Teenage Women W/Power Tools Are Our Most Powerful Instigators Of Civic Innovation?

Posted on September 9th, 2012 at 10:09 am by in Our Work

Teenage Women W/Power Tools Are Our Most Powerful Instigators Of Civic Innovation?

Ponder these equations.

t+ap=ge   (teens + instigating really awesome design-build placemaking improvements in their neighborhood=greater community engagement + civic innovation)

tw+ap=aie   (teenage women + instigating really awesome design-build placemaking improvements in their own neighborhood=absolutely incomparable community engagement + civic innovation)

Ya know, one would think that given our pioneering of the first formula that I would have considered the second and thereby have been able to truly foresee the results of the first days of our Building Heros! workshop with our fantastic clients and collaborators, Demoiselle 2 Femme and Latent Design. Ha, WRONG! I could not be more blown away by the community’s incredible response to our young ladies’ highly visible design-build interventions on and around 103rd Street in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago. I have NEVER seen such an amazing community reaction to relatively simple design-build experiments in such a short period of time. More offers to help then I have fingers; almost every passerby stopping and asking questions or cheerleading; ‘tough guys’ testing out our creations and laughing; repeated offers for interviews for our community research to determine the best use of our vacant lot………

And then on Day 2, whether inspired and subtly shamed by our ladies, the neighborhoods’ heavy drinkers and drug users cleaned up the massive adjacent vacant lot that they use for these things. It was previously littered with glass, bottles, and many unmentionables.

Again, let me remind you that this occurred in just the first few days of the program . Quite frankly, it’s almost embarassing that the result of formula two–absolutely ‘incomparable community engagement–is such a no-brainer and that we didn’t fully seize upon its potential earlier. Why is tw+ap=aie such a no-brainer and such a powerful equation? Let’s see, the general response from other women in the community is ‘hell yeah’; people are incredibly curious because nobody expects teenagers, especially teenage women to initiate, design-build improvements in their own neighborhood; they are non-threatening and thereby able to positively engage even the most hardened person; and well, they attract men and women.

Teenage women might be our most powerful placemakers, period??

The story doesn’t end with the vacant lot clean-up. In the days that followed people just started giving the young ladies money, ultimately totaling $300 raised in 2.5 days on a corner where that is a LOT of money; the team engaged hundreds of community members to determine that the highest use for the vacant lot is a playground; they designed and built an awesome playground; their civic engagement helped stimulate the temporary closing of two (questionably legal liquor stores); donations large and small have been flowing in; and they helped reframe the relationship of the vacant lot owner–a church–with the community.

Roseland used to be know as the Community of Hope. Today it is known as the Community of No Hope. Because of the efforts of our incredible young ladies’, this particular corner of Roseland is starting to once again be known as a place of hope.

The incredibly striking thing is that if there had been just one male team member, the entire project impact, community engagement, and team cohesion would have been thrown off.

What’s next for the project? Well, our Building Hero! Workshop was a prototype for D2F to begin to build out new STEM programming and create a new relationship of their young ladies to the community. Over the next couple of months we will be working with D2F, Latent Design, and potential funders to not only grow the Workshop into innovative year-round service-learning STEM programming but also create a national model for community design leadership that capitalizes on teenage women’s unique ability to stimulate civic innovation.

Want to see more pictures from the project and learn a little more about the process? Click here.

And don’t miss the articles in the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times on the ladies’ work.