US/Brazil Consortia Seminar: Sustainability in Urban Communities of Poverty

May 6, 2009

Introduction/Background

This seminar will be the final of three annual fall courses addressing the revitalization of Syracuse’s Near Eastside Neighborhood. Students and faculty will work hand-in-hand with Eastside Neighbors in Partnership (ENIP), a community development organization that works with a severely challenged neighborhood on the city’s east side.

The seminar is a component of the US/Brazil Design Research Consortia, which includes ESF, two Brazilian universities (the University of Brazil and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do SuI) and Perul State. These four programs have been working together for the past three years to explore the multi-faceted topic of “Sustainable Urban Design and Community-Based Resource Management in communities of poverty” through student exchange and faculty collaboration. This semester five ESF students are studying in Brazil and six Brazilian students will participate in this seminar. As in previous years, community residents and ENIP staff will also participate as active members of the seminar.

The FLA has been working with the Near Eastside Neighborhood on a periodic basis since 1999, partnering the skills and knowledge of ESF faculty and students with the experience and hands on expertise of community residents and advocates. The Faculty of Landscape Architecture (FLA) and ENIP have developed a collaborative relationship that recognizes the necessity of community based design and planning in the revitalization and rebirth of urban neighborhoods. Recognizing that community revitalization requires a long term commitment, the FLA has pledged the resources of the CCDR and the US/Brazil Design Consortia to work for three consecutive years on developing action strategies that will help solidify the neighborhood\’s future through participatory planning, action projects and sustainable development and planning activities.

Neighborhood Context

The Near Eastside Neighborhood is located at the base of University Hill and along East Genesee Street, a major traffic corridor that connects it to downtown Syracuse. The neighborhood is bounded by Almond Street and Interstate 81 on the west, Erie Boulevard on the north, Croly Street on the east, and East Genesee Street on the south. The neighborhood has two distinct character areas. The eastern portion is composed primarily single and multi-family residences while the western portion changes fairly abruptly to commercial and parking lots where the neighborhood intersects with university-associated medical and research land uses. The neighborhood also includes four subsidized housing projects that have been cited repeatedly over the past four years by community residents as the greatest challenge to neighborhood security, stabilization and revitalization.

The Near Eastside faces the challenges associated with urban neighborhoods in many northeastern US cities. It is a remnant neighborhood, formerly populated by a multi-ethnic middle class that, in the decades after World War II, left the city to settle the expanding suburban communities that ring the city. Parts of the neighborhood have been razed for the construction of medical and office buildings and parking lots while other lots have cleared during the selective demolition of abandoned houses. The current population of the Near Eastside is primarily African American and is relatively young, with many families and individuals living below the poverty line. Home ownership rates in the neighborhood are low and residential vacancy rates are high. Drug and gang-related crimes have been on the rise over the past 15 years.

Seminar Focus

In fall 2003 the first US/Brazil Consortia participants focused on components of an urban neighborhood open space system, including front yard improvement strategies, reclamation of vacant land, creation of a community market and community garden facility, and re-creation of public housing projects. Working closely with community members and staff of ENIP, the students developed outreach strategies, workshop activities, and methods to engage neighborhood residents, in addition to developing specific design approaches to identified action project areas.

In the fall of 2004 faculty, students, and ENIP staff worked on the refinement of landscape and architectural designs for a property owned by ENIP, at Eastside Commons — with an emphasis on design that leads to construction by citizens in the community. They prepared a refined conceptual and design development plans for Lexington Park and initiated “the Healing Project” in response to local resident’s desire to address the violence and community wide loss experienced in the neighborhood.

This semester the seminar will review the experience of the past two years, consider the lessons learned, and continue to explore the social, cultural political and physical aspects of sustainable neighborhoods. During the first third of the semester the class will explore urban processes through literature and conversations with individuals and groups working in the neighborhood.

These readings and conversations will address — health, safety and welfare, housing, environmental degradation and social capacity. In week seven, students and faculty will join research and/or design teams to work with community members to implement critical programs and projects developed over the past two years. These projects will be presented in the first two weeks of the semester and together (students, faculty, and community members) we will define the scope of work and consider which of the projects are priorities at this time.

