participatory action research
alternative urban revitalization
community of practice
While education and urban revitalization are rarely discussed together, beyond economic development, public schools are one of the most accessible urban social institutions that provide a link between multiple communities and the urban realm. Public schools are sites of social practice and production. MFMCMCMF is an experiential educational program designed as an alternative engagement strategy for urban transformation that turns the city into the classroom. The program targets youth as representatives of their community, critically engaging them in the exploration of self in relation to the city in which they live toward the end of co-designing and co-constructing the identity of the city. It simultaneously addresses issues and concerns of the city, involvement in redevelopment, as well as concerns with education and learning by curating an enriching environment to participate in a community of practice–where students work with urban practitioners (adults in the field) in areas they are interested in exploring as a part of redevelopment research, plans, and implementation.
Students at ILEAD Charter School in Reading, PA were incorporated into an “urban” community of practice, through varying levels of support from community leaders at different stages of the program such as access to using their space, offering guest lectures, mentoring, and financial/other in-kind support. The program was prototyped as an internship where students met for 24 hours each week for 7 weeks with a month gap before intensive work towards a final event. During this time, students delved into self-discovery, exploring their connection to others within the program through workshops, activities, and exchanging ideas in discussions over contested terms that are oftentimes taken for granted. Moving outside of our meeting space and into their community, they began to uncover community needs and assets and “caught” community members future dreams to develop their critical consciousness and self-awareness within site-specific considerations to inform a more collective understanding of the city. This led to developing a community development project plan.
In aiming to guide students to open their scope of observation and analysis of their neighborhoods for deeper intellectual growth, they discovered how they can participate in active, conscious city making. By participating in such social practices that impact their lives, they learn and develop their social membership into the urban realm to become equipped with the tools, skills, and thinking necessary to negotiate their space within an ever-changing city. Through the knowledge the ILEAD students were collecting throughout the program, they:
● created a video
● developed a proposal and plan to repurpose a vacant factory into a youth recreation space,
● curated an interactive exhibition of their knowledge artifacts, and
● orally presented to a public audience that included their families, local officials, supporters of the program, and key leaders of the community.
The PEOPLE Chronicles • ReDesign Reading • Redner’s Warehouse Markets • ILEAD Charter School • Queen City Family Restaurant • Parsons New School for Design • #RDGMatters • countless contributions from other individuals