Green Architecture / Community Develpment
By Rita Cook
Known as bcWORKSHOP, the first question might be exactly what does that mean. Translation; founded in 2005 and gaining 501(3) status in 2008, the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP located in Dallas is a nonprofit community design center with an eye toward seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design.
“Like many large metropolitan areas, the greater Dallas area has many pockets rich in resources including design thinking and work,” says Brent Brown, AIA LEED AP who is currently the President/ Founding Director of BC Workshop and the Founding Director, Dallas CityDesign Studio. “However; there are many more neighborhoods experiencing scarcity in access to design across the City’s wide geography. As the only public design organization in North Texas, the need for the work of the bcWORKSHOP is great. Although each possesses unique characteristics and needs, the WORKSHOP has worked intensively in the Jubilee Park, Dolphin Heights, and La Bajada neighborhoods.”
BC Workshop was actually masterminded by Brown, who is a Texas architect, when in 2005 he decided it was important to “seek relevance in the practice of design.” The group currently has 20 activities related to major initiatives in the works. Examples in each of the three areas include:
Making- sustainABLEhouse -
An initiative, according to Brown to “build affordable, socially sustainable, and environmentally friendly housing, expanding the choices available to families by providing a viable model of homeownership for those not currently served by either traditional or other affordable housing models.” (Photo: bcWorkshop)
Currently a two-bedroom/one-bath 850-square-foot home is under construction in the Dolphin Heights neighborhood. “Community engagement is ongoing, and focuses on community input in the design, construction, and buying process of sustainable house,” says Brown. “The home is expected to be completed in this month.” A video of the Dolphin Heights Project
Planning- POP [People Organizing Place] Dallas involving active and resilient neighborhoods, which are the foundation of a successful city. “POP [People Organizing Place] Dallas is an effort to strengthen the social, economic, and physical health of Dallas’s neighborhoods,” Brown says. “This initiative has been engaged in numerous area events like the opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Klyde Warren Park opening, bigBANG! Dallas conference, Cedars West Arts Festival, Denton Neighborhood Empowerment Summit, Dallas Homeowners League Bootcamp, PARK(ing) Day Dallas and TEDxSMU). More than 650 individuals have interacted with the City Map and over 230 Neighborhood Stories have been collected.” (Photo: bcWorkshop)
Brown adds “Components of the POP City Map are identifying how we naturally organize our communities as neighborhoods. The map was developed through internal research that has so far identified 359 distinct neighborhoods in Dallas, and continues to be confirmed and amended through a public engagement process.”
In regard to the Neighborhood Toolkit this is an idea of approaching neighborhood planning on the grassroots level, the POP Toolkit provides tools and methodologies to neighborhood organizations or interested community members to identify neighborhood issues, stimulate activity and mobilize community members.
Neighborhood Stories relating to POP Dallas celebrate individual voices and document collective experiences through video interviews with residents and other neighborhood stakeholders. Using volunteers with handheld cameras, BC Workshop has recorded over 200 interviews from 52 neighborhoods. “These interviews coupled with neighborhood histories are engaging Dallas’s diverse communities in an active dialogue about the history and future of the city through a series of six events,” Brown says.
Neighborhood History utilizes archival research, historical data collection and oral history interviews and the history project creates a visual depiction of the evolution of Dallas’ neighborhoods. To date the organization has collected data for more than 16 neighborhoods and are working to diagram and analytically map the built form and social networks of each. They anticipate this effort continuing adding six to 10 neighborhoods annually.
Informing- The Parklet is in conjunction with Parking Day Dallas 2012 and in partnership with Downtown Dallas Inc. BC Workshop has also developed a “parklet” to be deployed in metered parking spaces in the downtown area. The parklet turns a space traditionally allocated to the car into a space for people, extending the sidewalk into the street. The project challenges the amount of space dedicated to parking and lack of space accommodating people in the public realm. The Parklet has been employed multiple times this year and Brown says will continue to be used by businesses and for events in the downtown area. (Photo: bcWorkshop)
“We are always humbled when a community asks us to work alongside them in addressing their individual social, economic, and environmental issues,” says Brown. “If we view design as a process capable of shaping the physical environment that frames our daily lives, then we must couple a strong understanding of the social experiences of the place in a genuine way to be effective in our work.
Brown believes that respect and open-mindedness are critical to developing the relationships necessary for long-term collaboration and that BC Workshop does not have clients in the traditional sense they have partners. “True engagement is a fundamental and ongoing part of our work and is manifested in community meetings, workdays, design charettes, and thoughtful reflection,” he continues. (photo - Dallas Economic Development)
He also adds that through the organization’s engagement processes they have also encountered a wide range of issues such as social where there is a lack of internal community empowerment and external recognition and respect; economic where there is a scarcity of truly affordable and healthy, sustainable homes that challenge the standards of current affordable housing practices in design and construction quality as well as built and natural environments.
As for upcoming projects, BC Workshop’s POP Dallas is currently being engaged in many settings, large and small. In particular, the Neighborhood Stories Exhibits will hold five events in 2013, including a 10th Street neighborhood event in early 2013. The sustainable house in Dolphin Heights will complete construction by the end of 2012 and there will be open houses and other related events in early 2013.
Currently with 11 employees and 12 bcFELLOWS funded by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the BC Workshop works in the greater North Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley regions.
Also see great video on a previous project of bcWORKSHOP:
Congo Project In the Fair Park area
For more information visit the BC Workshop at www.bcworkshop.org.
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Rita Cook is an award winning journalist who writes or has written for the Dallas Morning News, Focus Daily News, Waxahachie Daily Light, Dreamscapes Travel Magazine, Porthole, Core Media, Fort Worth Star Telegram and many other publications in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. With five books published, her latest release is “A Brief History of Fort Worth” published by History Press. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org