empowering youth through design

Empowering Youth to Design a Safer Chicago — Youth Shout Out 2015

Chicago is a global city, known around the world as a center of commerce, culture and innovation. Unfortunately, it is also known around the world as a prime example of the violence that is ravaging America’s cities. This violence disproportionately impacts our great city’s youth, mostly in the city’s south and west sides. Alongside Allstate, Get IN Chicago and the Chicago Community Trust, gravitytank worked with youth from across the city to design ideas for reducing violence in Chicago.

Over six weeks, gravitytank and other members of the Chicago design community worked with teenagers from many of the city’s most violent neighborhoods to understand their experiences with violence, craft solutions to their problems, and present those ideas to the Chicago community at large. On June 4 at the Museum of Science and Industry, the youth pitched their ideas to a panel of experts, a gathering of local nonprofits, city officials, and invested community members.

“It’s better that the kids are organizing it… they know what to do and how to make it better.”

For most young people, teenage years are a time when their world should be an ever expanding set of opportunities. Like all teenagers, the kids who participated in this project want to explore and learn more about their peers, their neighborhoods and the great city we live in. However, their world is full of challenges. Their peers are unpredictable and often dangerous, their neighborhood is unsafe, and their city is unreachable.

gravitytank Youth Shoutout

“One thing I would change about my neighborhood would be to make it feel safer, so that people don’t have to go outside their home and worry about ‘Is something going to happen to me? Am I going to get hurt?’... So people can walk out of the house and feel safe.”

While the challenges the youth face are massive, our research throughout the project revealed that their fundamental needs are simple: safe opportunities to sustain and engage them, safe spaces where they can do those things, and safe ways to get to those places.

1. Safe Opportunities

Kids need safe and productive ways to spend their time.

2. Safe Spaces

Kids are looking for safe places to hang out, and positive things to do in those spaces.

3. Safe Mobility

Kids deserve safe ways to make use of and explore their city.

Working with youth and visiting their neighborhoods reminded us of the potential design can have to empower others and ignite change. For the kids we worked with, June 4 was more than a presentation, it was a moment for them to raise their voices and change the landscape of youth violence in Chicago.

“I love one of [Malcolm X’s] quotes. I live by it every day. His quote is “By any means necessary.” I live by that because I want to change things, I want to make it for the better and I will do it by whatever it takes."

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