AUSTIN — High school students in Austin hope to inspire others as they prepare to debut designs they spent years crafting for safe spaces at West Side parks.
Territory NFP, which works with youth to design community improvements, has spent three years on its Sit-Strand-Strut project. West Side students reimagined peace circles, vendor stands and other fixtures that can be installed permanently in local parks, creating safe spaces for all residents.
The goal of the project was to encourage the students to express themselves and showcase their talent and ideas. Now, their designs are going to be put into action — and they could be used by neighbors for years to come, organizers said.
“We’re here with young people who have a really strong desire to have a positive impact on Austin and change the narrative around how young people are perceived here,” Territory co-founder Helen Slade said.
The first piece of Sit-Stand-Strut is planned to be installed this year at the northeast corner of Mayfield and Chicago Avenue.
The part being installed — Sit — will be a peace circle designed by the students to create a safe environment for conversation and debating ideas.
The prototype resembles several curved benches with colorful backings that resemble a peace sign, tree and other symbols. Architecture firm Lamar Johnson Collaborative will create the final design out of concrete to withstand the elements.
Additional peace circle sites are being planned with the Austin African American Business Networking Association and Westside Health Authority helping to locate additional areas to install them.
The next part of the project, Stand, resembles a large box. It’s designed to be a pop-up stand where students will sell and buy products from each other in parks as a means of honing their entrepreneurial skills. It is still being tested.
The students made the first prototype was made from cardboard and plastic pipes and the second prototype from plywood.
Strut — which is still being conceptualized — will be akin to a walking path that functions as a “runway.”
Daniela Sanchez, Territory’s youth outreach coordinator and a former student of the program, said the project took years because youth aged out of the program and it takes time to design the elements and find a suitable place to put them.
Sanchez said she’s proud to lift up the young participants’ voices through their work and help them identify possible career paths in design and community involvement.
“I love how this program uplifts people and the way it helps people build confidence,” Sanchez said. “In my household, there weren’t people I could look to as having a high-paying job, and this program uplifted those hopes for me.”
Student Kimberly Ramos, of North Grand High School, was a part of the design for Stand and has been in Territory for years.
“It was really nice to come together with everyone building that and start this project,” Ramos said. “I feel like this is a safe space for me and the rest of us [to express ourselves].”
Ramos and another student, Shawn Houston of Chicago Tech Academy High School, said they are happy to create a positive legacy for the community. They said Territory has given them confidence they’ll find a great career.
“My main focus is on making my community better,” Houston said. “We’re not known for having a lot of good things and I think we need to change that.”
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