Chiara Passerini is Urbane’s resident researcher. As an anthropologist, she collects and synthesizes knowledge about people – their values, relationships, and behaviors – as they apply to the urban environment.
Currently, Chiara serves as project-lead on a multi-stakeholder engagement with New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Financial Empowerment to understand financial health at the neighborhood level in New York City’s most underserved communities. This project is a continuation of a micro-study Urbane conducted in 2015 in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, which aimed to identify “alternative” credit as a means for underserved communities to access more traditional financial services.
Chiara has also worked on research projects exploring the economic impact of fees, fines, and other monetary judgments on formerly incarcerated NYC residents, facilitated interactive charrettes and focus groups exploring the challenges to upward mobility for low-income residents in Ward 1 of Paterson, NJ, and helped assess the financial and operational feasibility of a bio-medical modular labs in East Baltimore.
Prior to joining Urbane, Chiara spent two years at Accenture where she designed innovative digital experiences, including websites and mobile apps, for Fortune 500 clients. During her time at Accenture, she conducted focus groups and observational studies to assess consumer interaction with digital interfaces. Her research contributed to the creation and implementation of long-term business strategies to better integrate new digital assets.
Chiara received her Master of Science in Urban Policy at The New School for Public Engagement in New York City and a Master of Arts in Cultural Anthropology from University College London. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Art and Visual Culture from Bates College. She is a native speaker of Italian and English, and fluent in Spanish and French.
The Urbane Q&A… with Chiara Passerini
Q. Why Urbane?
A. I was drawn to the work and the way it is done. That is, Urbane practices insight-driven, incremental, and lasting change by recognizing that local stakeholders are also the experts. This has allowed Urbane to continue growing, expanding its reach, and increasingly taking on challenges in neighborhoods across North America. Personally, Urbane is a place where I have the opportunity to marry my passion (i.e., building strong communities in underserved areas) with a sense of purpose and progress.
Q. Anthropology and ethnography are both academic discipline. Do you see a way in which these fields impact wealth generation and community development in underserved markets?
A. In the age of Big Data, it is easy to get lost in the numbers. While quantitative insights play a significant role in community development, it’s easy to forget that behind every number is a person. Anthropology, and more specifically ethnographic research, couches numbers in the frequently intangible, but invaluable characteristics of a neighborhood or a locality, all of which shape the evolution of a community. To that end, it is reassuring that community development firms are replacing top-down approaches with ethnographic research instead.
To me, anthropology is an obvious tool for community development, as it is the study of humans and their development. For this discipline to be successful, it requires on-the-ground research consisting of hours, days, weeks spent observing, speaking, and learning from communities. The insights gleaned from these dedicated, repeated visits generate tailored, yet scalable opportunities that are relevant to what neighborhoods identify as their needs. Anthropology, in a sense, is a platform through which underserved markets can make their voices heard.
Q. You’re a citizen of the world and have visited many places throughout your life, where should one visit before they die?
A. In 1983, Italo Cavino wrote “Le Citta’ del Pensiero,” an essay in the form of a voyage into de Chirico’s paintings. In it, the narrator says, “Ever since I entered this city, the city as entered into me.” While this applies to any number of places, to me, it rings most true for Istanbul.
As a cultural anthropologist and urban enthusiast, Istanbul is a must-see in my book. I had the privilege of living in Istanbul in the 90s, and while the city has changed tremendously since then (mostly for the best), the tensions of a multiethnic and rapidly developing metropolis remain. It is a colorful place, where the smells and sights are palpable, yet unfamiliar. It is a city rich in history, diversity, community, and, by extension, character. Istanbul bridges the East and West and draws on the best of both worlds to weave together a memorable urban fabric.