Building on interests he first developed as a student in the Sam Fox School, Zachary Gong (BA, major in Architecture09) is project manager for the Hollygrove Design Initiative, which received an "Access to Artistic Excellence" grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to support a community design effort in New Orleans.
The $25,000 grant will fund the use of architectural design, outreach, and education as mechanisms for change in the Hollygrove neighborhood, an underserved African American community that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"Our hope is that our continued work in Hollygrove will allow residents to set a new standard of involvement in the process of design and rebuilding their own neighborhood," Gong said.
Several parties are involved with the initiative, led by Design Corps, a North Carolina-based organization that seeks to create positive change in communities by providing architecture and planning services. Design Corps is working in partnership with the AARP Foundation and the Tulane School of Architecture's Tulane City Center on the project, as well as with Hollygrove residents.
For Gong, the 12-month community design program is an extension of work he has already been doing in Hollygrove as a design coordinator for AARP Louisiana. Beginning June 1, 2010, he and Michael Cohen will lead the initiative, which seeks to intensively engage residents in three neighborhood design projects.
The first, the Hollygrove Greenline Project, Gong and Cohen will work with residents to envision and develop designs for the conversion of a derelict railroad corridor running through the neighborhood into an active, safe, and productive community space that includes urban gardening, walking paths, parks, and storm water retention space.
A second project will focus residents' energies on creating a publication about the Hollygrove Senior Center, which has been unused and in disrepair since Hurricane Katrina. The publication will serve as a fund-raising and advocacy tool, presenting the history of the center, while also encouraging residents to envision how they could use money from FEMA, earmarked for community spending, to revitalize the building.
A third project will address Hollygrove's status as a "forgotten neighborhood." Residents are concerned about the private and public negligence of the neighborhood and its lack of basic services, including the absence of bus shelters, bus schedules, and service maps for the neighborhood bus stops. The "Hollygrove Urban Furniture" campaign will gather residents' design input on key locations for "outdoor living room" spaces and bus shelters, with the goal of developing, designing, and prototyping construction of low-cost, low-impact bus shelters that community members can construct throughout their neighborhood.
Gong attributes his interest in New Orleans to the spring of 2009, when he participated in the "Gutter to Gulf" studio taught by Derek Hoeferlin, senior lecturer in architecture. With an endorsement from Hoeferlin, Gong went on to participate in the Design Corps Summer Studio 2009, where he made connections with community groups and residents.
His current work continues to intersect with that of members of the Sam Fox School. Some of the graduate architecture students in Hoeferlin's Spring 2010 architecture studio focused on Hollygrove Greenline as their speculative site for studio work. In addition, numerous School alumni are involved with projects in New Orleans.