Making Our Own Space: Youth revitalizing neighborhoods

What was once a sparse plot of land now features artistic structures where Cleveland’s Buckeye community can play and relax. Teens from the neighborhood built “stoop slides,” which function as a bench and slide, and other unique elements for Britt Oval on Shaker Boulevard.

For three years, these Buckeye youth have worked to create ways to enhance their public spaces with Making Our Own Space, a program started by Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

Brothers Johnathan and Jason Streeter, and their cousin D’Angelus Williams, spoke about working with MOOS while playing around a recently completed bench, which features vertical, interweaving wooden beams that children can climb. All live in Buckeye and are in their early teens.

D’Angelus Williams and Jason and Johnathan Streeter helped build this sit-and-play structure for Buckeye’s Britt Oval.

“It adds color to the surroundings,” says Johnathan of the MOOS structures. “It’s not a traditional place.”

Jason adds, “It’s a place to play a game or lie down in the shade.”

All three boys agree learning how to use power tools is one of their favorite parts of MOOS. “We’re treated like an adult,” says Jason about being trusted to use these tools and come up with plans to create a better community.

Britt Oval is encircled by parking and next to residential properties. The large St. Luke’s Pointe building, home to various community organizations and senior housing, sits across the street. Buckeye project leaders and youth are thinking of ways to connect with the oval’s surroundings, which include Cleveland Public Library’s Rice branch, the senior community, a Rapid Transit Authority station and the Buckeye Learning Farm.

After giving a tour of the outdoor space, the boys went into a conference room in St. Luke’s to work on transcribing audio for Making Our Own Stories, another aspect of the program. The teens create podcasts about their neighborhoods by conducting interviews and producing the content.

Credit: KSU Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative

David Jurca, associate director of Kent State’s CUDC, leads MOOS with a group of Cleveland design professionals. He says the program’s goals are to create more youth public engagement and expose students to designers of color. “I’ve been blown away by the desire of the students to work hard and see changes in the neighborhood,” says Jurca.

Each student receives a $200 to $500 stipend for his or her participation each year. “We want to signal to the students that what they do is valuable,” the MOOS leader says.

Along with Buckeye, MOOS is managing a program in Shaker Heights’ Moreland neighborhood that’s in its second year. Shaker’s Lomond neighborhood was recently added. Going forward, the program will work in La Villa Hispana on Cleveland’s near west side. Each neighborhood has 12-16 youth participants.

“When you take time to build relationships with 12 students, you can attract their parents, friends, institutions and schools to the project,” says Jurca. “It may seem like a small number, but they have a three- or four-fold increase in the number of people that we engage in this work.”

Feature photo credit: KSU Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative

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