Community Design Apprenticeship Program: Mobility For All By All

In the spring of 2018, Creative Reaction Lab launched its first cohort of the Community Design Apprenticeship Program. We recruited five African American young men from North County and East St. Louis and trained them in Creative Reaction Lab’s process of Equity-Centered Community Design to explore the following essential question with residents of the Kingshighway neighborhood of St. Louis: “What would public transit do to improve your life?”

Apprentices began by developing teamwork and collaboration, and learning about Equity-Centered Community Design, diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity. They immediately practiced collaborative, creative problem solving and fostered dialogue around designing with, not for, others. Participants discussed the importance of co-creating with people most directly impacted by designs. They also examined how diverse perspectives — and factors including power, privilege, and race — shape historical narratives.

After this introduction, the Apprentices critically examined how race, racism, and racial inequity impact themselves, their communities, and the issue of public transit access. The Apprentices engaged in deep discussions of how dominant historical narratives, pressures from stereotypes perpetuated by media, and lack of equitable decision-making practices are among the complex factors that shape inequitable access to mobility and safe, reliable transit access, especially within historically-underinvested communities of color.

Apprentices then dove into research, selecting the Kingshighway neighborhood as their focus. The Apprentices conducted interviews at Wohl’s Community Center and Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club, both of which are key resources in the communities surrounding Kingshighway Blvd. Through the interviews, Apprentices learned that many people prefer not to take public transit and that safety and security are some of the primary concerns residents have when taking public transit. They also learned that most residents were not aware of the potential development of the MetroLink light rail system and its implications for the Kingshighway community. This highlighted a rift in the existing design process — while business and civic stakeholders involved in the MetroLink expansion believed they were providing residents with channels to share feedback, the residents’ lack of awareness about the project raised questions about the effectiveness of these channels.

Apprentices used their research findings to ideate approaches to engage community residents in a spatial, creative manner, and collectively decided to host a community event focused on artful engagement around transit access in Kingshighway.

Apprentices practiced visual thinking methods to develop a broad plan for the community engagement experience. Their plan included an interactive art installation of the word “COMMUNITY,” an “Idea Wall” in which event attendees could write and share their ideas on how transit impacts their lives, and an “Information Wall” that would provide attendees with context and data about the proposed North-South MetroLink expansion.


The Community-Centered Pop-Up Experience: Community + Transit

On Saturday, March 24, the Apprentices hosted “Community + Transit: A Participatory Art + Design Experience” at Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club. The event was hosted as a “pop-up,” where the Apprentices set up displays and installations in the lobby of the community center and engaged residents passing through the venue. Apprentices engaged over 30 community residents in dialogue about the potential MetroLink expansion and gathered resident input on how a light rail station in Kingshighway might impact their lives.

Apprentices were able to respectfully engage community residents who initially hadn’t wanted to share their perspectives on transit. Through transparency, humility, and clarity on the purpose of their project, Apprentices created a successful dialogue with residents.

Many event participants reported that public transportation is essential for day to day activities. A new MetroLink station in Kingshighway would not just impact Kingshighway residents — the station would also be important to residents of St. Louis County and even Illinois.

“Public transportation means getting to school, work, doctor’s office, aunt’s house, gym, shopping, home, all points. It’s a big deal to have transportation accessible to all residents of Metropolitan St. Louis and Illinois.” — Event participant

Safety and security on public transit continues to be a major concern of residents, and approaches to safety are divisive. While some residents expressed a desire for increase police presence to moderate safety, others expressed that police would exacerbate a lack of safety and security.

“More police presence on the trains. My past experience was not good. Some of the patrons were aggressive and violent.”

Some of the key factors that residents deemed important for the city to consider include:

  • Residents’ sense of safety and security when riding transit — and, in particular, navigating conflicts in how residents define safety (e.g. some say more police, others say no police).
  • Accessibility of public transit for all ages of riders.
  • The impact of MetroLink expansion on economic development and housing affordability in the community — some residents are concerned that the expansion would drive up property values and push current residents out.

The Community Design Apprenticeship Program played a key role in raising more awareness within the Kingshighway community on the potential MetroLink expansion; Apprentices observed that, despite agency efforts to host town halls and community meetings around the topic, most people they met were not aware of the potential expansion, and had never been asked for input on how transit could impact their quality of life. The Apprentices’ output, the community event, and the input from residents that emerged through the event illuminates some of the on-the-ground perspectives, emotions, and concerns around the expansion.


A Thank You to our Community Partner, Supporters, and the Kingshighway Community

The Spring 2018 cohort of the Community Design Apprenticeship Program took place in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis’s Mobility For All By All Initiative. Special thanks to all of our guest speakers, to Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club for hosting “Community + Transit,” and to all who supported our program throughout the process.