Students in the School of Architecture are reaching outside of the classroom and into the community to restore the history and sense of community in the West Grove area.
The work of the University of Miami Initiative for Urban and Social Ecology [INUSE] aims to promote the social, economic and physical revival of the West Grove neighborhood by designing and building affordable housing and schools for its underprivileged residents.
Justin Ford, a graduate student, is just one of the individuals involved in the INUSE project.
“I heard about the project because there are courses offered to upper level students,” he said. “The students get to pick between several projects.”
Samina Quraeshi, UM’s Henry R. Luce professor in Family & Community, guides the project with the participation of other University departments.
“I was originally brought in as the Luce professor of interdisciplinary studies. I attended a lot of classes and met with deans and students,” Quraeshi said.
“There is so much [improvement needed] in Miami, and the West Grove area was just poised for change,” Quaraeshi said. “We hope [this project] will eventually snowball to others outside the community as well.”
The project has drawn both undergraduate and graduate level students from the School of Architecture as well as from other schools within in the University.
“We have architecture students designing the plans, but we also have law students coming up with the building codes and communications students taking pictures of the progress,” Quraeshi said.
Students from the departments of history, fine arts and education have also been employed to take part in this community progress.
The INUSE course is listed as ARC 607; currently there are 14 students enrolled in the class.
“We started out documenting housing types all over South Florida and the West Grove area; we just started the actual design process a week ago,” Ford said. “I’m taking a lot out of this studio class – as an architect, I have to think of the development from beginning to end.”
Two final designs will be chosen with seven people working on each design.
Eventually, a carpenter will use the two designs to build the houses on lots on Frow and Oak Avenues.
“It’s a good idea for architecture students to go out in the community to do actual work,” freshman Gina Marie said. “The experience that you get is more than what you could learn in the books and design studio – it’s hands on.”
The West Coconut Grove area is 1.5 miles from the UM Coral Gables campus and is a community comprised of an estimated 6,000 residents.
Historically called the “Black Grove,” this is one of Miami’s most historic communities, boasting its sixth generation of descendants from the first Bahamian settlers.
According to INUSE, members chose this community as their focus not only for its historical background and proximity to the UM campus but also because of the people that live within the community. They hope to restore the synonymity of families and community involvement, they said.
“In a way I feel like I am giving back to the neighborhood,” Ford said. “We’re only helping two families, but it could eventually be more people [owning their own homes].”
“Also, by owning their [own] home, it will motivate people to upkeep the neighborhood,” Ford said.
Funding for this project has come from the School of Architecture as well as from the City of Miami, The James & John L. Knight Foundation and HUD (Housing and Urban Development Agency).
“This is an ongoing project because a community transformation takes time,” Quraeshi said. “It has been going on now for three years and will run through 2004.”
“I never knew that this project was going on,” Dia Flores said. “It’s impressive that students are taking the time and effort for such a humanitarian project.”
Development of this project has been captured through photographs and written documentation and is now on display in the Lowe Art Museum.
The collection is entitled “The Living Traditions of Coconut Grove.” The exhibition will continue through Nov. 3.
Professor Quareshi will be holding a lecture on Oct. 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
For more information about INUSE call (305) 284-3438.