(Summer 18) Hannah Diaz, G, Growing Change, NC
At the very beginning of this summer, I had the immense privilege of spending a little over one week in Laurinberg, North Carolina with the nonprofit organization Growing Change. Growing Change has been in operation since 2011 and began as the brainchild of Executive Director, Noran Sanford. Growing Change works with local youth coming from a place of struggle – whether through institutional systems, such as the justice or education systems, or in their personal lives. As part of their involvement with Growing Change, Youth Leaders are engaged in projects on the site of a decommissioned prison, ultimately working towards flipping the prison itself into a site for sustainable agriculture, community history, and youth engagement. These future activities are in direct response to the challenges facing the communities within Scotland County – high rates of food instability, a significant statewide presence of prisons throughout time, high rates of youth violence, and few community activities geared towards teenagers and young adults.
The partnership between DUSP and Architecture and Growing Change has been growing for years, beginning with a former MCP’s thesis on the program. In Summer 2017, students from the Architecture Department built on this institutional partnership and traveled to North Carolina to begin working on renderings for rehabilitated structures on site. By June 2018, our summer group had grown to 11 graduate students across both Architecture and DUSP.
During our eight days in North Carolina, our group began the process of both getting to know our new context as well as one another. For some of us in the group, this trip to North Carolina was our first visiting the state or even the American South. Personally, having only spent brief periods in Florida and Mississippi, I was not entirely sure what to expect from this corner of North Carolina. Sufficiently warned about the humidity and mosquitoes, I began the trip ready to experience a new place and learn how a group of grad students could help. Prior to arriving in North Carolina, I was excited to meet the Growing Change team and hear about their plans for the organization in their own words. While I had heard nothing but positive things from the Architecture students who had previously visited the community, I knew that much of the project would further gel in my mind once I had faces and personalities to attach to the ideas and stories.
In the early days of the trip, one of my primary fears for our group work was our collective contribution as outsiders to the community. Scotland County is a small county filled with a strong sense of community pride. What would a group of Architecture and Planning students from MIT be able to provide that was both relevant and true to the local context? This fear was squashed as our conversations with locals deepened and our familiarity with the old prison site grew. An additional fear was my ability to work on policy-related matters in a state and region where I was not particularly familiar. As an urban planner, I see my strengths playing more to policy than design, and in the days leading up to this trip, I wondered how I would be able to jumpstart a meaningful policy project. It took a few days and many conversations with the Growing Change community and my fellow students, but this fear very naturally morphed into an actionable plan.
In the next posts, I’ll describe how these hopes and concerns were met as well as the inspiring individuals who made the trip what it was.