July saw the completion of Asakura Robinson’s newest effort in community outreach: a crash course in neighborhood design and landscape architecture for 7th- through 9th-graders. The five-week class, titled “Our Neighborhood, Our Place: A Hands-on Introduction to Planning and Design,” was offered as part of the Sunburst Summer Arts Camp held at MECA, the Houston office’s Sixth Ward neighbor just 2 blocks to the south. Landscape architect Leslie Wren taught the class of 15 students, which met once a week for 2 hours.
The goal of the class was to give the young adults the knowledge and tools with which they could see, analyze, and propose changes to improve their neighborhood environments. Students collected data on the dimensions of common neighborhood elements- streets, sidewalks, rights-of-way, setbacks, houses, and trees. They walked the Old Sixth Ward and mapped the locations of important neighborhood elements as identified in Alexander et al.’s A Pattern Language. With their new understanding of the neighborhood, the students focused their attention on a central public space of the Old Sixth Ward: Dow School Park, immediately adjacent to MECA.
Wren led the campers through a site inventory and analysis exercise and then charged them with a redesign of the park that would satisfy the client’s program AND successfully connect with the adjacent school and surrounding neighborhood. The students produced bubble diagrams, conceptual plans, one or more perspective drawings, and a design statement, all of which they presented to guests and each other on the last day of the class.
The course was a success, as reported in the course evaluations, and the majority of students expressed an interest in taking more courses like this. Some of the most popular aspects of the class were the walkabouts and the opportunity to make different kinds of drawings. MECA is interested in making this course (or another course like it) a regular offering in their summer camp program.