Neighborhood Design Project

Year 1 Recap

In February, along with the Department of Human Service Programs, we launched our first youth-led program in Cambridge.

By Diana Navarrete-Rackauckas, Education Program Specialist

In February, along with the Department of Human Service Programs, we launched our first youth-led program, Neighborhood Design Project, in Cambridge. The program is an afterschool paid internship for 14 to 15-year-olds from Cambridge’s middle and high schools. They were tasked with identifying an issue in their communities and designing a solution—a daunting task for even the most experienced designer. Our teens weren’t alone though. They had the support of the many education and design professionals working on the program.

Months before our teens began their work, the adults working with the program participated in a set of professional training sessions designed to bring the team together while improving everyone’s understanding of the design process and youth development. Over 30 adults from the design field and the Department of Human Service Programs worked towards creating an atmosphere that would best support the teens through their projects. By the end of the professional development sessions, the excitement in the air was palpable. As said by Bo Lembo, a Youth Center Director,

“I’m really excited about the opportunity for our youth center staff and our young people and myself to work with folks from outside the youth centers. This really is a privilege and it brings so much to what we try to do every day to see the outside world coming in. On top of that, the opportunity for young people to present their work in professional venues outside of their insular community really adds validation to what they’re doing.”

With the adults trained, excited, and onboard, all 51 teens in the Neighborhood Design Project met for the first time at CIC Cambridge on February 24 to embark on their first challenge: learning the design process. Their internship started with a Design Intensive—a full week of learning about design by producing a prototype based on briefs created by Design Museum’s staff. Supported by their youth center staff, Design Coaches, and Design Mentors, the teens worked in six teams to creatively problem solve and get to know each other—many having only just met for the first time. By the end of the week, all six teams presented their designs, ranging from community fairs at their local high school to bring awareness to the myriad of STEAM programs in Cambridge to creating a new app to keep alumni of Neighborhood Design Project connected to their newfound design community.

After their week-long introduction to the design world, the teens began working in their teams at their respective youth centers. The Moses Youth Center, The Russell Youth Center, and The Gately Youth Center became the home bases for the teams. During their time together, the teams learned about working together and giving feedback both within and between teams. By the end of their third week, all six teams had chosen the issue for which they would focus on designing a solution. Their topics ranged from the need for mentorship programs for teens to the issue of drug and nicotine abuse among their peers, and the need for free and accessible public transportation for Cambridge teens during the summer months.

Unfortunately, due to the school and city program closures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the teens ended their work there. However, Neighborhood Design Project is a two-year pilot! We will be back next fall with more professional development training and another round of amazingly talented and compassionate teens ready to create change.

The group of the education and design professionals working on Neighborhood Design Project.