Students will have the opportunity to work at multiple levels and scales, including the design and construction of actual physical interventions with community residents, as well as the longer term planning framework to guide future decisions that promote appropriate economic development, environmental health, and improved quality of life.

Process

Initial seminar orientation will enable students to become acquainted with the neighborhood, understand the sequence of planning activities that have occurred and review the findings and recommendations of that work. Our work this semester will build on earlier planning studies, reconfirm community concerns and opportunities, build the existing community data base, further design recommendations through refined studies that will enable community implementation and interventions

The faculty will act as advisors and facilitators; however, it will be up to the class participants to develop a meaningful dialogue with the community and to consider the design strategies that you feel will best address their needs and resolve their concerns. Each of you brings unique experience, interests and motivations to the class and we see this as a real strength of this class. Immersion, inclusion and openness will be essential to the success of this seminar. We expect that each student will be an equal contributor. Remember you are accountable to your fellow class members and to our community partners.

General Course Organization

The class will meet twice a week. For the first seven weeks we will meet in 327 Marshall for presentations, and seminar discussions. In week seven faculty, students and community members will form design and research teams to take on specific studies and projects. Teams will continue to meet regularly on Tuesday and Thursday to conduct research and participate in project work. These meetings will take place in 408 Marshall to assure adequate workspace. Following week 7, the full class will come together very third class period for continued seminar discussion related to assigned readings and project activities. Since this is the one time during the week that we can all meet and work together, participation in the seminar and research teams is critical and expected. Students should notify seminar faculty of anticipated absences prior to class. Evening and weekend sessions to attend public meetings and workshops will be required and information gathering at local libraries and public agencies will be expected.

In October, the class will travel to Philadelphia to meet with community groups and nonprofit organizations working on neighborhood revitalizations projects. We will have an opportunity to visit community project sites and speak with individuals involved in the projects. We will depart late afternoon on Wednesday, October 26th and will return in the evening on Saturday, October 29th

A full schedule of class activities will be distributed separately.

Course Work and Grading

Course work will be based upon understanding real community problems and developing applied research investigations and design strategies that can lead to meaningful community outcomes. Each student is expected to contribute to the group’s ability to conduct research, design and facilitate community participation and develop research and design proposals. Students will also be required to contribute to the documentation of consortia activities and complete assigned reflective writings.
Grades for the course will be based on both individual and group efforts and will be determined using the following breakdown:

  • Seminar participation 20%
  • Community research and design projects 40%
  • Community engagement and participation 15%
  • Regular reflective writings 15%
  • Contribution to consortia documentation 10%

Because of the collaborative nature of this class, we anticipate grading to result in large part from the sincerity, and commitment each student exhibits through their participation and the care that they bring to their work. Students who work diligently and earnestly, who participate and interact effectively with the group, who experiment and take risks in generating ideas, and who take both direction and initiative in developing project work, will be very successful.

Texts

There are no required texts for the seminar; faculty will provide readings as appropriate. The following selected bibliography lists books that have direct relevance to the seminar. These books will be placed on reserve at Moon Library and some will also be available from the CCDR.

  • Forester, Tom, 1999. The Deliberative Practitioner: Encouraging Participatory Planning Processes. Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Hester, Randolph T, Jr. 1990. Community Design Primer. Mendocino, California: The Ridge Times Press.
  • Kemmis, Daniel, 1990. Community and the Politics of Place. Norman Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Kretzmann, John P. and John L. McKnight. 1993. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. Chicago Illinois: ACT A Publications.
  • Mendoff, Peter and Holly Sklar. 1994. Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood. Boston Massachusetts: South End Press.
  • Morrish, William and Catherine Brown. 1994. Planning to Stay: Learning to See the Physical Features of Your Neighborhood. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions.
  • Sanoff, Henry. 1999. Public Participation Methods in Design and Planning. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  • Schneekloth, Lynda and Robert Shilbey. 1995. Place Making: The art and Practice of Building Communities. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

School: Syracuse University
Professor: Cheryl S. Doble
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