About 2 percent of architects in the U.S. are African-American. That’s a statistic Michael Ford wants to change by inspiring young people to think of new ways to solve urban development problems that segregate and marginalize low-income communities.
Ford wants to achieve this goal using hip-hop music and culture. He created The Hip-Hop Architecture Camp in 2017.
“We create a community that incorporates some of hip-hop’s elements, whether it’s graffiti, break dancing, rapping, dj-ing, those things are weaved in as well,” Ford said. “Once the community is designed, we also have kids create a song that describe their visions for a better community.”
The camp is coming to St. Louis for the first time after its inaugural run in Detroit and other cities. The camp will also travel to Chicago and Kansas City as well as internationally to Maralal, Kenya and Toronto, Canada.
“What we’ve been conscious of is trying to pick locations that have had a significant contribution to hip-hop culture,” Ford said, “but also locations that we know have been impacted by what I call bad decisions by urban planners and architects.”
Ford believes the decisions of those who design buildings and cities “necessitated the birth of hip-hop,” an art form that showcased people’s living conditions in places cut off from opportunity. He said a new generation could help re-imagine how people live.
“These young people are going to solve, or figure out, potential solutions to some of the problems that have been created by our profession,” he said.
The camp comes at a time when officials and non-profit groups in the St. Louis region have committed to racial and economic equity through collecting data, training and better design. Forward Through Ferguson debuted its 2039 plan last month.
St. Louis Louis County Library director Kristen Sorth she heard about the camp at a conference and thought it could inspire children and help them imagine how to better use land near the North Hanley Transit Center near the Natural Bridge Branch.
“There’s been so many people that’ve tried to come up with ideas to talk about mixed-use and transit oriented development and no one has come up with an idea that really works for the community,” Sorth said. “So we felt this was a perfect opportunity.”
The camp is open to 40 kids ages 11 to 14. Applications are available on The Hip-Hop Architecture Camp website through May 21.
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.