Jasmine Humphries grew up asking questions like: “Why did they tear down the basketball courts?” and “Why won’t they put in a stop sign at that dangerous intersection?” “They” were a mysterious, powerful group that had no discernible face in the community. Jasmine started Who ‘They’ Is to bridge the gap between “Us” and “Them” in her community. Who ‘They’ Is is a civic enrichment program enabling young students to participate in a community design project in the neighborhood of Avondale. Students learn how to plan and manage a project, identify stakeholders and get community buy-in, working to uncover who “they” is along the way. We caught up with Jasmine to hear more about her project and the process so far.
What inspired you to start Who ‘They’ Is?
This project was inspired by work I did in the West End last summer. I was working with LISC on an overall vision for the future of the West End. I thought we needed to engage some young people so I brought in a board and asked “what’s missing in the West End?” When I looked over my notes later there was a ton of “They need to build better houses,” “They tore down the basketball courts,” “They did this,” “They did that.” I came out of that experience thinking that if these kids are going to be leaders, we need to address this “they” thing first.
Around the same time my friends and I started asking similar questions like “This parking is affordable, who makes it affordable?,” “Who opens this gate everyday?,” “Why is this sign turned around?,” “Why does this stop sign look like that?,” This led to asking questions about urban design and who is making decisions. It’s easy to be out of touch with that curiosity. Who ‘They’ Is is a project that seeks to humanize and demystify “they” in order to empower citizens to become change agents.
What is your project’s specific approach?
The main piece is a six week career exploration and community design program called Space to Playce. We’re transforming an under-utilized space into a place to play. In six weeks we will identify a place and go through the planning process of what it takes to get a park built. The basic steps are: identify the site, go figure out who the power players are, communicate with them, then go through the design process.
It’s not just about designing the park, it’s more so career exploration. That’s the primary objective; to expose kids to different “built environment” careers earlier than they normally would be.
You had your first Space to Playce class last Saturday. What does a class look like? How many kids are involved?
There are twenty kids from all over the Greater Cincinnati area. As far as the classes, they’re all going to be different. We’ll have a Lunch-and-Learn for the first hour, where different professionals come in to talk about what they do and how they help their communities. After the Lunch-and-Learn we go into our theme for the day. Last week’s theme was space, where we talked about our favorite parks, and our favorite places and spaces. Last week we had Matt Shad, who works in zoning for the City of Cincinnati. He brought in some site plans and talked about different things to consider with permitting.
This Saturday is going to be really cool because we’re doing a site visit, so the students will tour the space,which we’ve decided will be in Lincoln Park in Avondale. The theme is power in community so we’ll talk more about community engagement, engaging power players and stakeholders in the process to inform our planning and design work.
Who is coming in for the Lunch-and-Learns? Is it mainly City employees and people from development companies?
Not exactly. There’s an equipment company I met with last year called Sehlhorst. Sehlhorst does excavating and different things outside the parameters of normal construction. One of the founders is coming in for a Lunch-and-Learn. They have a high school education, so they show that you don’t have to be college educated to go into the built environment arena. They are very successful, great people. So it’s not just City people or big developer types, it’s the Sehlhorst guys and landscapers and everyone else. You go along this whole journey of “Who is they?” and you realize, “We are they, they is us, we can be they, they is that person you pass at the grocery store and you’re just like oh, it’s Anne? Her? I can talk to her and hold her accountable for the things I want to see get done.”
Have you seen any breakthrough moments with the students so far?
I showed them photos of the site last week and this one boy was like, “Treehouses, I see treehouses.” I think that’s really cool so maybe we can throw some treehouses into our dream design. We’re going to have this really big dream design, throw all this stuff in there, like skateparks and all this other stuff, and then we’re going to price it out. Folks don’t know how much grass costs! Grass is expensive! We did this with my class last year, and our park cost more than a million dollars. But I put that picture up and he said, “I see three treehouses” and I don’t know if someone my age would think that way, but it’s refreshing and inspiring to see what kind of ideas come out of their heads. Younger people are really fresh and don’t have as many restraints, and they aren’t jaded! I’m really interested to see what comes from them. There was a 7th grade girl who was basically giving equity checks, this girl is 12 years old and she’s saying “What about the people who live near the space, what will they think?” and she’s making these connections! It’s crazy to see.