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How Deep Ellum of Them: Teens Partner With Designers to Create Utopia Under a Freeway

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This week, a couple dozen high-schoolers have been honing their design skills, trying to create the perfect plan for a social space adjacent to a community garden planned for a patch of land along Good-Latimer. Various plans for the space, just south of Canton Street, include a serpent that is both a slide and a tunnel for kids, a turtle sculpture that acts as a cistern to collect water for the garden, QR codes that link to community websites, painted pavers and a digital video board.

Kids these days.

The program, called Prototype Design Camp, was organized by Be Playful, an educational design studio, in partnership with bcWORKSHOP, the Deep Ellum Community Association, and Life in Deep Elum. When I visited the project space at Life in Deep Ellum yesterday, David Bill, a Be Playful camp organizer told me, "They're creating a social space... [Prototype is] using the idea of design to institute the mindset that you can create and make a difference." It may sound a tad idealistic, but the kids were clearly into it.

This was no flirt-fest camp where everyone waits for break-time. "Alright, switch!" Bill yelled, as representatives from the Deep Ellum Community Association rotated through each of the four groups as campers presented their prototypes and accepted feedback yesterday morning.

Andy Sturm, an architect with bcWORKSHOP, a nonprofit community-focused design firm responsible for, among other things, the Congo Street extreme makeover, was struck by how well the teens grasped the importance of addressing specific community needs. When students explained an interactive component of their design -- in which community members could paint functional structures in the environment so that they would feel a sense of ownership -- "it was really powerful to me," Sturm said.

"It's kind of getting folks to think outside of themselves and in a creative way," Sturm said. "It's a different learning model."

James Jessup, of the Deep Ellum Community Association, said he imagines the area being used by "small, intimate groups." The highway above makes it too loud for large gatherings, but the space still has potential.

Jessup listened intently as a group delivered a thorough presentation on their vision for the area, presenting graphics on a computer and iPad, surrounded by posters listing their goals and plans. "They're really bright kids," Jessup said. "They're coming up with some great ideas."

Today, the students will present their plans to the Deep Ellum Community Association for further feedback. Their presentations will stream here at 1p.m., if your blackened little heart can withstand the fresh-faced idealism. In the meantime, see a video of the group at work below, and click here to flip through videos from the beginning of the camp.

Prototype Design Camp Dallas, Day 3 from buildingcommunityWORKSHOP on Vimeo.

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