Tips For Engaging Teens From Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative

Arionna DeBase, a member of the Buckeye crew of Making Our Own Space, working on the treehouse at the St. Luke’s Intergenerational Playscape. [Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative]
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Hold workshops outside. Walk while you talk. Bring power tools. Those are all strategies Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC) utilized to engage youth in design work around the city.

For the past five years, CUDC has run a program for teens, Making Our Own Space, which taps youth to design and build structures in neighborhood parks and community spaces. To date, they’ve held workshops in Cleveland’s La Villa Hispana, Buckeye, Glenville and Detroit-Shoreway as well as the Moreland neighborhood in Shaker Heights.

“It’s very active learning, so we don’t start with a lot of talking,” said Katie Slusher, urban designer and program coordinator. “We try to just dive right in and start making.”

One of the builds by the youth in Glenville connected some of the bollards outside the rec center. They call it the “friends-zone” bench, because part of the bollards can act as dividers ensuring enough personal space for people who sit on the bench.    

The "friends-zone" bench in Glenville. [Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative]

CUDC put together a guide for how to engage teens based on its program to help other communities inspire their youth.

Some other tips offered: Pay youth a stipend for the work, give teens the decision-making power and recruit young people in the neighborhood.

The public structures themselves spread awareness to potential youth designers.

“They can see what their peers have made in previous years, and they may have climbed on it, sat on it, played on it, whatever,” Slusher said. “They get excited about having the opportunity to do something like that themselves.”

CUDC will distribute its guide as part of a public event, Building Youth Power in Cities, at the Shaker Heights main library Tuesday.

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