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Community-Driven Design 

This First Friday, Storefront for Community Design celebrates a decade of making design resources accessible to all.

click to enlarge An image of the ribbon-cutting event at Storefront for Community Design, which for ten years has made design programs and resources accessible to all.

An image of the ribbon-cutting event at Storefront for Community Design, which for ten years has made design programs and resources accessible to all.

Asia Goode and her Groundwork RVA team once envisioned a mini-farm at Hillside Court in the city’s Southside. The idea started out as an effort to provide her community with the means to produce its own food, spend time outdoors, and understand the health benefits involved.

While Goode had the idea to design a mini-farm for her community, she had no clue where to start on developing a plan. With inspiration but no roadmap, she and Groundwork RVA reached out to Storefront for Community Design for design assistance.

Storefront connected Goode to volunteer Chloe Hawkins, a landscape architect, so they could collaborate to bring Goode’s vision to life by creating a vivid conceptual rendering to use for future community engagement and fundraising efforts.

click to enlarge Groundwork RVA sought help from Storefront for Community Design when developing its mini-farm at Hillside Court.
  • Groundwork RVA sought help from Storefront for Community Design when developing its mini-farm at Hillside Court.

Storefront for Community Design, a non-profit design center, was founded to make design programs and resources accessible to all. Over the past decade, Storefront has contributed to over 350 low-cost design and planning assistance projects and over 15 design education initiatives for community members, young adults, local businesses, nonprofit organizations, and neighborhoods. That’s donated services with an estimated value of around a million dollars, a significant helping hand for people trying to improve lives and neighborhoods.

Many Richmond residents don’t have the opportunity to participate in city planning, or to understand the complex forces shaping the designs. Because historical inequities were built into the physical environment in ways both obvious and hidden, Storefront is committed to increasing citywide resources while engaging the next generation of designers by equipping youth for career success, civic engagement, and creative expression.

All Storefront programs are available to the public.

“Community is at the core of the work we do,” explains Shawn Balon, executive director of Storefront for Community Design. “At Storefront, we act as conveners to listen to community members, connect them to the right people, and inspire equitable, community-driven design.”

In 2017, Kelli Lemon was looking for ways to make her dream of opening a café on Broad Street a reality. Although she’d secured a building, it was in her words, “a vanilla box,” not at all what she envisioned for creating a third space that would draw people in.

Seeking help, Lemon signed on for Storefront’s Design Session program, a one-on-one low-cost design and planning assistance program. Their assistance helped walk Lemon through a conceptual design study that ultimately helped bring her passion and vision to life.

click to enlarge Kelli Lemon sought help from Storefront for Community Design when developing Urban Hang Suite.
  • Kelli Lemon sought help from Storefront for Community Design when developing Urban Hang Suite.

Once Lemon explained her needs to Storefront, they connected her to a volunteer architecture team, Citizen HKS, who took her through the design session process. Storefront volunteers developed concept sketches and mood boards that would kickstart her process to build her idea into reality. The result, Urban Hang Suite, has become a fixture and destination in the downtown arts district.

In addition to the intimate one-on-one design sessions Lemon undertook, low-cost design and planning assistance is also offered at a community-based level through Community Visioning. Services that include consultation, conceptual sketches and plans of action from the Storefront team and volunteer design and planning professionals.

Another aspect of Storefront’s work is design education, facilitated through a semester program called City Builders design workshop and targeted at teens aged 13-18. City Builders provides project-based learning opportunities that focus on real world issues in the built environment and encourage young people to discover and design solutions that create effective change in their own lives and communities.

To celebrate Storefront for Community Design’s 10th anniversary, the board of directors and team looked back at ten years of community impact and selected some of their favorite projects, programs and events. The exhibition “10 Years, 10 Stories of Impact” will launch at Storefront’s 10th anniversary block party during this month’s First Friday.

“Whether you’ve been with Storefront from the beginning or are just discovering us for the first time, there are so many great reasons to stop by for our block party,” Balon says. “One of the best reasons is a chance to mingle with neighbors and community partners while listening to live music, enjoying food truck fare and indulging in celebratory desserts from local businesses.”

Balon adds that their design and planning tools help to empower community organizing.

“Our job is to help community partners in ideas that advance areas of environmental and food justice, health and wellness, economic development, placemaking and place keeping,” Balon says.

Storefront for Community Design’s 10th anniversary party and exhibition will be held Friday, May 6 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at 205 E. Broad St. Visit storefrontrichmond.org for more information.

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