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Education How can the design and implementation of

communitybased education aid in stabilizing a

blighted urban neighborhood?

By Madeline LaPlante

The twentieth century marked the first time large cities around the globe lost population for reasons other than natural disasters or war. Many of the cities in the United States’ Midwest lost citizens to suburban lifestyles and loss of manufacturing jobs. While this shrinkage has left many city blocks deprived of life, community, and a great deal of maintenance, people still inhabit these areas. The newest generations in blighted neighborhoods have never seen the places where they live, learn, and play prior to the sense of abandonment taking its toll. Rather than specifically responding to the negative statistics, crime rates, or dismal school dropout rates, it is imperative that architects inspire citizens to see the potential of how people in these areas can come together to mend what has been broken and start to think of themselves as a whole community.


The proposed means of mending in this project is the process of implementing a community- and placebased education* paradigm that could connect the education system to the energies of local people who are already informally educating people of all ages in two blighted neighborhoods. The goal is to engage learners in local endeavors, teaching students to take initiative in their community and teaching the community to see what is old through the students’ fresh and creative perspective.

Detroit, Michigan, has endured a great deal of devastation over time, as it currently holds only half of its 1950s population. In this project, two learning sites are proposed at the Heidelberg Project* and Earthworks Urban Farms*, two separate organizations that have transformed the way many people live in the blighted city. Research includes finding stories of exceptional citizens in the area as well as spending several different days visiting downtown Detroit, Eastern Market, and both of the design sites in the project in order to see how people live and interact within the city. The design emphasizes respectfully reusing existing structures in order to challenge the somewhat popular mentality that certain infrastructure should be destroyed. Gestures of new construction seek to create a welcoming presence and create a sense of newness in the midst of what has not been maintained in decades. The overall goal is to implement a strategy demonstrating that while architects and policy makers cannot solve all problems in a blighted area, they can increase their impact exponentially by connecting good design to the energies of the local people.

Community and placebased education seeks to

build creativity and the ability to take initiative in students by engaging them in the local community endeavors. Teachers and neighborhood volunteers are seen as co-learners rather than traditional instructors. When tested, students in such programs demonstrated higher test scores and a greater sense of individuality. Established by the Capuchin Monks, Earthworks Urban Farm is an organizaion that seeks to teach volunteers and needy families how to grow their own food. It also runs a soup kitchen. Established by Tyree Guyton, the Heidelberg Project is a world-renowned art project that exposes the blight and questions political issues of Detroit through an outdoor exhibit of sorts along three blocks of East Detroit.

NEIGHBOR[HOOD] EDUCATION Research& Design PROCESS Author: Madeline LaPlante Major Advisor: Dr. Wes Janz Minor Advisor: Ana de Brea Final Creative Project Master’s of Architecture Curriculum

understanding contemporary cities [blight in shrinking cities]

restructuring contemporary education [new views on learning]

transforming neighborhoods [profiles of urban education organizations]

integrating into the transformation [proposal]

designing connections [site schemes]

continuing the mission

[conclusions and next steps]

Before the twentieth century, city populations had decreased only during isolated incidents of natural disasters, wars, and plagues. Today, in a global trend with no historical precedent, many city populations are shrinking with no cause from such tragic events. Many factors have contributed to shrinking populations and have left new kinds of disaster areas in the form of a great deal of abandonment and blight in urban neighborhoods. [image by author, based on an image at]

understanding contemporary cities [blight in shrinking cities]

During the industrial revolution 1800s, of







cities. Then in the twentieth many




jobs as machines began to replace the worker.


rust belt was full of such job loss yet those who had jobs often flew to the suburbs,


to further urban abandonment .

