How Teenage Girls With Power Tools Transformed a Neighborhood
It was a scorchingly hot Tuesday afternoon last summer on a rough corner in South Chicago. Despite the heat, and despite it being the time of day when people normally start rolling in to buy drugs and alcohol, things were a little different that day. Jania, a 17-year-old from the community, pictured above, was smiling, and others around her were, too.
It was the second day in our design-build program, where a group of local teenage girls were working to transform a vacant lot in their neighborhood. Jania was smiling because she had just used power tools for the first time, and just built something—a work bench—for the first time. But she was also smiling because she was seeing her community start to transform due to her actions.
A church donated the empty lot to us, full of broken bottles and needles. As the girls worked on the sidewalk with power tools, the community—whether from inspiration or embarrassment—silently went and cleaned up the lot, which hadn't been touched for years.
As the girls continued to build over the next few days, mocking up full-scale prototypes for different 'uses' and improvements to the lot, community members continued to come. The cops, who are pretty vilified in the neighborhood, also came. But gang members came, too. If there had been one male on the design-build team, things would have been different. If the team hadn't been from the community, things would have been different. But because these were local teenage women, we got an incredible swath of society from the neighborhood. People were actually authentically engaging in helping determine the highest use for the vacant lot.