Cleveland Urban Design Graduate Program wins Great Places Award for youth initiative

Elizabeth Harrington

Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative won the 2017 Great Places Award in the Place Planning category at the 48th Annual Environmental Design Research Association Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I hope the award will open new opportunities for collaboration with like-minded organizations and individuals across the country.” said David Jurca, CUDC’s associate director and a leader of the Making Our Own Spaces Initiative.

The Environmental Design Research Association called for submissions in 4 categories: design, planning, research and books. CUDC took home the Great Places Award for planning with the Making Our Own Space program, beating eight international submissions.

The Environmental Design Research Association award jury said, in a statement, “This is a great example of planning that involves youth in placemaking and community building.”

The Making Our Own Spaces initiative works with middle and high school students to teach them skills to design, build or rebuild neighborhood public spaces, according to the initiative’s website.

Making Our Own Spaces started enrolling students from Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood in 2015.

“The students we work with don’t necessarily find traditional after school activities relevant or can’t afford them,” Jurca said. “Students in the (Making Our Own Spaces) program have fallen through the cracks of normal opportunities.”

Making Our Own Space leaders and partners accept applications from at least 12 students from each neighborhood for a commitment that lasts the school year. The program has worked with close to 50 students in the two years of Making Our Own Space’s operation.

The St. Luke’s Foundation, the City of Shaker Heights and the Cleveland Foundation Minority Arts and Education Fund funds Making Our Own Space.

“Based on the success of the first year of the program, we were contacted by the City of Shaker Heights to lead projects in the Moreland neighborhood in Shaker Heights,” Jurca said.

Kamla Lewis is the director of Neighborhood Revitalization for the City of Shaker Heights.

“The city saw how the pilot program in Buckeye complemented the community building work we were doing in Shaker Heights’ Moreland neighborhood,” Lewis said.

Making Our Own Spaces recently received funding to start projects in a third Cleveland-area neighborhood: La Villa Hispana.

“I’m excited about this opportunity because it directly responds to the CUDC’s Design Diversity initiative,” Jurca said. “Which focuses our support to African American and Latino communities.”

Making Our Own Spaces neighborhood projects include a large public space transformation at Brit Oval, building picnic tables and playscapes for neighborhood parks and other projects students create for the community.

“I have noticed a core of super engaged youth from the neighborhood, the (Making Our Own Spaces) youth have helped the City identify ways to improve our public spaces and make them more inviting,” Lewis said.

The students in the Making Our Own Spaces program in Moreland noticed a lack of seating in public places and the community members wanted free wifi access. “As a result, the city has just installed two solar powered benches with free phone chargers and wifi,” Lewis said. “(They are) the first benches of this type in Ohio.”

Jurca explained how the students are encouraged by the recognition from a well-known research association.

“We intend to provide a range of options for communities we work with and to create additional resources to improve youth engagement opportunities using the (Making Our Own Spaces) model,” Jurca said.

Elizabeth Harrington is a regionals reporter, contact her at [email protected].