BACKGROUND: WHAT'S RAISING PLACES?
In September 2017 Kite’s Nest, in partnership with the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, was selected as one of six communities around the country to participate in an innovative design process called Raising Places. Learn more here about the national Raising Places process and read their final report.
Raising Places is a community planning process designed to engage residents and local leaders in creating healthier environments for kids and families. The project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and involves a close partnership with the Greater Good Studio, a social impact design firm based in Chicago. For nine months beginning in September 2017, Kite’s Nest and Promise Neighborhood convened a team of people to explore the intersection of children and place, and to generate solutions around the question: What would make Hudson a place where all kids and families can thrive?
Why Raising Places? People living in Hudson have so much passion about this small city, and so many different perspectives about where it’s heading. How do we bring people together, with different experiences, in a process that is at once inclusive, deep-rooted, and also productive? How can we work together to address the most complex issues we see in our city, without falling into the same looping arguments and social/political divisions? How can we come up with ideas and solutions that are rooted in imagination and a sense of possibility, as opposed to the doubt and distrust that so many people feel? When Kite’s Nest and Promise Neighborhood learned that we had been selected to participate in Raising Places, these were some of the questions we were most excited to explore.
We were especially excited that Raising Places focused on the intersection of urban development (how our city is changing) and youth development (what it takes to raise healthy children and teens). Kite’s Nest and GHPN are organizations working primarily with youth and families; but we know that in order to truly support the children growing up in our city, we have to help shape the conditions necessary for youth to thrive. In recent years Hudson has undergone significant development, and has garnered attention as a tourist destination. But we're concerned that the young people growing up here are often left out of the picture. Raising Places was an opportunity for us to bring together a diverse group of people, to strategize about how the city can develop with and for the kids and families of our community. Raising Places enabled us to look at our city through the eyes of its kids, and to invite all of our neighbors to do the same.
Our Team: Design Team and Youth Advisory Board
Kite’s Nest and GHPN began this process by building a core Design Team: a group of local residents who bring a range of perspectives and experience in these two areas: 1) building better communities (urban planning, economic development, community organizing, architecture) and 2) building better childhoods (early childhood development, youth development, school systems, out-of-school time learning).
We know that the barriers facing youth and families in our community are inextricably linked – that we cannot effectively build the long-term health and well-being of children without addressing the interlocking challenges of racial inequity in our public systems, gentrification, unemployment, etc. We also know that in order to build truly transformative and long-term change, youth and families must be the leaders and designers of the solutions that are meant to benefit them. The concepts we designed together are part of a larger continuum of solutions to address the range of challenges facing youth and families in Hudson, meant to inspire a larger vision for a truly youth-centered city. Across all of our work we have tried to center youth leadership, community power, and collaboration.
A Comprehensive Plan for a Youth-Centered City
This concept supports the development of a Comprehensive Plan for a Youth-Centered City, including recommendations and action steps in the areas of urban planning, public safety, employment, housing, parks, transportation, etc. The Comprehensive Plan will include findings from the Raising Places process, as well as recommendations and action steps from all youth organizations and youth-related agencies serving children and teenagers in the City of Hudson.
Youth Training Team
This concept supports teenagers in creating and leading trainings for law enforcement, child welfare and social workers, business owners, and others whose work directly impacts the lives of local youth. This concept emerged as we noticed patterns and connections across challenge areas and across projects. Young people do not have influence in the programs, policies, and systems designed to serve them. Youth are rarely engaged directly as experts in their own experiences. There is a need for people across sectors to hear directly from the young people they are working to serve. This concept is designed to support youth in sharing their experiences and perspectives through trainings with local adults and systems stakeholders.
Youth Work Hub (Physical)
This concept is a physical job search hub that provides space, support and connections to youth seeking jobs, internships, and projects as well as co-working space for youth entrepreneurs. It enables kids and families to explore their interests and connect with relevant job opportunities.
Youth Work Hub (Digital)
This concept is a digital job search hub that connects youth with part-time and immediate job opportunities that fit their skills and talents. It enables kids and families to more easily access existing employment opportunities, to gain work experience, and to earn income.
Youth Friendly Transit System
This concept is a more frequent and expanded bus service that is aligned with youth, school and work schedules. It enables kids and families to maintain reliable connections to employment and higher education opportunities.
Hudson Youth Start Up Competition
This concept is an entrepreneurship and mentorship program that provides business mentoring, startup resources, and ongoing support for youth to start and manage their own businesses and collectives. It enables kids and families to pursue entrepreneurship as a viable career pathway and gain valuable skills.
Youth Liaison Initiative
This concept is a Youth Liaison Directory and initiative designed to allow police and other systems, including schools, to connect with trained mediators during encounters with youth. It enables youth and families to get appropriate support from a trusted adult and connect to resources in order to avoid potential arrest or suspension.
Trainings for Police & Systems Stakeholders
This concept is a community- and youth-driven training program that trains police and other systems stakeholders in community-centered, culturally appropriate, and locally relevant topics. It enables kids and families to be understood and treated with dignity.
