INTRODUCTION

One of the most significant aspects of the program is the relationship URBANbuild has with the community. Every January, a new group of students arrives in Central City to be welcomed by neighbors who have watched the construction of prior URBANbuild projects and who look forward to seeing what a new year of students has designed and will bring to the neighborhood.

URBANbuild has worked to transform one neighborhood in particular—in the first twelve years of the program, ten projects have been sited throughout the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. Introducing new, progressive, well-made projects into the blighted historic fabric of a struggling neighborhood helps community members to see progress and increase their sense of pride. Neighbors are eager to interact with the students, and keep eyes on the job site to ensure its taken care of.

NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSING SERVICES

For many years, URBANbuild has successfully worked together with Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans (NHS) to connect with the community and eventual homebuyers. Each year, NHS donates an empty lot for students and faculty to develop. These lots have been acquired through the city’s adjudicated property program; collecting various lots within close proximity to each other aids NHS in realizing its mission of working with the city on the revitalization of communities and neighborhoods. Every fall, during the design phase of the program, NHS presents the needs and values of the community to the students. In some years, NHS has also coordinated introductory meetings between students and representatives of the community. Throughout the design process, NHS works with students on the development of the program through participation in student design reviews. During construction, NHS maintains involvement and authorizes the disbursement of funds. For the entire duration of each project, NHS acts as a liaison between university and neighborhood communities and representatives. Finally, NHS locates interested buyers for completed homes and offers instructional classes in effort to assist potential buyers with loan and subsidy qualification, application, management, and accounting.

URBAN FABRIC

New Orleans’ urban fabric possesses many unique qualities. In New Orleans, struggling neighborhoods often exist adjacent to thriving neighborhoods, and struggling blocks are characterized by examples of historically significant housing types that have succumbed to blight. Older neighborhood blocks are pedestrian-friendly, with limited off street parking, and most older homes have a front porch or stoop that is often occupied as a stage for neighborly observation and conversation. Urban blocks in New Orleans are often home to a higher percentage of renters than homeowners.

“The construction period is a major part of building relationships with the community. The presence of the UB team out there working long hours indicates an investment in the neighborhood, and the many interactions with neighbors and folks driving by quickly created a sense of community between the students and the residents.”

– Ali Rex, Alumnus UB10

CENTRAL CITY

URBANbuild has worked to transform one neighborhood in particular—in the first twelve years of the program, ten projects have been sited throughout the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. While the houses are in close proximity to each other, they are rarely side by side. These new homes are fabricated using common and readily available materials and methods in a fresh way. With an aim of preserving qualities of street life and domesticity, they often borrow and reconsider common physical components and qualities of the familiar local building types, such as scale, size and pattern of windows, relationship to a garden, relationship to the street, and the importance of a front porch or stoop.

Introducing these new, progressive, well-made projects into the blighted historic fabric of a struggling neighborhood provides the neighborhood with a sense of hope. New, often young, home buyers are attracted to the neighborhood, which benefits from this fresh, youthful investment, and owners of older, historic structures are inspired to repair and improve them. (Note: An historically significant structure has never been demolished to make way for an URBANbuild project.) As the number of homeowners in a neighborhood increases, greater care is taken in the maintenance of the community’s public spaces, and a greater sense of shared investment surfaces. The history of the URBANbuild program proves that old and new can exist side by side, which allows us to address the often blurred distinction between preservation and replication. It’s rewarding to see, after working for over a decade in one neighborhood, change and improvement happening in Central City.

COMMUNITY BONDS

Over the course of each spring semester, students often form meaningful bonds with community residents. “In Central City, everyone is out on the street all the time, and you get to know them because you see them everyday. We really started to create some bonds and relationships with people in the neighborhood. They come to see you every day and talk to you. Even when we were painting the house, people in the neighborhood would come and help select colors,” URBANbuild 4 alum Karla Validivia remembers. “Getting to work with NHS, I got to know the family very well, and I’ve been able to visit them years after. It’s great to get to know the family because you are creating something that really affects them. It has a very personal feel.” URBANbuild 9 alum Jake Gamberg recalls, “There were two neighbors across the street that we used to see everyday. We would chat with them from time to time, and they watched us work everyday. I know they enjoyed our presence. I remember Gene saying how much he was going to miss us when we showed up all cleaned up and dressed up for the final review.” And, URBANbuild 10 students developed a special bond with young boys in the neighborhood who were fascinated by the construction. By the end of the semester, one of them had decided he wanted to be an architect when he grew up. Neighbors seem to appreciate the students’ presence every spring and often shout encouragement as they walk, bike, or drive by. In the ultimate endorsement, neighbors also often indicate their interest in buying URBANbuild houses while they are still under construction.