One of my favorite and proudest projects as a teacher: I launched a programme of “guerrilla urbanism” asking each student to interfere directly in public space with the aim of creating maximum positive impact through minimal intervention.
To better their environments, students needed to engage with formal and informal authorities and financiers, the community and the builders. The results were mind-blowing, in particular the way the small projects catalysed sustained attention from the community and local authorities.
One student installed a mashup map of potential tourist attractions at the entrance of his obscure little town. Another solved her local churchgoers’ parking rage problems by redesigning and drawing the lines on the tarmac of the churchyard.
Yet another student hired a plumber to fix and activate the public garden’s water fountain and pool which had been dry for years due to neglect and lack of public action.
But the most spectacular example came from the playful impact on the community one project had.
A student transformed an unsafe concrete stairwell used by children at a refugee camp as a climbing wall, into a proper slide. The impact went beyond all expectations.
When he started the project, he asked the adults of the neighborhood to help out, at least by removing the trash from around the slide. They pushed back: “Go away!”, “We don’t need this!”, “We need serious solutions!”, “Give us money!”, “Give us weapons!”…
But my student persevered. He paid for the materials from his own pocket. He enlisted the children to help. Once finished, the new slide created a sense of pride and identity for the neighborhood’s kids, with children from other neighborhoods continuously coming to see what the buzz was all about, asking for the same.
A few weeks later, the adults of the community finally overcame their initial suspicion of the project. Empowered by the children’s enthusiasm and the sense of place created by the student intervention, they also figured they could make some money out of this.
They put together a whole ad-hoc children’s playground complete with upcycled DIY merry-go-round and giant self-built attractions around the slide!
Later, the project received media interest, and they used that as a platform for asking for more “help” 😄