A city quickly built on its motor industry, Detroit came and went in less than 100 years, losing half of its 1950 population by the year 2000.

some shrinking cities in the u.s. File:StateLibQld_1_52836_Workers_ in_a_boot_making_factory,_South_ Brisbane,_1900.jpg

[original image from Shrinking Cities, 2005]

[Then and now]

Three city area maps that fit within the city limits of Detroit

Detroit: 900,000 people San Francisco: 751,682 people Boston: 581, 616 people Manhattan: 1,537,195 People While the city’s population decreased by half, its suburban

population multiplied by 1.7.

photo by author

Can the city sustain its current population and restructure its urban fabric to suite a small number of people or will it continue to decay?

Some residents know their neighbor next door and some know how many blocks away their closest neighbor lives.

Repeated image at Single image at

Since 1967, there have been 167,130 demolition permits coupled with only 3,540 building permits, averaging roughly one building permit for every forty-eight demolition permits issued. Countless acts of arson on abandoned structures have also been committed over the years.

What is your ideal classroom? In an exercise asking students and teachers for layouts of their dream classrooms, new ideas of how to break the mold of traditional learning styles surfaced. Research also included gathering information about local people in Detroit and finding expert opinions on global and national education issues.

[drawing by a high school art teacher]

restructuring contemporary education [new views on learning]

[drawing by a second grade student]

The Potential Transformation of Contemporary Education “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed -- it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

Many educators are attempting to reform the current system, but Sir Ken Robinson is saying that we need to radically transform the system. Robinson has been working with organizations and governments in Europe, North America, and Asia in order to transform global education methodologies.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in the next thirty years more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history. This is both due to technology‘s transformation on the labor model and the exponential -Sir Ken Robinson increase in population.

Robinson lists the following four pillars to building education methods that are approriate for the contemporary age: Individuality: As more and more people become educated, students need to stand out in the crowd. Culture: The newest generations need a sense of local identity as global relations increase with technology. Community: Schools cannot create well-rounded students alone. Everyone needs to be involved. Creativity: Innovation is what keeps progress and transformative ideas in the world. Students need to know that there is more than one answer that can be found in the back of the book.







13-15 year-olds

ages 13-15 Studies show that students are losing their capacity for divergent thinking over time. This graphic denotes the percentage of each age group that scored at genius-level in a test to find more than one solution to a problem.

The world economy evolves everyday towards a knowledgebased economy from a labor-based economy. The current Western education model has not made major changes in over one hundred years.

Gillian Lynne, the choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera, discovered her talent and dream after a teacher told her mother she needed dance class. She could not sit still at her desk and this teacher tapped into her individuality instead of telling her to quit moving and “behave”.

Finding Hope in a Failed Urban School System: A Few (of Many) A 2009 New York Times article reported that “the average high Creative Local People in Detroit: school graduation rate in the nation’s 50 largest cities was 53 percent, compared with 71 percent in the suburbs.” For After it was the year 2010, Detroit Public Schools announced its highest abandoned by the graduation rate, 62%, since 2007. The illiteracy rate of Detroit Catholic Church, Bryan Baka began citizens of all ages measures roughly around 50% maintaining a church that could hold two thousand people as a museum of sorts.

http://metrotimes. com/ culture/

The faculty at Catherine Ferguson Academy, a school for pregnant teens, teaches farming as part of the curriculum, and over 90% of their students graduate http://www. to continue to college each year. my_weblog Responding to the blight in the area, Lee Walker works out of a mattress shop producing paintings to put on abandoned buildings to show that someone still www.detroitblog. cares. com

Experts like Robinson are saying that the current education system as a whole has not been reformed since the early 1900s when many took factory jobs, and the system seeks to prepare students for the type of jobs that will not be there. And in cities like Detroit, it is often hard to find any job at all.

When there is no “easy” way to find a job, there is no choice but to be creative. Some want to reform a failed system, but what if a new and better system could build from the amazing people in the city who have endured through the worst of times? After the city of Detroit failed, many local people displayed new and creative ways to transform the city and their lives. There are many individuals taking resposiblity for establishing a simple and unique way of life in Detroit, starting small businesses and small projects. Urban farming in Detroit includes 120 tons of vegetables per year and 1300 urban gardens. A great deal of art spread throughout the city shows that someone still cares. The newest generations of the blighted areas, who have never seen the city before devastation took its toll, can be a part of the transformation.

