sites of memory|
Landscapes of Race and Ideology
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Rebuilding a community begins with the ability of ordinary citizens to influence the important planning decisions that effect their lives. When citizens are poor, black and living in debilitating physical and environmental conditions, desires to exercise such basic rights can become an insurmountable battle for social equity and environmental justice. This investigation explores how the community of Bayview on the Eastern Shore of Virginia used a participatory design process as a community consensus builder and catalyst for physical and social change. Through the efforts of neighbors, local environmental conservationists, civil rights activists, and design consultants, citizens of this fragile, rural village were able to successfully chart a path of self determination to guide them in rebuilding their community as a vibrant civic and productive agricultural landscape.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia lies isolated from the rest of the state and is accessible only by crossing a ten mile long bridge across the Chesapeake Bay. This physical separation has had an economical and psychological effect that has kept the peninsula both one of the best preserved ecosystems on the east coast and one of the poorest regions of Virginia. The small community of Bayview dates back to the time of Emancipation and many of its 52 families trace their roots back over 350 years to the earliest days of slavery on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Once a village of productive farmers, residents of Bayview today remain amongst some of the poorest citizens, living in substandard conditions in one room shacks without indoor plumbing or adequate drinking water.
In 1994, Bayview was the proposed site of a maximum-security prison and became the most contested ground in the region. In protest to the prison, two African American women of the community formed the organization, Citizens for Social Justice, and after a three year battle the proposal was successfully defeated. While this defeat was perceived as an act of self-preservation, the decision to collaborate with the Nature Conservancy, a large and influential land conservation organization, was perceived as a statement of political defiance. Realizing that their mission to improve their quality of life was really an issue of environmental justice, Citizens for Social Change secured a grant from the EPA for a community-based planning process that included plans for building affordable homes, neighborhood owned businesses, community institutions, and public places. By incorporating this process, residents have increased their participation in decision-making matters and are motivated to explore alternative forms of ownership.
The spiritual rebirth of this community and the present day political process of community empowerment is still underway in Bayview. In building and defining their future, the community of Bayview demonstrated how seemingly powerless people, acting collectively, can become very powerful. This presentation will feature slides documenting the empowerment process used to create the New Rural Village Plan and the community-based organization, Bayview Citizens for Social Justice, Inc. The intent of the presentation will give a face and voice to this extraordinary community and expand upon the visual/graphic tools used to describe community design processes. Black and white architectural collages and a photographic survey of community life in Bayview by Washington Post photographer Michael Williams will also be featured in the presentation.
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On April 18, 1877, six southern African Americans and one white preacher who had heard of the availability of homestead land in Kansas through preemption laws and envisioned a way to profit personally, formed the Nicodemus Town Company. Despite being ill-prepared for the harsh winters and isolation, by the late 1870s, over 600 people resided in Nicodemus Township, with most of them on the townsite. Development ceased when the townsite failed to obtain a railroad line.
During the first half of the 20th century, Nicodemus experienced the same population fluctuations as neighboring white communities, losing significant, young residents during the 1950s to urban employment. Nicodemus never experienced its long-sought revival yet, through the perseverance of the original settlers and their descendants the townsite continues to survive. Although only 40 residents still reside in Nicodemus, it is recognized as the only surviving all-black town "west of the Mississippi".
Since its inception, the nation has been fascinated with Nicodemus; researchers curiously prodded through its annals, heralding its success as an enigma but not crediting those who endured the struggle. Without question, its history is layered and intermeshed with the larger American context. In 1976 Nicodemus was designated a landmark of state significance by the Department of Interior. A detailed assessment of the townsite was made in 1983, and only then did Nicodemus receive the attention it deserved.
Nearly 15 years after it s documentation as a cultural landscape for the Historic American Building Survey Program, Nicodemus celebrated its status as the nation's youngest designated historic American landmark. This new affirmation of our country's diverse legacy gives cause for reflection. This paper will focus upon lessons learned during the Nicodemus HABS Project. The obvious outcomes --cartographic, photographic, oral, and written documentation were programmed, but how these ingredients reflected a dynamic multi-disciplinary discovery process was not apparent. Nicodemus' ancestors left remnants of their lifestyle for posterity, but only the land offered an accumulative history of their composite efforts. By examining "the genealogy of the land" the team was able to understand this complex web of associations, uses and physical manifestations. The HABS team not only documented and interpreted the history within a larger context, but more importantly helped build trust within the preservation community, a vital and necessary part of conducting a cultural landscape documentation. Interpretative methods and personal field experiences will be presented in order to illustrate the socio-cultural dynamics which brought about change in the community.
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The goal of this project is to create a sanctuary where a community can both worship and learn, and to design it in such a way as to build a community through its construction. In contrast to most community design projects, such as those done by Michael Pyatok or Rob Quigley where success is usually defined by the amount of community input received, this project defined success by the type and kind of relationships it helped to form. The architectural challenge as set fourth by the church leaders was to build these relationships while representing the values of their Afrocentric heritage. A heritage that includes being former labor organizers who came together after the Million Man March determined to revitalize black neighborhoods. For the church leaders, community was not only a geographic, cultural, and political construct, but an activity. What drew me to this project initially was the fact that their notion of community was similar to my notion of architecture, that of an activity or a verb as opposed to a noun.
In a recent lecture, installation artist Ann Hamilton discussed how the act of creating an installation was as much the "work" of art as the final product. She went on to discuss how, in one of her projects, she noticed the men assisting her on the project were always looking for a more efficient way of working. What is interesting about this is that for whatever reason the men did not value the "work" itself, and valued instead the final product as opposed to the process. This prioritizing of the final product outside of its creation was what the church leaders were trying to avoid. After meeting with the church leaders and discussing various strategies for the design and construction of their church and school, it became immediately apparent that the final product was only important in so much as it served as a vehicle for building community. The pastor insisted that many elements of the project be designed in such a way as to both force and allow people to work together. Therefore, the challenge of building community through design meant the design should encourage both collective and deliberate work that would facilitate relationships.
During the course of this project there were many valuable lessons learned. This paper will investingate the relationship between design and community, examining the how the architectural process can encourage community participation and how through this process has the added benefit of veiling the singular voice of the architect and elucidating the collective voice of architecture.