The University of Texas at Arlington team’s idea for a design playbook on historic Black settlements won $40,000 through a nationwide 2020 SOM Foundation Research Prize for examining social justice in urban contexts.
The team’s project is centered around questions about the role of environmental justice, historic preservation, and economic development in creating a more equitable future for historic Freedmen’s Towns, which are Black settlements founded by formerly enslaved people after the Civil War.
The UTA team, lead by Diane Jones Allen and co-collaborators Austin Allen and Kathryn Holliday, was one of two teams to win the grant out of 21 nationwide applicants.
The team, which will collaborate with historically black communities to create maps that document Freedmen’s Towns along the Trinity River, will also propose design strategies that can combat long-standing environmental racism and the loss of historic resources, according to a news release.
Jones Allen, UTA program director and professor of landscape architecture, also will engage the school’s College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs students in the project through studio courses.
“We have to care about the future of communities like this,” Jones Allen said in a statement. “It’s important—and vital—to expose students to these kinds of issues and problems. Working with communities is essential to our society. Students get to learn and grow from this experience.”
They plan on creating a team of three faculty members and three graduate students and collaborating with the South Central Civic League to work toward creating a design playbook in the timeline of one year. Founded in 1948, the South Central Civic League is dedicated to improving the Joppee Community and ensuring its residence’s care.
The research scoped 100 miles along the Trinity River that includes the communities of Joppee, The Bottom, Elm Thicket, Bear Creek, Mosier Valley, and Garden of Eden, per UTA.
“These areas have been historically neglected, but the inequities can be reversed through this project,” Allen said in a statement.
The Dallas Regional Chamber dedicated another $20,000 research grant to further elevate southern Dallas County, specifically focused on the historic Joppee neighborhood.
Holliday, Allen, and Assistant Professor Julia Lindgren will lead this project starting with the Melissa Pierce School. Allen’s studio class has already started studying the Joppee community and the watershed of the Honey Springs Branch to create a neighborhood stabilization overlay.
A neighborhood stabilization program provides grants to purchase abandoned or foreclosed homes to rehabilitate or redevelop these homes to stabilize the declining home values of neighboring homes.
“Conversations about architecture and urban development have to include communities like Joppee,” Holliday said in a statement. “Organizations like the SOM Foundation and the Dallas Regional Chamber are helping to make that possible.”
The SOM Foundation, founded in 1979, is motivated by urgent environmental and social challenges to find innovative design and engineering solutions to build a better future.
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