Local creative educational organizations in Detroit are currently untied to formal learning but students learning from

local people and community organizations is not a new idea. Community and Place-Based Education: an established education strategy that connects to local energy

This education model is designed so that students can learn from interesting local people and those local people can learn from the students’ fresh perspective. Students produce ideas and take initiative in projects with local leaders and neighbors. For example, they work at a soup kitchen while learning sociology and visit wetlands with courses in ecology. Learners get a direct rather

than mediated sense of the world.

Students at forty schools that have implemented this model have not only scored higher on standardized test, but they also scored higher in creativity and leadership and were more likely to take initiative. More information is available at file/988-2.pdf in an article entitled “Going Local� by Gregory A. Smith, a co-author of Community- and Place-Based Education.

With community- and place-based education,

classrooms are empty but towns and cities are full of students...

testing water in the river designing a recycling program meeting with city officials building a playground raising animals and experimenting with their diets at the 4H grounds constructing their own art exhibits

Rethinking the Functions of a Classroom

Personal interviews and drawing and writing exercises with students and teachers yielded some interesting new ways to look at how students and teachers can learn and initiate conversation.

Several teachers mentioned ways to get their students to contribute to class interactions.

“My ideal classroom would be twice as big, and I would want an amphitheater so that sometimes my students could sit above me.” –a second grade teacher

“I tell my teachers that when I walk by I want to hear a lot of noise. That shows that kids are taking initiative and learning from each other.” –an elementary school principal

My ideal classroom would include...

[excerpts from two lists given by high school history teachers] Many teachers wanted more room for storage, yet none of them mentioned sharing classroom space or supplies with other teachers.

“Room of necessity” (Harry Potter) where whatever I need at any given moment is available (i.e. guest speaker, video projection screen, cable TV-any channel, globes, maps, etc) and then gone when I no longer need it. Coke machine in room to keep both teacher and students on caffeine & sugar high [Classroom] also turns kids and teens into people who are always respectful of others and not overly self-conscious about their own contributions Video chat to major political figures Stage for re-enacting history, nerf gun display cases for battle re-enactment Bean bags spread throughout room

Many students included types of seating different than what is found in a traditional classroom. This student commented that he included his own “king’s chair� because he is too tall for his desk. Other students mentioned similar problems and some preferred to stand while working at times. Many of the second-graders interviewed included some sort of food in their ideal classroom. One of them wanted to start a few businesses as well.

Sketches by second-grade students.

transforming neighborhoods [profiles of urban education organizations] Earthworks Urban Farm Liquor stores outnumber grocery stores within the city limits of Detroit. Earthworks Urban Farms has found a creative solution to two local issues, limited access to nutritious food and unlimited access to abandoned lots all over the city.

Changing the Way of Life in Detroit: Earthworks Urban Farm “We have the power to tranform ourselves and our community.” -Lisa Richter, Earthworks Urban Farm

Earthworks gives more than 100,000 seedlings per year to local families, communities and schools starting their own urban farms as part of the Garden Resource Program Collaborative of Detroit. Most of the food distribution goes to two soup kitchens.

The mission of Earthworks is not only to feed the hungry but also to educate local people about the possibilities of urban farming. This organization run by the Capuchin Monastery invites anyone to visit and farm the crops that feed the nearby soup kitchens five days a week. The overall goal of Earthworks is to inspire people to have healthier diets and lifestyles. For years, many Detroit residents have lived in various “food deserts”, places deprived of farming and distribution processes that make nutritional foods available. Many residents had easier access to unhealthy foods high in preservatives like potato chips, soda, or “fast food”. People with such a diet generally have shorter life spans than those with access to fruits, vegetables, and good sources of protein. Earthworks as an organization states that its mission is not to inspire people to make all of Detroit farmland. Rather, it wishes to see gardens and farms woven into the urban fabric of the city. In the next few years, the organization would like to make its gardens fully economically viable in order to demonstrate that Detroit residents are capable of implementing a similar successful business model on their own individual properties. uploads/2011/08/earthworks.jpg

Urban Fabric Surrounding Earthworks

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Seven gardens are placed in 20 city lots within a two-block radius of Earthworks headquarters. Many different types and scales of buildings and a great deal of abandonment are spread across Earthworks’ existing neighborhood.

