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Solving city’s problems through design - New York City high schoolers participate in Cooper-Hewitt ‘Design Your Hood’ workshop

After six weeks of commuting an hour and a half each way from the Bronx to Fulton Street Mall, students in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s “Design Your Hood” workshop presented their finished design proposals to revitalize the Mall’s communal space.

“We think it’s really important to introduce design as a possible career for students,” said Madeline Diaz, Youth Programs Education Specialist with Cooper-Hewitt. “In this program, we had the students look at a community and the problems its neighborhood is facing and try to solve those problems through design.”

Manhattan’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (2 East 91st Street), part of the Smithsonian Institution, is the only museum in the nation exclusively devoted to the history and art of design. The Museum engages in community-based educational programming, such as the Design Your Hood workshop, to offer career-based design experiences for teenagers in New York. The Urban Assembly of Music and Art (49 Flatbush Avenue Extension) hosted the workshop series.

“These kinds of programs are good for our arts mission,” said Katherine Gressel, UAMA Director of Partnerships and Development. “We want our students to meet professional artists and go out into the community to their studios.”

Sixteen students revealed their design proposals about Fulton Street Mall at a final presentation ceremony held at Brooklyn Borough Hall last week. A panel of Brooklyn-based architects, artists, urban planners and community leaders asked questions about the students’ plans and design philosophies. Blueprints of the student designs were posted on the walls of the Borough Hall community room while each team brought scale models of their proposal which they explained in detail.

“Our project is about making Fulton Mall a better place to walk through, by providing a safe sanctuary for community members and more seating areas,” said Taylor Talley, a sophomore at Millenium Art Academy in the Bronx.

Talley’s team was inspired to make their design after watching a video about future development in the area surrounding the Fulton Street Mall and Atlantic Yards site.

“There are too many large corporate buildings which take away from the culture of the community in Brooklyn,” said Alexis Ross, a sophomore at Millenium Art Academy. “[Developers] are making it look like a business without any say from the community.”

Ross’ father, Mario Ross, attended the presentation and was eager to see what his daughter took from the Design Your Hood program.

“I was kind of surprised she was in this program,” Ross said. “I’m waiting to see what kind of design she made and how it turned out.”

According to Steve Ritz, a teacher at Millenium Art Academy, the program has increased his students’ interest in art, design, and urban planning in ways he did not expect.

“The kids are doing research and are actively involved in their community,” Ritz said. “It has impacted their academics and their ability to present in public. You’ve got parents coming from all over the city to support their kids.”

Chardyna McClelland, a student at Millennium Art Academy, presented her proposal for improvements to the Fulton Mall by enlarging and proliferating directories and adding more trash receptacles and seating around bus stops along the commercial strip. She developed her ideas after speaking with architects and taking several walking tours of the street during the workshop.

“We took photos of things that we want to see stay the same and things we want to see changed,” McClelland said. “When we were on Fulton Street, we got lost. There should be put a larger directory in the mall and we want to put directories next to the bus stops.”

After the presentation McClelland and her design partner, Stephan Carpio, answered questions from panelists about the width of the directories, the locations of seating spaces, and the types of icons that would appear on the bus stop maps. Gressel, who was also a panelist for the presentation, believes that programs like Design Your Hood will help high school students develop design skills which are transferable to other aspects of their lives.

“The ability to solve a problem and work as a team on a project is required more and more in the workplace,” Gressel said. “We hope that this program will help students become more civically engaged in learning about the communities around them.”

For more information about the Cooper-Hewitt Design Your Hood program and the Urban Academy of Music and Art, visit www.cooperhewitt.org/ and www.uamusicandart.org.

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