Envisioning Youth Space in a Revitalized City
Silver Spring youth and architects team to brainstorm and design a dedicated youth space.
Silver Spring youth—mostly, representatives from different local youth groups in the area, such as the Gandhi Brigade and YMCA—came together on Friday, Dec. 4th at the Civic Building at Veteran's plaza to participate in the first installment of a two-day charrette.
The lack of youth space and programming has been an issue since the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring (the business district). To address this issue, a group of architects and local organizations came together to devise a proposal/document for this youth space.
With the tagline "A Fresh New Look for the Old Library," the group saw the old Silver Spring library as the perfect site for this youth space, given that the (new) library is being moved to Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue.
The event was "a culmination of all these different conversations about what has been happening with the youth space," according to event organizers The Silver Spring Town Center, Inc., a community-based nonprofit devoted to developing exciting community programming for the Civic Building and Veterans Plaza.
The atmosphere was very casual and had youth appeal, be it the pizza and soda as refreshments or the flow of the event. Silver Spring architect Jon Lourie, President of the SSTC, kicked off the event with a brief welcome speech, reiterating the mission of "architects serving the community."
Ashley Simmons, of the Gandhi Brigade, disciplined the chaos in the room with a team ice-breaker people to people. The participants scrambled to connect with each other as Simmons shouted body parts and numbers: "three knees," "five elbows," "seven right feet," and so on.
After the participants returned to their tables, they were assigned different groups (about 6 participants each) numbered 1 through 11. Each table (group) had to select volunteers who would record the ideas on large easel pads and later explain them to the audience in the room.
To streamline the thinking process and to give the participants some direction, the organizers used a simple question-answer format. The groups jotted down their ideas as responses to four questions:
▪ What do you think is missing from the Community for youth?
▪ What sort of atmosphere would be inviting to you and your peers in a youth space and would keep you coming back to the center?
▪ What activities could occur inside the new youth space?
▪ What activities could occur outdoors?
This ensured that every participant had an equal opportunity to participate in idea generation, without compromising the quality or effectiveness of the brainstorming.
Group 8, lead by Mark Ward of YMCA, came up with a sports center (soccer field or a basketball court), a swimming pool, an outdoor movie theater, and a skating facility among other things as a response to question 1, which was devoted the most time.
The brainstorming for the second question impressed architect Rachel Islin of Clark Nexsen Architecture & Engineering, as Ward scribbled "Futuristic look" (a see-through roof), "three dimensional," and "bright colors." "Those are some very good ideas," Islin said.
The youth also wanted to make sure that the area was safe and a Wi-Fi zone, with the possibility of having a career center or some form of services for youth employment.
After all the questions were answered, each team got together and plastered their ideas on to the walls. Each participant was given a set of sticker dots and asked to choose the idea they favored. The team leaders then walked the audience through the ideas from the table.
The recurring theme was "basketball courts" and all things free—"free food," "free Wi-Fi," and so on. There was also a request for shuttle services from schools or ensuring that there was some form of public transport available to the youth space.
The responses to the kind of activities, indoor and outdoor, brought a plethora of ideas to the table, from perceived risk activities (such as rock climbing) and skating, basketball, outdoor gardens, and outdoor concerts and barbecues to a "teenage bar," showing movies and games minus the alcohol.
The session ended with the architects tying any loose ends. Architect Kevin Dworak summed up the ideas of the evening, labeling some more outlandish than the others but fantastic nevertheless.
"There are two [themes] that stand out: a place to chill out and a place for athletic activities," he said.
As a next step, he urged the participants to "collect imagery" for the second installment of the event, the designing part.
"What makes a great basketball court? What would a great youth space look like? What images can you bring tomorrow? Anything you can tell us about what is important to you."