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The most populated site on the existing Earthworks campus is the soup kitchen, but the highest concentration of abandonment is just south of that facility.

Abandoned structures Existing earthworks property neighborhoods

transforming neighborhoods [profiles of urban education organizations] Earthworks Urban Farm

Porches along Heidelberg Street, once a place were neighbors sat outside and greeted those who walked by, are now abandoned canvases for installations by local artist Tyree Guyton. photo by Jason Klinker

Changing the Way of Life in Detroit: The Heidelberg Project Established over twenty-five years ago by artist Tyree Guyton, the Heidelberg Project’s mission has been to bring life back to a blighted Detroit neighborhood.

As the project has evolved over the years, it has added educational programs and hands-on workshops.

Addressing the fact that

children have only seen a blighted Detroit, these workshops take children to burned-out and decayed houses with the hope that they develop a new perspective, a sense of pride in their community, and a feeling of self-esteem that they can make a difference.

Because of the Heidelberg Project, visitors come from all over the world to a neighborhood of which they might otherwise be afraid. Those who live in the area know that the live near a sensation and the abandonment near them does not just consist of houses and lawns but a series of canvases. Through rain, Michigan snow, and other inclement weather, the art stays in place though it is in no way permanent. Guyton is currently working to place temporary exhibits photo by Jason Klinker

in other neighborhoods as the project continues to grow.

“It’s painting. It’s sculpture. It’s installation. It’s design. There’s nothing like it anywhere.” -Richard Rogers, College of Creative Studies “a funky outdoor art environment located in the heart of an urban community” -a visitor

“People are afraid to come here...I came up with a solution... They come here because they’ve got to see it.” -Tyree Guyton

Urban Fabric Near the Heidelberg Project

Urban Fabric at Heidelberg

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The Heidelberg project is designed so that most visitors start at the corner of Mt. Elliot Street and Heidelberg Street and move to the north as the artwork becomes less dense.

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A high number of residents live in the in the remaining homes, but there are also a great number of empty lots from previous demolition projects.


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To Connect One High School Curriculum to Two Grassroots Organizations in Detroit Seeking to Transform the Way of Life in the City Neighborhood Stabilization through Generations Learning from Each Other

High School


Community Grassroots Organizations





of the Curriculum at Each Site


Students to Start




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integrating into the transformation [proposal]


Because the existing art installation is its own sensation and expression by one artist, this campus will

feed off of the existing energy and be placed adjacent to the Heidelberg Project. The students will produce

their own exhibits and expression to add to the neighborhood. Activities for Students, Community Members, and Visitors: Outdoor Art Exhibits Studio Design-Build Discussion of Issues Addressed in Heidelberg Art and Students’ Art Projects Theatre/Performance

Compliments a Typical High School Curriculum in English and Humanities United States History World History Current Events Theatre Arts Music Shop/Studio

The neighborhood is composed of residential scale buildings only. Lots are narrow and many units are duplexes. The new design plays off of the existing intimacy of the site, connecting modern duplex units as “classrooms”.

Typical Duplex

More Inverse Relationships


This campus will be interwoven into the Earthworks site, as students

can work with volunteers towards the same goal, learning a different kind of relationship with the land.

Compliments a Typical High School Curriculum in Biology Chemistry Earth Science Advanced Sciences Economics Sociology

Activities for Students, Community Members, and Visitors: Farming Aquaponics Tending to Livestock Selling and Distributing Vegetables Preparing Meals at the Soup Kitchen

New construction will be small compared to the large site that will never be “full� as it was before. Each piece will have the same material language in order to unify the varying architecture and types of buildings in the neighborhood.

