Youth Design Leadership for Community Safety

On May 5th, 2021, Chicago Mobile Makers, Studio Gang and the Goldin Institute joined forces with the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative to launch the Youth Design Leadership for Community Safety project (YDL), a hands-on design program aimed at empowering youth in West Garfield Park and giving them the tools to imagine and design their future environment.


Authentic and meaningful community engagement is a prerequisite for design interventions to be credible and effective in reducing violence and promoting safety. YDL’s strategy not only engages a wide spectrum of community voices, but also transfers the knowledge and skills of design thinking throughout the process, and gives local youth the opportunity to learn-by-doing alongside professionals in the field.

Youth Design Leadership for Community Safety (YDL) launched as a free 6 month program for local students between the ages of 13 and 18. More than 30 young people applied for the program and 14 were admitted. Each participant was equipped with the necessary design tools and earned a total of $1200 to attend the program.


Over the course of the first 12 sessions, these young participants were introduced to the fundamentals of design and explored community safety through hands-on educational workshops, participation in community conversations as investigators, and immersive practical experience. The work of the group connected to larger initiatives happening in Garfield Park and focused on creating safe space, promoting community wellbeing, and increasing access to opportunity. This experiential program helped YDL participants build a foundation in architecture and urban planning, and establish the tools to communicate, advocate, and make an impact through design.


The challenges and opportunities identified by the youth design leaders in this innovative program will inform how design and improvements in community spaces can uplift and support the good work that is already happening in Garfield Park and offer concrete design ideas for the City to coordinate investment at a block-by-block scale.


The culminating design by the YDL participants represents one of these “concrete proposals.” The participants conceptualized and designed a 3D public sculpture that will be fabricated and installed at 4008 W Madison—the new roller rink in West Garfield Park. The sculpture reads “RECLAIM” to symbolize the power of activating a formerly vacant lot for a new, positive community use.


The 2021 YDL program coincided and closely aligned with Chicago’s fourth Architecture Biennial, The Available City, which explored the impacts and possibilities of vacant public spaces on cities today. The Biennial asked designers to use vacant lots as a way to “experiment in new possibilities of how to explore and activate space.”

Like the participants in the Biennial, the participants in YDL analyzed and interrogated the history and reality of underutilized lots in the city and developed their own proposals for how to reintegrate and capitalize on these open spaces. The resultant RECLAIM sculpture will ultimately be sited in one of these vacant lots, bringing it into dialogue with the other works being developed across the city.


On September 18, 2021, the YDL youth, Chicago Mobile Makers, Studio Gang, and the Goldin Institute presented their work at the Arts Club of Chicago as an invited partner program to the Chicago Architectural Biennial. Five Youth Design Leaders presented the 3D sculpture and the process they used to bring their new design skills in service to the community. They shared their reflections on the program and their enthusiasm for seeing their ideas come to life with the installation of the sculpture at the 4008 West Madison Community Plaza.


The spirited event culminated with a participatory design activity where the audience was invited to envision positive transformations of vacant lots across the city.

Given the energy and dedication of the YDL participants, the program has been extended another six months!

Ten students will participate in Phase 2 of the pilot program where they will have the opportunity to be involved in the actual fabrication of the 3D art piece. The team will meet once a month over the course of six months and will visit architecture offices and fabrication shops, track the progress of the 3D art piece build, and learn more about different types of design and design approaches to the city and environment.

Stay tuned for more updates on their progress!

Download the Youth Design Leaders Report to Learn More


The Goldin Institute, Studio Gang, Chicago Mobile Makers and Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative thank the Polk Bros. Foundation for their support in making this unique collaboration possible.

Related Articles
  • img
    We are seeking a dynamic leader to support the growing network of 74 Peace Fellow Alumni who launched the Mutual Aid Collaborative as a platform for ongoing cooperation.
  • img
    GATHER - August 19, 2022
    2019 Chicago Peace Fellow, Pastor Robert Biekman, is piloting a Community of Practice utilizing the GATHER Platform to foster peer-to-peer learning amongst newly ordained pastors with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
  • img
    Chicago Peace Fellows - September 20, 2021
    While the United Nations designated September 21st as the International Day of Peace in 1981, three years earlier, on September 7, 1978, Chicago heralded the inaugural Peace Day in an effort to promote a civic commitment to worldwide and city-wide peace.
  • img
    Goldin Global Fellows - June 21, 2021
    At the Goldin Institute, we are proud of our partnership with Arigatou International, including our work to prevent violent extremism in East Africa and the reintegration of former child soldiers.