The Grow Dat Youth Farm & SEEDocs: Mini-Documentaries on the Power of Public-Interest Design

If you read our infographic, then you know that Public-Interest Design is one of the few growing sectors of the architecture industry. From the prevalence of Design-Build curriculums in Architecture Schools to the rise of the 1% program and non-profits like Architecture for Humanity, Public-Interest Design (PID) is hitting its stride.

Which is why we’re so excited that two of PID’s biggest players, Design Corps and SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design), have teamed up to create SEEDocs, a monthly series of mini-documentaries that highlight the inspirational stories of six award-winning public interest design projects.

The latest SEEDoc follows the story of the Grow Dat Youth Farm - a brilliant example of what we call “Urban Agri-puncture” (a strategy that uses design & to target a city’s most deprived, unhealthy neighborhoods) that is changing the lives of New Orleans youth.

More on this inspiring story, after the break…

Rendering of the Grow Dat Youth Farm, designed by the Tulane City Center at the Tulane School of Architecture. © Grow Dat Youth Farm.

Seven years have passed since Katrina, and yet New Orleans’ poor, minority households continue to bear “the brunt of the devastation.” There is crime, drugs, and violence, yes, but there is also a less newsworthy, and yet just as damaging, element to Katrina’s legacy: the limited access to fresh food.

As a recent New York Times article pointed out: “Before the storm, there were 30 [supermarkets] in New Orleans; today, there are 21. Most that have reopened are in wealthier neighborhoods: a Tulane University survey in 2007, the latest data available, found that nearly 60 percent of low-income residents had to travel more than three miles to reach a supermarket, though only 58 percent owned a car. In the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest-hit areas, the only stores within walking distance are dollar stores, which sell staples like eggs, milk and meat, but few fresh fruits and vegetables.”

So it should come as no surprise that New Orleans suffers from a “hierarchy of health,” where the wealthy can afford to be healthy, but the poor suffer disproportionately from malnutrition, obesity, and illness (particularly Diabetes).

And yet, nestled in 4 acres of New Orleans’ beautiful City Park, lies a solution.

Image showing the sparcity of grocery stores in New Orleans. Photo via Grow Dat Youth Farm.

At the Grow Dat Youth Farm, youth from across the city of New Orleans come to learn, work, earn money, and grow food that goes back out to the city; the teens themselves sell about 60% of the produce to markets, restaurants, and corner stores, the other 40% they then donate via Shared Harvest.

But it’s not just the youth that make this farm come alive – it’s the people of all stripes, shapes, sizes, and disciplines (architects included) that have come together for this common cause.

Central to the farm’s development has been the creation of a campus, designed and constructed by students enrolled in design-build studios at the Tulane City Center at Tulane’s School of Architecture. From an abandoned golf course to an energy-efficient, organic farm sensitive to regional climate, the story of Tulane and the Grow Dat Youth Farm shows what can be accomplished when architects are heavily invested in, and in fact become a part of, the community they serve.

Rendering of the Grow Dat Youth Farm, designed by the Tulane City Center at the Tulane School of Architecture. © Grow Dat Youth Farm.

Architecture students worked with community-members to design various structures: an outdoor classroom, teaching kitchen, locker rooms, administrative offices, a large post-harvest area. This collaborative process may not always have been easy, but as Emilie Taylor, the Manager at the Tulane City Center puts it in the mini-doc:

“Design can make a difference, but you’re not going to save the world by making a beautiful object. But if you as a designer can plug-in with a community partner in a group and a larger community that’s all working towards a goal, you can be part of a team that’s really transformative.”

Ultimately, this is what Public Interest Design is all about – empowering architects to not just design for a community, but with one, to help the community in their efforts to overcome crippling obstacles, and be a part of something truly transformative.

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "The Grow Dat Youth Farm & SEEDocs: Mini-Documentaries on the Power of Public-Interest Design" 22 Jun 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 Nov 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=245235>