Tiny WPA Update: Teens Redesigning/Rebuilding Classrooms, Vacant Lots, + Playgrounds, Oh My!

Posted on September 8th, 2013 at 9:35 am by in Our Work


Tiny WPA Update: Teens Redesigning/Rebuilding Classrooms, Vacant Lots, + Playgrounds, Oh My!

Four Tiny WPA Community Improvement Projects Design-Built By 100′s Of Teens In Three Cities In 45 Days, More Coming!

Goodness it’s been a mighty busy summer. Last year we did four Tiny WPA projects in three months, this year have done that same number of projects in half the time and needless to say there has been little time to write or report beyond our regular Facebook and Twitter posts. However, we want to take a brief moment to cheer, no, YELL loudly for the 100′s of amazing young adults that we’ve worked with who are changing the places they live, learn, and play through design. Over the past month and a half, young adults in Philadelphia have designed and built an adventure playground/outdoor maker space; in Chicago teenage women have redesigned and rebuilt the activities room at their struggling school to be a place that stimulates pride and greater academic achievement; in Philadelphia teens hacked their classroom and studio space to make it a place that better supports their artistic entrepreneurship; and in Flint, Michigan, young adults worked with community groups to transform a vacant lot into a hybrid community meeting space/playground/exercise course.

The improvements they’ve made to their communities have met real needs; they have led and inspired many hundreds of other youth and adults to take action; and they have created design improvements that are truly innovative and exciting.

And even though we have seen this time and time again–not just since launching Tiny WPA last summer but doing similar work over the last fifteen years–we continue to be deeply touched and blown away by the impact that this work has on the youth that participate in our Tiny WPA projects.

‘I wish we had something like this where I grew up, so I wouldn’t have taken the path I did.’-Robin, 21

The remarkable thing is that Robin is not an anomaly and despite our successes, Robin and others remind us that we need to be doing more.

What if Tiny WPA is everywhere? What if improving your school and classroom with design is an essential, everyday part of the K-12 academic curriculum in every school? What if anti-recidivism programs in places like Philadelphia that often focus on ‘cleaning and greening’ also empowered people through design? What if cities such as Philly expected more of City Year and AmeriCorps programs, launching a community design and civic innovation leadership corps of young adults? What if leveraging youth to measure the impact of distributed green infrastructure projects or the health of public space or commercial corridor–like our citizen science programs that we have developed with our community partners–were the norm rather than the exception? What if we gave new meaning and relevancy to the maker movement by developing maker spaces in struggling, decrepit schools and leveraging them to ‘reshape’ the school?

We are not there yet but the responses and interest that we have received and the Tiny WPA projects that we have lined up with our community partners for the remainder of 2013 and into 2014 are encouraging.

These includes working with more teachers and students, empowering them to hack their classrooms; putting youth at the forefront of cultural asset mapping in their neighborhood to transform their bus stops into mini-tourists/travel centers; secretly playable park furniture; a pop-up outdoor maker space to activate an underutilized public park; designing and building a more permanent exercise course-playground-community meeting space on a vacant lot in Flint; a public space improving bench-building micro-business; digital and graphic wayfinding that makes it easier for citizens to access government in a major city hall (top secret); and micro-workshops that empower young adults to hack their neighborhood, school, and everyday life with design.

Many thanks to our collaborators, community partners, our Building Hero Project team of young adults, the funders, and the hundreds of teens, young designers, and kids who have made the past couple of months such a success.

Just for reference, the first image below shows Tiny WPA projects that we did last year.

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