Police Community Accountability Team
This concept utilizes monthly Police Committee Meetings as a space for learning, communication, and accountability – working towards a series of problem-solving meetings that bring together police, community leaders and youth for conversation around resolving specific issues. It enables youth and families to be heard, build relationships and participate in solving problems, rather than being treated as “the problem”.
Zoning & Housing Policies for Everyone: Community Workshop Series
This concept is a model for engaging community that equips more people to participate in conversations about development and housing in Hudson. It enables kids and families to have a better understanding and a voice when zoning, land use and policy decisions are made. The project will include a series of participatory Community Workshops, titled Zoning for Everyone and What is affordable housing?
Increased Support Services for Tenants & Homeowners
This concept is to increase support and protection services for tenants and landlords that include access to legal counsel, mediation, fair code enforcement, etc. It enables kids and families to have access to services that provide safe, healthy, and affordable housing conditions.
Community Land Trust
This concept is a community land trust model that will hold land in perpetuity for affordable housing, commercial use and/or other community services. It enables kids and families to have a preserved option for affordability in Hudson.
Youth-Powered, People-Friendly Public Spaces
This concept supports youth-powered, community-relevant, and people-friendly public spaces and parks in Hudson. It enables kids and families to shape the design of their surroundings, and to have safe and healthy places to play and hang out.
Learn more about each project on our Vision Document, here.
September 2017: Kickoff!
Our team began by identifying some of the assets that exist for youth and families in our community, in addition to some of the biggest challenges we see. Through a collective process we had to come to consensus around three key challenges that we felt were at once pressing and actionable. We camp up with:
- Unemployment and lack of career training
- Racism and lack of representation in our institutions
- Lack of affordable spaces
During our first intensive weekend together in September, our team spent time exploring each of these areas, led by four facilitators who had joined us from Chicago. We began by discussing our assumptions about the root causes of these community challenges. Where do they come from? In small groups we discussed historic poverty, the legacies discriminatory policies and institutions, cultural barriers, and other deep social, economic, and political structures and attitudes that create the challenges we face today.
Our facilitators then trained us to think about writing positive goals: specific statements that speak about an aspirational future state: “I want (people) to (new behavior).” Our team came up with over 100 initial goals, but then -- through discussion, voting, and more discussion -- narrowed it down to three:
- I want city leaders to prioritize job training for youth
- I want our police department to speak and interact positively with the community
I want city government to prioritize affordable and accessible spaces
In small groups, we then created research plans to learn more about each of these goals. Who do we need to hear from to understand the complexity of this issue?
September - October: Research
Over the next six weeks, Design Team members conducted interviews and research activities with teens and parents; employers and people who run job training programs; police officers and school resource officers, police administration and individuals from the school board; property owners, renters, and people displaced from their homes; and people working in local government and economic development. The purpose of this research was to better understand the needs, assets, aspirations and lived experiences of these community members, so that we could see these issues through a range of perspectives and lenses.
Our team came together for a second intensive weekend in early November. On our first day together, we gathered and synthesized what we had learned from our dozens of interviews. How do we make sense of a wide range of data? We moved data points around on the wall, looking for patterns, connections and themes between and across interviews -- and then we generated a series of core insights that we could pull from what we had heard. Working from these insights, we then worked together to formulate questions (or “opportunity statements”), starting with the phrase “How might we…”
Insights about youth employment:
In synthesizing their research, this team discovered that finding the right job isn’t an individual task - it takes an informed and connected team. They also learned that current systems for communicating job opportunities are outdated and hard for youth to access. Finally, they saw that even though there are several existing job training programs, they can be out of reach for youth in Hudson due to both knowledge and transportation barriers. From these insights they wrote the following opportunity statements:
- How might we support each Hudson youth to create and expand their team and network?
- How might we make posting and looking for a job in Hudson as easy as posting and finding an Airbnb in Hudson?
How might we bring accessible job training to every youth in Hudson, wherever they are?
Insights about police-community interaction:
The design team’s research showed that police can often choose who they interact with, but how they interact is limited as members of law enforcement. They also found that police often don’t understand the level of impact they have on the community. From these insights they wrote the following opportunity statements:
- How might we support police in shifting their scope of responsibility from symptoms to root causes?
How might we leverage the power of community to incentivize change within the police force?
Insights about affordability
Through their research, this small group learned that there’s a common perspective in city bureaucracy (and beyond) that economic development should focus on tourism, attracting development, and expanding the tax base, and that that will be good for everyone. They also saw that renters in Hudson (both commercial and residential) are experiencing uncertainty, precarity and displacement at an accelerating pace, which also creates emotional and psychological challenges for people, including families and kids. From these insights they wrote the following opportunity statements:
- How might economic development in the city of Hudson include children and families?
How might we better protect people from being displaced from their homes and businesses?
November: Public "Ideas Lab" Event
On Sunday, November 5, we we invited hundreds of community members to join us in sharing stories and brainstorming ideas in response to these opportunity statements. Our Raising Places Youth Advisory Board also joined us, helping to run the event and supporting people in their brainstorming and sketching. Over a hundred people showed up to the event, generating over 250 ideas. We’ve compiled all of these ideas into a single PDF document, so that everyone can see them, here -- we were so inspired by the creativity of everyone, of all ages, who came to help us brainstorm. The ideas ranged from new programs, campaigns and digital services, to new policies and plans for the town, to new businesses and systems of support.