Media Center

Soup Kitchen Pavilion Addition

Bus Stop, Bench and Street Light Art


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designing connections [site schemes]

The arts campus structures act as a place where students can work before they go out into the neighborhood, as students use adjacent and nearby lots for outdoor installations and projects. In contrast, the science campus focuses on creating outdoor rooms with specific functions that will remain over time.

Addition to Existing Soup Kitchen for Students [Abandoned Warehouse] Animal Stable + Lecture Space [Abandoned House] Teachersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Offices + Gathering Space for Students

Bus Stop Milking Station

Aquaponics Lab + Gathering Space [Abandoned Warehouse + New Construction] Media Center/ Main Learning Space [Abandoned House] Principalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s House


[Existing Earthworks Landscape and Structures & Abandoned Structures]

To extend the Earthworks gardens and circulation towards the existing abandonment in the neighborhood. The abandoned structures are rehabilitated, and spaces for farming, gathering, and learning are added. Each structure aids in defining a main outdoor room used for farming.


1. [Abandoned House] Teachersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Offices (Second Floor) Gathering Space for Students (First Floor) 2. [Abandoned Warehouse] Animal Stable 3. Lecture Hall 4. Bus Stop 5. Grazing Field

Main Campus Plan

6. Milking Station and Outdoor Classroom


7. Aquaponics Lab + Gathering Space


Main Learning Structure 8. Visitor check-in at the main office

1 5


9. Sunken Amphitheater


10. Main Gathering Space

7 9 10




11. Loading (Plumbing to run though this third of the building) 12. Principalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s House

Loading Gathering Entrance

Program and infrastructure of the media center and main learning space connects an entrance to the urban street front, creates a gathering space in the middle across from the milking pavilion, and allows for equipment to be brought in and out of the building near the alleyway. Activities that are traditionally solely indoors or solely outdoors are now mixed together.

Rain water collection brings animals to the milking station across from the media centerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gathering space. The same technique can be used at the bus stop to encourage interaction between people and animals.

The material language selected to unify the variety of building scales and types in the neighborhood features red metal as the constrast to the green landscape. Each stucture, bench, or piece of streetlight art will stand out in the large landscape. It also includes wood and concrete as neutral and natural materials that could easily weave into an urban or a rural landscape.

Main Entrance [Series of “Duplex” Learning Units] Spaces for Media, Work, and Discussion

Heidelberg Project’s Outdoor Classroom of Sorts Outdoor Classroom to Be Constructed By Students

[One-Story “Duplex” Unit] Kitchen, Gathering Space Reception Area for Theatre

[Abandoned House] Teachers’ Offices (Second Floor) Kitchen, Gathering Space (First Floor) [Abandoned House] To Be Gutted for a Theatre


To start a new campus at the edge of the main circulation path of the Heidelberg Project. To connect a students’ campus to the project but allow for separation between Tyree Guyton’s work and the student’s work.

Plan of Connected Units

The arts campus is less about establishing gathering spaces and circulation paths and more about building a clean slate upon which students, teachers, and visitors can build. The start of the design is a hub of connected units that could foster creative work and discussion. To ensure accessibility in all of the new structures, the twostory units are connected by small hallways and an elevator is placed in only one unit. To encourage interaction between those passing through and those working within each space, the circulation paths are placed the center of the units.


Hiderhiro Fukada Architects designed a duplex in a neighborhood named Tokito in Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan. It is a modern, simple, and beautiful expression of form. Using OSB in an elegant manner as opposed to Detroitâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s traditional use of the material to board up houses could be a great way to help generate a different perspective of the material that currently denotes abandonment across the city.

Each New Unit: Form as a Modern Interpretation of a Duplex

Inverse Relationship of a Typical Duplex

+ One More Inverse Relationship

Main Entrance:: Expanding the Porch A main entrance is designed for the many visitors so that they may check into the school and receive guidance regarding workspaces and events.

