Brownsville has Brooklyn’s highest neighborhood rate of unemployment with 29.6% of disconnected youth ages 16-24 who are not working or going to school, according to a report from the social science research council, Measure of America.
Longtime resident Quardean Lewis-Allen, founder and director of Made in Brownsville (madeinbrownsville.org), wants to diminish those numbers and flip the script.
“Brownsville has 20,000 youth within [this] area,” Lewis-Allen said, “they’re not all as jaded about life as most people, and we can’t let them get to the point where they’re not hopeful about their futures.”
He believes young people can be at the forefront of “designing” change in their communities – as artists and architects, creating designs that will change the ongoing narrative of chronic disease and violence.
The Made in Brownsville organization is modeled as a creative agency at the intersection of community development and design; it trains at-risk youth creative design skills with the goals of providing access to careers that young people would normally not be able to obtain. Part of its mission (also) is to create Brownsville’s next entrepreneurs.
Made in Brownsville offers creative design workshops and 6-12 weeks of paid studio training in developing commissioned projects for clients. Youth are taught photography, 3D design, printmaking, architecture, Web design, entrepreneurship and video.
It also offers studio training in urban planning where youth design new spaces for the neighborhood.
One group had presented a proposal for a full basketball court in a vacant lot in Marcus Garvey Village to the public housing’s architect, Kenneth Frampton, a professor at Columbia University. Even though property developers wouldn’t allow them to use that particular space, they were given another space to build a half-court instead.
Made in Brownsville also is part of the citywide “Asset Mapping” project, which allows products of the neighborhood to be found through an online search.
Alan Waxman, the director of Learning and Community Advocacy, helps youth involved in the project lead discussions about “zones of loyalty” related to power, the police and snitching, and/or “gang beefs.”
In order to gain commissions and clients, Made in Brownsville has partnered with local organizations such as Brownsville Community Justice Center, Community Solutions, Brownsville Partnership, Ocean Hill Neighborhood Improvement Association and city agencies.
There’s been mural painting along Pitkin Avenue, creation of local magazines and flyers, silk-screening, Web site design for the Dream Big Foundation, and the joint venture project MGB Pops, which serves as a retailer-incubator for Brownsville’s upcoming MiB entrepreneurs.
Lewis-Allen grew up pretty much “sheltered”. He was told to ride his bike “from that pole to that fire hydrant”.
“The public housing across the street felt communal; it piqued my interest in the use of space in the neighborhood and how that use impacts the community and individual lives.” After college and a stint at an architectural firm, the Brownsville native eventually returned to his neighborhood to focus on developing spaces and reimagining uses for existing ones.
Lewis-Allen received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from SUNY and a Master of Architecture from Harvard School of Design, where he gained the opportunity to study abroad in Paris. In 2011, the Chife Foundation granted Lewis-Allen a fellowship to do some eco-sustainable affordable housing in Nigeria. He came across an individual from a tribe who was given a local scholarship to go to school and studied economics at the London School of Economics and worked at Enron and Apple. He came back to Nigeria to start his own software company.
Lewis-Allen also worked at Brownsville Partnership in 2012 and Perkins Eastman, among the top design and architectural firms in the world where he learned about every scale of the built environment. For more information: 646-671-3549. General Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
(Note to readers: (This article was written by Tramane Harris with Bernice Green.)