Do you ever wonder what high schoolers are up to these days? They’re just taking #selfies and dabbing on Snapchat right? Well, maybe a little bit, but during the past City Open Workshop meeting, Helen Slade, Executive Director of Territory NFP, shared how design thinking and design studio programs are creating opportunities for young people to express themselves, improve their reputation in the community, and take up the slack of older design professionals to improve their public spaces.
Territory offers programs that teach young people design skills and facilitates design-build interventions throughout Chicago’s Albany Park and Uptown neighborhoods. Utilizing curriculum from the Stanford d.school, workshops begin with exercises to build comfort with design thinking and grow in complexity until their final design-build project when they collaborate to design and build real, tangible projects to improve their neighborhoods.
For instance, to challenge discriminatory views of young people, Territory served in senior centers and created a photo series of the experience to give visibility to their contributions to the community. They’ve conducted on-the-streets interviews with visitors to the Argyle Street Market to gather data on local design opportunities and challenges. They’ve designed and built multiple “People Spots” -- public places for people to gather on and near sidewalks. We were particularly excited about their proposal of a public landmark feature -- essentially a giant 3D arrow pointing up -- that could be used to rebrand Uptown, support neighborhood cohesion, or possibly improve wayfinding.
Territory has been able to offer these opportunities through carefully nurtured partnerships with institutions such as After School Matters, Uptown United, the 33rd and 48th Wards, Chicago Public Schools, and many more. However, improving the quality and quantity of partnerships will allow them to have a more concrete and longer lasting impact on the community.
Teaching and involving young people in design is vital to the vibrant and sustainable development of neighborhoods. It allows their unique expertise and perspectives to inform the built environment. Exposing young people to design education empowers them to view the built environment critically and self-advocate throughout their lives. Furthermore, they create a communication network between their friends, families, and the larger community.
Territory’s biggest challenges, currently, are finding the investments to actualize projects and enough design professionals to staff the programs. Although the upfront capital and time commitments are not insignificant, the lasting benefits are immeasurable.
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Workshop agenda + notes here.