November-January: Exploring and testing ideas
Our team spent time reading the many, many ideas that had been generated at our public event. While we wish we could move forward with every one of them, our next challenge was to narrow in (a bit), choosing ideas that were both (potentially) realizable and also relevant to our group’s experience, interests, and expertise. We mapped these ideas on the wall too, arranging them by theme and choosing several to take into the next phase.
Then, from November - January, we returned to our small groups to create visual mock-ups of each idea, in order to gather feedback from community members. This is called prototyping - testing ideas before we try to make them happen. Again we had dozens of meetings and conversations with youth, parents, school administrators, social workers, housing advocates, city officials, etc., asking questions like: “What do you think about this idea? What do you like, and what don’t you like? How would you imagine yourself using this? Are other people or organizations already working on a similar project? Who else should we talk to?” With each conversation our ideas changed and evolved.
We came together for our final intensive weekend in early February. We began by sharing what we had heard and learned from our feedback sessions. Each small group spent hours synthesizing all the new information, in order to choose which ideas they wanted to move forward with, and then working to clarify and revise each concept. We than had the task of creating a large poster for each concept we wanted to move forward, to illustrate the name of each idea, what features if might include, a roadmap of what might come next, and some key questions, both big and small, that we still have. February: Public "Action Lab"
On Sunday, February 4th, we held our second public event at the Hudson Area Library. The goal of the event was to continue gathering feedback and input on the ideas we were moving forward, and to begin developing partnerships and alliances with others interested in helping to turn ideas into action. This time, we had worked hard to reach out to certain decision-makers -- like the superintendent of schools, the head of Probation, and leadership staff from the Dept. of Social Services -- in addition to community members, youth, and parents. Our Youth Advisory Board also joined us, helping to run the event. Again over a hundred people showed up to share their input and feedback. The event began with a presentation by Joanie Hunt (Promise Neighborhood) and Sara Kendall (Kite’s Nest), and then turned into an ideas Open House: an opportunity for everyone to engage with each idea-poster, to ask questions of Design Team members, to answer some of the questions we had outlined for each station, to share their feedback and reactions, and to sign up for the projects they would be most interested in helping bring to life.
February - May: Piloting & Implementation Planning
After our public Action Lab our team spent time reflecting on the conversations we had had about each idea, and reading through peoples’ feedback and responses. Again, we took some time to decide which ideas we wanted to move forward: if a project didn’t seem to have much community support or interest, we decided to leave it behind. Once we had made our selections, we worked on outlining next steps for each idea: a plan to “pilot,” in a small-scale and do-able way, each project. From February through May, we piloted a number of our projects, and beginning to develop implementation plans for each one.
- Police Committee Presentation. In May, Albany Police Chief Robert Sears was a guest speaker at the monthly Police Committee Meeting of the Common Council, presenting to police committee members, Hudson Police Dept. officers, and community members about the Handle with Care program, designed to help school-aged children affected by trauma.
- Getting Around: A Youth-Led Transportation Workshop. In June 2018 our Youth Advisory Board hosted a workshop at the Hudson Area Library to improve our public transportation, in collaboration with the Columbia County Department of Social Services. Community members marked the locations and times they need bus services, and brainstormed for better signage and information distribution.
- Youth Start Up Competition. In March we launched a 4-week pilot program of this program. We recruited 5 youth with business ideas, ages 12-16. We also recruited community members with expertise in relevant areas, who wanted to serve as coaches and mentors. The goal was for each participant to write a business plan, test out a prototype, and create a pitch, with the chance to win start-up funds and additional coaching. Ongoing questions: What are strategies for consistent and reliable communication with teenagers, who use a range of social media platforms and often don’t have phone numbers or email addresses? What are models for teaching business development and project design to youth who struggle in traditional academic settings, and have insecurities around math and literacy?
Zoning for Everyone. We organized a pilot zoning workshop, led by facilitators from the NYC-based Center for Urban Pedagogy. This hands-on community workshop was designed to engage Hudson residents -- including public housing residents, members of the Common Council, members of the Zoning Board and Planning Board, etc. -- in understanding the basic language and concepts of zoning, land use, and housing. This was a model for the kind of workshop we'd like to develop by and for Hudson residents, to engage more people in conversations about zoning and housing policies.
April: National Convening
In April six members of our Design Team and Youth Advisory Board - Sara, Kamal, Zebi, Brandon, Jabin, Kaya, and Jasmin -- traveled to Chicago. We were honored to be among 30 representatives from 6 communities across the country brought together share our ideas and insights from our 9-month community design process with over 100 thought leaders, policy makers, foundations and planners working to build environments in which all young people can thrive. We shared about our learnings and community context on a panel, heard from inspiring keynote speakers, and participated in small group break-outs to consider the possibilities and challenges of building Youth-Centered communities around the country.
It was powerful to be part of a national community of people working to build collective power in our communities, and developing place-based strategies for accountable systems, equitable development, racial justice and genuine youth leadership.