Changing the heights of the second floor spaces and the location of one gypsum board wall in each space will help to make each unit unique and able to be outfitted in different ways for varying needs over time. One teacher may want a kiln and a painting space for a few years while the next might want welding tools and space to construct and deconstruct artwork.

phasing strategies As the school grows, phasing throughout the two campuses would be quite different. The arts campus could simply add units in either direction of the orginal structures while the sciences campus would need more specific attention. Additions to the campus could take place in many different ways depending on needs, as long as the same material language would manifest itself in each new structure.

Abandonment generally causes fear. In a sense, the OSB and plywood that board up pieces of a city serve as urban scars for all to see. Many view the people who are left in blighted areas as the ones who have been forgotten but many success stories arise from the hood too. This project focuses on the city that has shrunk the most since the 2000 census, with the exception of one city affected by a major natural disaster. Many are saying that the city must â&#x20AC;&#x153;shrink itselfâ&#x20AC;? and in a sense clear out the rubble; thus, the people who have endured through it all must move. But the success stories of those who have stuck around because they have the most stamina are often the most interesting. Nowhere else has one man, a paint brush, and items that many would call trash made such an impact that they could bring an entire bus full of Asian tourists to an area that many would never dare enter. Never before has the idea of gardening linked with nutrition been such a widespread phenomena in a city. To link formal learning to people taking such creative initiative could help younger generations see what their own initiatives could be.

In many ways, this project was somewhat easy. Both of the chosen organizations have been growing for at least a decade and built quite a reputation for themselves. All the designer had to do was build on their energy and connect to what was left of the architecture. What will be more difficult in practice is building relationships with clients that can make amazing things happen, especially in the worst of areas. Or maybe the task is to inspire people to make amazing things happen. It takes more than just one architect to design a city. It takes great people, great clients, and a design team with the right perspective to transform the way that people live. The next challenge is to start building relationships with people who can help make an impact and keep it going after the design work is over.

continuing the mission

[conclusions and next steps]

Works Cited Boeri, S. and Municipality, Koohlhaus, R. and Harvard Design School Project on the City, Kwinter, S., Kwinter, S., Tazi, N., Obrist, H. (2001). Mutations. Barcelona: Ingot Print SA. Boggs, Grace Lee. October 4).

(Personal communication with Wes Janz, 2010,

CBS Detroit. (2011, February 22). “Detroit High School Graduation Rates Rise.” Retrieved from Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Retrieved May 4, 2011. “Earthworks Urban Farm.” Retrieved from Detroitblogger John (2010, October 6). “Poletown saints.” Metrotimes. com. Retrieved from asp?id=15424. Detroitblogger John (2010, June 30). “Bird’s eye.” Metrotimes. com. Retrieved from asp?id=15168. Dillon, Sam. (2009 April 22). “Large Urban-Suburban Gap Seen in Graduation Rates.” The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www. (2009, February 13-26). “Food: From urban rust to verdant green.” Retrieved from Retrieved November 12, 2011. “Ken Robinson Quotes.” Retrieved from Robinson. Heidelberg Project, The. “25 Years of Art.” Retrieved May 4, 2011. Retrieved from Oswalt, Phillip, ed (2005). Shrinking Cities. Germany: Ostfildern-Ruit. Poppenk, Mascha & Poppenk. (2010). GrowninDetroit[Online documentary]. Filmmij. Retrieved from Robinson, Sir Ken. (2010, February 4) Changing Paradigms [Video file]. February 2010. Retrieved from profile?user=theRSAorg#p/u/4/mCbdS4hSa0s. (2010). “Staying Put in Downsizing Detroit.” Time Magazine. Retrieved from,32068,672228852001_2030926,00.html

NeighborHOOD Education  

Master's thesis by Madeline LaPlante (with Wes Janz as major advisor), completed in 2011. "How can the design and implementation of communit...