Dr. Jesus J. Lara Wins Emerging Community Engagement Award for Linden Village Project

KSA Assistant Professor Dr. Jesus J. Lara has received The Ohio State University 2013 Emerging Community Engagement Award. Community Engagement Awards were established by the Office of Outreach and Engagement to recognize individuals and groups at The Ohio State University who have rendered exceptional outreach and/or engagement to Ohio communities. Awards are given to projects that are deemed to be truly distinguished. Recipients of these awards have provided a spectrum of community outreach to expand scholarship across the teaching, research and service mission that strengthens Ohio State’s commitment to the communities we serve. 

Dr. Lara was recognized for his Sustainable Futures for Linden Village project, a partnership between OSU Faculty in the Colleges of Engineering, Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Greater Linden Development Corporation (GLDC). Linden Village supports the realization of community‐defined priorities for affordable green, energy efficient housing development, job training opportunities, homeowner assistance with renovation, and practical, hands‐on learning environments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills development for local students.

At the University Outreach, Engagement, and Service Awards Ceremony on Thursday, May 2, Dr. Lara will receive a plaque and a cash contribution to the Linden Village project. This is the third major instance in which Sustainable Futures for Linden Village has been recognized. In 2010, Linden Village received a $54,000 OSU Engagement Impact Grant. And, last year, the project received a $12,000 grant from The Columbus Foundation.

In a feature article by the OSU Office of Outreach and Engagement on the project, Dr. Lara is quoted as saying about Linden Village:

“If you don’t live there and aren’t there every day, you have no idea what is going on. So we needed to immerse in the community, talk to the residents and interact as much as possible and make the residents part of the process… (T)he things we propose are catalytic projects that are intended to generate jobs while focusing in social capital and physical infrastructure in the area.”

Students in the Community

A key component of the Linden Village project is student involvement.  Participating Ohio State students present their plans to community members, design professionals and city officials. Students use the knowledge and skills they’ve learned in the classroom to provide technical assistance in solving real-world problems related to urban revitalization, community economic growth, healthy neighborhoods, and green home development. “The idea is to get students involved in the community,” Dr. Lara said.

The interdisciplinary student group involved in Linden Village includes city and regional planning and landscape architecture students from the KSA. At the end of each semester, the students produce a document that prioritizes the community’s needs based on both qualitative and quantitative research and outreach and engagement events.

“It is a very comprehensive plan we are giving to the community, so many perspectives are needed. The report is supposed to serve as a strategic road map that will help guide future development in the area,” Dr. Lara said. He also noted that in the future they would like to involve students from the Fisher College of Business to show the economic viability of the solutions his students are developing.

In autumn 2011, graduate students from the KSA’s landscape architecture and city and regional planning programs participated in a service-learning community design studio about the Linden Village project. Service-learning courses are designed to promote engagement and reflection. These activities are integral to developing beneficial and sustainable university/community relationships. A key component of service learning is structured reflection. Therefore, a key part of this course involved students’ reflections on their community engagement activities and experiences. This kind of learning occurs through cooperation/negotiation and communicating concepts as a result of students’ experiences working on a project or a problem, and is vital in a design studio environment.

Initial site visits to Linden Village afforded the community design team only a superficial understanding of the neighborhood, based on site inventory, analysis and observation. To get a better sense of the neighborhood, it was necessary to engage the public. The research team engaged with the community in formal settings on five different occasions. A range of activities and discussion tools were used during these meetings to help elicit input and discover the wants and needs of the community. Specifically, there were three opportunities for active participation and design workshops with local schools and residents, including LMSA students, Hamilton STEM Academy K-6, and the Elevation Church Community Workshop. There were also two opportunities for the research team focused to present design proposals based on community input: the Community Association Thanksgiving Potluck and GLDC Meeting. Ultimately this research based design process helped to inform and shape local policy and enabled city officials to obtain professional design expertise and to address long-term strategy and vision.

For more, read the full Sustainable Futures for Linden Village report.

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