Uptown Summer Youth Talk Design for the New NATURE Lab


Last week the Uptown Summer youth employees began the process of designing the new NATURE Lab Environmental Education Center. The new NATURE Lab Center will occupy a long-abandoned house in the North Central Troy neighborhood, just down the block from The Sanctuary for Independent Media. Friday was the first of three sessions where we will be joined by architect Cameron Toler, who will assist our youth employees in planning the site’s renovation. In this session we talked about how design can be used to address the social and environmental problems of our community.

Joshua from TAP Inc., Uptown Summer employee Kai, and mentor Ellie map out the new NATURE Lab site.

After visiting the site and taking note of its pitfalls and potentials, we spent the afternoon brainstorming ways this space could be put to use for North Troy residents. Decades of neglect and 200 years of negligent industrial practices have left Troy with a laundry list of problems looking for solutions. The youth employees identified problems including poverty, slum lords, lack of recreational facilities, irrelevant school curricula, poor public transit, a polluted river, drug problems, crime, bad policing, and a lack of information about what resources are available.  

Uptown Summer employee Felicia records during the site visit. Throughout the Uptown Summer Program, the youth will be producing media documenting their experience and collecting stories about environmental justice.

Next, each participant picked just one of these problems to focus on, brainstorming ways it could be addressed in the design and programming of the NATURE Lab. The ideas were varied in size and scope. We debated public bathrooms, outdoor benches, visiting clinicians, scientifically-informed drug counselling, a meeting space, community basketball tournaments, after-school tutoring, and much more. 

While the problems facing North Central Troy might be overwhelming at times, the solutions this group came up with were inventive, practical, inspiring, and numerous. These teens know what their community needs and, given the resources, their ideas have the potential to make impactful changes in the neighbourhood. We’re thrilled to have their input driving the construction of our new science center!

The Uptown Summer youth employees deep in thought and conversation.

Finally, the group listed who they want to reach out to for our upcoming community design meeting. On Tuesday, July 31st our doors will be open to local organizations and residents to discuss plans for NATURE Lab. Do you have ideas about what North Troy needs? Join us at the meeting, connect with us on social media, or send us an email. We’d love to hear from you!

Click here for updates about the design and construction of the new NATURE Lab Environmental Education Center.

Cameron Toler works at Curtis + Ginsberg Architects in NYC  He is dedicated to working with kids and communities through Open Architecture Collaborative, NY and Fam1st Family Foundation Youth Architecture Camp. To hear Cameron Toler discuss some of his youth community architecture work, check out this WOOC FM podcast.

(Photos by Catie Rafferty.)