Transformative Design Takes Hold at the Astin Jacobo Center in the Bronx

This past Saturday, nearly a hundred people packed into the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center to share and build support for a new kind of development project. Led by the New Crotona Coalition, the Astin Jacobo Center will bring to life a new food hub, maker space, classrooms, music recording studio and co-working space in a vacant building located in center field of a baseball field in the Crotona section of the Bronx. The project exemplifies what's possible through Designing the WE's Transformative Design process.  

Future site of the Astin Jacobo Center in Crotona.

How this opportunity came to be has a long history that includes the systemic forces that led to the destruction of 90% of the neighborhood’s housing stock, the community organizing that rebuilt the neighborhood and turned the rubble of this block into a baseball field, and the design process Designing the WE was brought in to lead. Beginning in the spring of 2016, dtW implemented our design curriculum with a series of nine Friday evening classes for the young people and staff of the Center.   

Beginning with their own current experiences and working backwards through the eras of broken windows policing, disinvestment, fires, epidemics, racial change, urban renewal, and the building and dismantling of the Third Avenue El, the young people and staff identified challenges, opportunities and the actions they could take in response. They also interviewed neighborhood elders about how the neighborhood had changed over the years. A common theme was how development projects were typically controlled by people outside the neighborhood. 

After exploring examples of innovative economic development models, the youth and staff identified a number of values they wanted to be present in the new development. Specifically, the group agreed that the building should house a cooperatively owned, inter-generational space where elders could train young people in practical skills that could help them both express their creativity and launch businesses. In other words, this building should be the hub of a new ecosystem that connects people and their projects and businesses in a cooperative and collaborative manner, addressing and undesigning decades of systemic racism and structural inequality -- exactly what our WElabs are designed to generate

Three small groups brainstormed and sketched ideas. One group designed Mapes360, a makerspace that would house wood and metal shopping equipment along with 3D printers and other technology. Another group centered their design around a shared commercial kitchen that could both provide healthy food to people in the neighborhood and launch small businesses. A third group looked at classrooms and performance spaces that allowed people to connect in a myriad of ways.

In early June, the staff and young people presented early sketches to key neighborhood leaders. Since then, they have been out conducting hundreds of surveys and building broader support for the project.

This fall, architects were brought in to turn the visions into tangible drawings. On Saturday, they young people and staff presented the project proposal to large crowd that included Representative Jose Serrano and City Councilmember Richie Torres, both who have pledged their support. Designing the WE is thrilled to participate in this groundbreaking project design and implementation, guiding the process with such amazing and inspiring people!