environmental WORKS Community Design Center: Celebrating 45 Years of Community Design
2015 marks the 45th anniversary of Environmental Works – quite a milestone for an organization that started with the idea that by working with communities, together we can create spaces and places that empower, connect, and create vitality.
We’ve learned many lessons in our 45 years, the most important of which is that community input in project design provides valuable outcomes.
For our 2014-2015 Annual Report, we’re focusing on the process of community design and sharing several recently completed projects.
Community Design, Defined
Community-based design is founded on the idea that community input leads to projects that are reflections of a community’s needs and dreams, which makes for healthy, thriving places and people.
Some of the benefits of Community Design include:
- Community members’ engagement in a project makes them feel valued, they’re more committed to its success; gaining a sense of ownership of a place translates to that place being valued and well cared-for.
- Participants learn about each other’s needs, as well as the project’s challenges and opportunities.
- Including diverse ideas and insights in constructive dialogue leads to rich, successful solutions as well as stronger communities and meaningful places.
Through our 45-year history, we’ve broadened and refined our approach to community design; in 2014 we received great help in this endeavor through the Pomegranate Center’s Fellows Training Program in community engagement. Thank you, Pomegranate Center!
As our methods evolve, we continually find better ways to engage end-users to help guide projects resulting in measurable impact and value, whether it’s new affordable housing, a childcare center, or a food bank.
As a Community Design Center, Environmental Works seeks to create active partnerships and listen to many voices during every project.
We work with our clients to create opportunities for community design workshops early in the design phase, so we can use that community input to guide design decisions as a project develops.
Workshops can vary in length and desired goals; typically, workshops begin with the presentation and review of project opportunities and site analysis to provide an informed starting place for the group. We ask workshop participants a carefully crafted, open-ended question that allows for the greatest creativity – often the less-obvious questions net the most-needed, richest input. Throughout the workshop each participant has many chances to speak; ideas are discussed, documented, and built upon – the best ideas rise to the top and collective agreement is efficiently discovered.
We also see great results from a ‘kit-of-parts’ design exercise at our workshops, in which participants work with a blank slate site or building plan and movable parts, such as residential units, rooms or furnishings. Participants arrange the design elements to express desirable relationships of building blocks, spaces and features.
Participatory design exercises with actual users can bring out design criteria and great ideas that otherwise may not have been revealed.
Recent workshops: Cowlitz Tribal Services Center & Vine Maple Place
Cowlitz Tribe members and other stakeholders gathered for two workshops last fall to voice their ideas for a new Cowlitz Tribal Services facility. Approximately 25 people including Cowlitz Tribe members, Tribal Council members, and members of other tribes, ranging from elders to youth, attended each session to create a vision for a service center which would serve all tribes with health and social services, community gathering spaces, and cultural and educational opportunities.
Vine Maple Place is a nonprofit in Maple Valley addressing the complex issues of family homelessness. We worked with Vine Maple Place staff to create a vision for their new Family Services Center, where they will provide comprehensive services such as financial literacy training, employment and livable wage development, housing assistance, child care and advocacy for single parents and their children. The information gathered at our design workshop has been an important touchstone in the development of the design, and we are excited about the next steps for this project, currently in the permit process, to help build lives of hope, stability, and self-sufficiency.
2014-2015 Completed Projects
Environmental Works completed the following projects in the last year, providing over 1200 people with supportive, uplifting spaces to live, learn, and work:
- Brender Creek: 200-bed seasonal farmworker housing in Chelan County; with Washington Growers League and the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing.
- Caroline W. Apartments: a new apartment building serving 44 formerly homeless individuals living with chronic mental illness; with Community House Mental Health Agency and Bellwether Housing.
- Green Plate Special: a kitchen classroom for a garden-to-table nutrition education program that serves over 450 middle school children per year.
- Crossroads Housing: 15-units of short-term emergency shelter and affordable long-term housing in Mason County serving 50 people; with Crossroads Housing and Bellwether Housing.
- Lifelong AIDS Alliance: interior renovation of office spaces for 44 staff providing social services to people living with HIV & AIDS.
- Neighborhood House Early Childhood Education: renovation of existing child care classrooms and other spaces to expand Neighborhood House’s preschool program for 120 low-income children.
- The Pearl on Oyster Bay: a new 81-unit development serving 100 low-income seniors in Bremerton; with ABHOW and Beacon Development.
- Santos Place: energy efficiency and durability improvements to an existing historic building providing 42 transitional apartments for formerly homeless individuals; with Solid Ground and Ally Community Development.
- Sail River Longhouse: new supportive housing development for the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay with 21 units, serving 60 people; with the Makah Tribal Housing Authority and Ally Community Development.
- Sunny View Village: 26 affordable family apartments serving 100 people on Whidbey Island; with the Housing Authority of Island County and Bellwether Housing.
We greatly appreciate all of our clients and the communities they serve, donors, board members and staff. Together, we help to make people and places matter – and we get to do the work we love. Thank you!
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