from the face of the Oreo Cookie is used to
tie all five of the designs together."

The project was inspired by local currencies like Ithaca Hour and
BerkShares; currencies created to spur local commerce, Santa Maria
explained.

The local currencies helped to "develop a sense of pride in the community,
and a responsibility for your local community," Santa Maria said, and to
encourage area residents to "buy locally from manufacturers or farms or
anything nearby."

Would neighborhood currencies be viable in Manhattan?

"Maybe," Santa Maria said, pausing for a moment to entertain the idea. "I
would say certain neighborhoods could do something like this, the ones that
are a little more inclusive."