ASU landscape architecture students explore what community means

Kiersten Lutrrell, Dora Rodriguez and Sara Frost work in the community garden.

The Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and Watts College for Community Solutions share multiple priorities, including an emphasis on community-driven problem solving. Those shared priorities have led to a partnership that pairs faculty and students from both Herberger Institute and Watts College on community projects.

This past spring, Lora Martens, instructor in The Design School, taught LDE 462 — Spring 2020 Capstone Studio Landscape Architecture. The “client” for the studio was the Cartwright School District Community Gardens, in Maryvale. As Martens explains, Maryvale started as a modest housing development where soldiers returning from World War II could afford to live and raise a family. Over the last 50 years, the demographics of Phoenix have changed, and the population of Maryvale has reflected this change: The mostly white descendants of the original Maryvale residents moved to newer and more expensive homes farther out from the city core, and the families that moved in to Maryvale were primarily Latinx.

Today 44% of Maryvale’s residents are under the age of 24, and 34% of its residents live below the poverty line; nearly a quarter of Maricopa County’s non-U.S. citizen population lives in Maryvale, making it one of the more diverse neighborhoods in the city. “It is a rich community full of pride and culture and love for family,” Martens writes.

Guided by Martens, the students in the studio each worked up new master plans for the gardens and presented them to a panel in early April — by which time COVID19 had changed the landscape in which they were operating.

Village Greens was the name of our studio. We were 15 motivated people — 14 graduating landscape architecture students and one instructor — and we had four glorious months to work on design project that would do some real tangible good for the community of Maryvale, the most populous of Phoenix’s urban villages.

We wanted to flip the idea of design upside down. Instead of designing a space on our own, we wanted to co-create a space WITH the community we were working with. We wanted to create experiences where we could listen and learn from the voices in Maryvale and facilitate opportunities for the community to create a space with us. Then COVID-19 happened, and we were forced to address the hardships that an online world creates for co-creating with a community such as Maryvale and we realized how important a strong community is for resiliency in crisis.

Our clients were from the Cartwright School District: Rosario Espinoza, wellness administrator, and Beth Wright, the garden education coordinator for the school district. We also partnered with Erik Cole and Allison Mullady, from The Design Studio for Community Solutions at the Watts School at ASU, who have been working in Maryvale through the One Square Mile Initiative. Beth and Rosario asked us to develop a master plan for a 1.1-acre garden next to the school district offices. They wanted this garden to be a community asset with many amenities for students and teachers at the nearby schools, as well as for the greater community of Maryvale. They also asked us to design a use for an immovable bus that was donated to them for the garden, named Gus 2.0 The original bus, Gus the Garden Bus, was destroyed by arson in 2017, and the Cartwright School district was eager to get the new bus into the garden.

Our class started by exploring how food was part of the core of our own individual cultures. We each brought in a recipe that was important to us and explained the cultural connections we had to this food. We then took three ingredients from each recipe and researched what landscape and what people were involved in the cultivation of this ingredient. In that way, we learned that through food we are connected both to our own culture and to cultures and ecologies around the world. We published a cookbook with all our recipes in it and gave it to our clients and families.

We used this understanding of the deep connection between food and culture to create ways for the people of Maryvale to tell us what a space for food and community would look like for them. The students created activities for kids of all ages, for parents, for teachers and for adults from the community. They created activities for kids to design their own garden, they created a shopping experience for adults to tell us what ingredients were most important to them, they created surveys for teachers and for parents — and we were planning to implement all of this during a Fun Run put on by the school district after spring break. When COVID-19 hit, we lost this valuable opportunity to directly engage with the community we were designing for.

All 14 students switched immediately to re-developing their activities to an online format. We decided that because of the lack of safe access to the residents of Maryvale, we needed to expand the idea of community and focus on the universality of the human experience with gardens. The students put all their surveys online and utilized social media to get dozens of responses from teachers through Facebook groups and parents in their own networks. They interviewed dozens of garden managers, community engaged designers, parents and kids over the phone, from all over the country. The class shared their experience and findings with each other over Zoom and utilized this information to each design a master plan for Maryvale.

Bradley Nathan Sampayan, Lora Martens, Rachael Gervasio and David Fletcher, principal of Fletcher Studio in San Francisco, meet on Zoom.

Our main goal as a capstone landscape architecture studio was to provide our clients with well developed designs that they could implement by writing grants. Each member of the studio developed 14 different garden elements that worked together cohesively to create a rich community garden. While COVID-19 was causing food shortages in grocery stores, the students were developing ways for this community to grow their own food.

Maryvale in many ways is microcosm of America. Now the most populous of Phoenix’s urban villages, it started as a modest housing development where solders returning from World War II could afford to live in a nice home, next to a nice park, and raise a family. Over the last 50 years, the demographics of Phoenix has changed, and the population of Maryvale has reflected this change. The mostly white descendants of the original Maryvale residents, who had grown wealthy due to a stable post war economy and systemic support for working homeowning families, moved to newer and more expensive homes further out from the city core. The families who moved in were mostly Latinx and settled in Maryvale for the same reason as the previous generations: They wanted a nice affordable home, next to a nice park and they wanted to raise a family. Today Maryvale is young (44% of the residents are under the age of 24), low income (34% of residents live below the poverty line), and diverse (nearly a quarter of Maricopa County’s non-U.S. citizen population lives in Maryvale).

It is a rich community full of pride and culture and love for family.



ASU landscape architecture students explore what community means was originally published in ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts