In my fourth year of school, we were asked to step away from our typical architecture work in order to learn how to intensely investigate a site from the perspective of a community or urban designer. In this way of working, I learned how to seek and solve issues in the real world utilizing hard data and design. While in our typical architecture projects we are given a brief with a programing or design goal, in this course we learned how to identify an issue and develop programing and design to address it.
We started the semester with hard research on our region, Mobile Bay in Alabama, at a zoomed out scale. Using that research an GIS data sought to identify a major issue troubling the region. What I found was that the population around the bay was rapidly shifting to form it's west to east coast leaving blight where the abandonment was occurring.
Disinvestment as I found out is a deeply complicated issue. As those who can leave decide to leave, a place's economy loses it's power leaving behind only the poorest groups to try to sustain themselves in a faltering economy. From this realization I wanted to prevent further disinvestment by understanding why so many people we're leaving this place in favor of the more affluent east coast. After talking to many locals what I found to be two of the largest push factors in the area were crime and Mobile's terrible school system. Seeing crime as a symptom of the poverty created by the disinvestment it's self, I decided to search for a remedy to the region's issues in the struggling school systems.
On the recommendation of a local, I began reading into state funded independent studies on the state's school system. What I found was that, to no surprise, the majority of Alabama's school located in poor areas are desperately underfunded. The other thing I discovered was that the majority of a school's yearly funding come from local property tax. This means that in Alabama, an area experiencing disinvestment enters a viscous cycle where schools quickly become underfunded leading to further disinvestment. Exacerbating this cycle even more is the fact that Alabama has the lowest property tax in the nation. Conversely an area like Mobile bay's east coast which is experiencing a population boom is seeing their schools become dramatically overfunded causing more people to want to move to that area.
After finally reaching the crux of the issue, I was finally ready to come up with a design solution. What I ultimately came up with was an example proposal for a neighborhood just north of Mobile's downtown. The plan combines a series of dispersed infill projects to combat abandonment, a revived economic corridor proposal, and most importantly a unique financial plan which, on top of redistributing overabundance from other Alabama school districts, produces a new direct stream of income to the schools right from within the district.