University of Texas at Arlington. (UTA/City of Arlington)

A team from UTA’s College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs (CAPPA) is one of two nationwide to win a $40,000 SOM Foundation Research Prize to create a design playbook for Black settlements in North Texas.

The University of Texas at Arlington team will collaborate with historically black communities to create maps that document Freedmen’s Towns along the Trinity River and propose design strategies to combat long-standing environmental racism and loss of historic resources. Such towns were municipalities or communities built by former slaves after the Civil War.

Diane Jones Allen, professor and director of UT Arlington’s Landscape Architecture Department in CAPPA, will lead the SOM project, “Reclaiming Black Settlements: A Design Playbook for Historic Communities in the Shadow of Sprawl.” Austin Allen, associate professor of practice, and Kathryn Holliday, director of the David Dillon Center for Texas Architecture and professor of architectural history, are co-collaborators.

The UTA team will engage students in CAPPA studio courses in partnership with community members.

Team of researchers from UTA’s College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs. (UTA/City of Arlington)

“We have to care about the future of communities like this,” Diane Jones Allen said. “It’s important—and vital—to expose students to these kinds of issues and problems. Working with communities is essential to our society. Students get to learn and grow from this experience.”

The team will work with the South Central Civic League to create a design playbook for historic Black settlements that are in the shadow of urban sprawl. They plan to address topics such as environmental justice, capacity building, equitable urban development, vacant land, recreational trail planning, coping with natural and manmade environmental hazards and green infrastructure. The study area focuses on the communities of Joppee, The Bottom, Elm Thicket, Bear Creek, Mosier Valley and Garden of Eden.

“These areas have been historically neglected,” Austin Allen said. “We can reverse a lot of those inequities with this project. Shaping the future of communities through those communities is the way planning is supposed to happen.”

Founded in 1979, the SOM Foundation’s goal is to advance the design profession’s ability to address the key topics of our time by bringing together and supporting groups and individuals, each with the highest possible design aspirations. The 2020 competition, “Examining Social Justice in Urban Contexts,” sought proposals from interdisciplinary teams. A team from Tulane University also claimed a $40,000 SOM Foundation Research Prize.

A second $20,000 grant from the Dallas Regional Chamber aims to elevate southern Dallas County to a more economically fertile, better-informed and healthier place to live. Holliday; Julia Lindgren, assistant professor of architecture; and Austin Allen are leading this project, which will center on the historic Joppee neighborhood near the banks of the Trinity River at the edge of the Great Trinity Forest in southeast Dallas County.

The Chamber project started with Holliday’s preservation efforts at the Melissa Pierce School, a former historically Black school, in Joppee. Austin Allen said his studio class is looking at the Joppee community and the watershed of Honey Springs Branch with the goal of creating a neighborhood stabilization overlay.

The UT Arlington team will work closely with the South Central Civic League Joppee Neighborhood Association on planning, engagement and implementation of art installations, design-build projects and research studios that bring students, faculty and community members together.

Both projects build on work pursued by the Dillon Center across the past several years, including the 2017 Dillon Symposium, “Equity and Freedom’s Footprint in Dallas Freedman’s Towns,” and the 2019 Dillon Symposium, “Freedmen’s Town Stories,” which was produced in partnership with bcWorkshop, a nonprofit community design center.

Holliday said landing the two projects shows the Dillion Center’s long-term commitment to the DFW area.

“Conversations about architecture and urban development have to include communities like Joppee,” Holliday said. “Organizations like the SOM Foundation and the Dallas Regional Chamber are helping to make that possible.”

Maria Martinez-Cosio, interim dean of CAPPA, said these two projects not only support UTA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, but build on its history of engagement with diverse communities in the Metroplex.

“The commitment of our CAPPA faculty to engage fully with underserved communities as they protect their history and share it with future generations is at the heart of our work as educators,” Martinez-Cosio said. “We hope that our work with the Joppee Neighborhood Association will seed similar efforts engaging architectural history, sustainability and environmental justice and thus provide our students with the tools they’ll need as they move us toward a goal of equitable development.”

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