A group of architecture students and recent graduates are working to ensure residents’ voices resonate amid countywide debate regarding the redevelopment of Miami-Dade’s oldest and largest public housing complex, Liberty Square.
Over a series of six town hall-style community engagement sessions mediated by a team of four FIU architecture master’s students and recent graduates, residents voiced their needs, wants and concerns regarding redevelopment to developers.
After the developer introduced the original design, the company worked with the FIU team and residents to alter the design to best fit the community’s needs. The result will be a new neighborhood with both public and affordable housing, and a section of townhouses for homeownership; the buildings will feature elderly and handicap units, as well.
The building plans meet new green certification standards and current hurricane regulations, with impact-rated glass so residents no longer need to use shutters, making residents’ new homes better protected and energy efficient.
Moddies Jones, a 45-year resident of Liberty Square and construction worker who has applied to work on the team that will rebuild his neighborhood, said he hopes the redevelopment will change the community for the better.
“We needed change. If it doesn’t change, we’re going to keep having the same problems,” Jones said. He likes the opportunity to take part in the sessions because he feels like he is involved in the process. “We’re putting in effort to make it happen.”
The new design emphasizes green space for public gatherings and outdoor art, including a park with a baseball diamond. Proposed community, senior and educational centers will provide spaces for learning and entertainment. And commercial space will introduce small businesses to the community, which should strengthen the local economy.
Sara Smith, a 23-year resident of Liberty Square and president of its residents’ council, said she is excited at the prospect of revitalizing the community.
“Thank you for your support. We really, really needed it. I’m just eager to see something happening in the community,” Smith said. “I’m excited. I’m ready to see something happen over here, to see people with jobs. I want to see doors open up for all types of opportunity over here.”
Working with clients directly to assess their needs for a space is key to an architect’s design process.
“We think it’s important for students in the design disciplines to understand the many elements that come together to create a successful project. Key among them is a real understanding of the needs and aspirations of the end users–the community who will ultimately live and work in the spaces that architects design,” said Marilys Nepomechie, associate dean for strategic initiatives in the College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts. Nepomechie leads the Liberty Square community engagement project alongside FIU By Design director Mark Marine.
FIU team member Ruth Brooks MArch ‘15, MAA ‘16 said over time, as the residents became more comfortable opening up about their needs, the project helped her realize other people may have living needs she’s never experienced herself.
“I feel like they opened up more about their actual needs, because people were actually listening to them,” Brooks said. “They’re the ones living in this community. You need to talk to them to see what they actually need. We can think we know, as people from the outside, they need this or that, but a lot of times when you talk to people it’s completely different. They just want their basic needs met.”
Master’s student Frida Ulloa said the process has helped her think about her field of study from a broader perspective.
“I think that it’s important for us as the students to realize that architecture is much more than just form, and that we are building for and creating for the community,” Ulloa said.
Notes and images from the community engagement sessions and redevelopment plans can be found at NewLibertySquare.com. To view more work in Liberty Square produced by CARTA students and faculty, visit LibertySquareRising.com.