Placemaking to Reduce Youth Violence

Installing a free little library. 

Installing a free little library. 

How do we work with youth violence in our communities? With gang activity? How do we engage with positivity and empowerment instead of punishment or putting up social and psychological barriers? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken an unconventional approach by viewing and treating violence as a public health issue and is philosophically and financially supporting treatment nationally through the STRYVE (Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere) program.

In Portland, STRYVE PDX is an initiative of the Multnomah County Health Department and involves a coalition of organizations and community organizers. STRYVE PDX works in gang-affected neighborhoods and works with youth and their communities to nurture safety and grow power through youth involvement in dialogues, public space design (Placemaking), and other projects that bring the community together to build understanding and respect across differences.

Intrigued by the City Repair Placemaking model and especially our use of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), STRYVE youth connected with City Repair by painting an intersection repair in North Portland, an installation called the "Big Bang of Peace" in 2014. Since then, City Repair has continued to support STRYVE in Placemaking activities, consulting on new projects including free little library installations where youth were able to receive wages doing community work as well as hosting workparties for families in a neighborhood to build and install the installations.

On Saturday, October 17th, 2015, a workparty occurred in New Columbia Apartments, an affordable housing community in North Portland. Already activated with community programs, gardens, and art, nine free little libraries were grounded into the thriving place. Ali, an Ethiopian immigrant five months into Portland, expressed joy working outside and getting his step-children learning new skills as they worked with new tools and helped to install the little libraries. "Walking is good. Community is good. Being singular is bad," Ali mentioned, smiling as the youngsters called out wanting to get in line to use the pickaxe to get through the ground's clay to open up a hole to build a foundation for the library's post.

At the end of the workparty and sitting in a circle about to eat pizza for lunch, the youth reflected on the workparty, remembering the new tools they worked with, like a post hole digger, and the benefit of their work for the day which was to provide free access to books so their community can learn, save money, and share.

City Repair will continue to consult with STRYVE on new projects, including installing peace poles in various Portland communities and creating an online map of 100+ free little libraries that the STRYVE youth built and installed across the metro area.

Stay tuned for future City Repair workparties and volunteer opportunities with STRYVE PDX and please see their website here: