Michael Ford estimates his series of four Hip Hop Architecture Camp sessions, held each Saturday in February, drew about 60 kids total to the Madison Central Library.
“Including that one 60-degree day,” he said.
The result of their work is a pair of videos, one of which features a hip-hop track based on the first week’s workshops. On Friday night, the students will participate in an interactive panel discussion with local urban planning officials at 7 p.m. in the Union South Marquee Theatre.
“After the videos, we’ll have a couple kids who participated in the camp, someone from the city planning department and the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC),” Ford said. “We’re trying to get a good dialogue going where people can learn what’s happening with our two planning departments.”
Ford, an architect designing the Universal Hip-Hop Museum in the Bronx, hip-hop artist Rob “Dz” Franklin and University of Wisconsin-Madison education graduate student Mike Dando led workshops in urban planning and architecture at the library for kids, ages 10-15. The students listened to and discussed popular hip-hop tracks that address urban life and social justice before planning neighborhoods, parks and buildings based on their ideas for what Madison needs.
Ford will pass along the videos and a book combining photos and ideas from camp participants to the Madison Planning Division as part of its “Imagine Madison” initiative. He also hopes to bring the Hip Hop Architecture Camp to other cities — Milwaukee, Atlanta, Detroit, New York — this summer, in addition to offering a second Madison camp focusing on parks and green space.
“I also want to ask other area architecture and landscape architecture firms to consider hiring high school students, if it’s either for full summer internships or just a few weeks to see more about the profession,” Ford said. “We had a lot of kids asking detailed questions about what I do every day.”
Ford said the voices of minorities aren’t often heard in discussions about urban planning, and that’s particularly true for young people.
“I wanted to have hip-hop be this bridge between city government and the community, allowing the community to not just express themselves, but contribute to these larger initiatives that normally people are not interested in because of the formats they’re presented in,” he said. “They use these town hall meetings or things that normally don’t tickle the fancy of the everyday citizen.”
Ford was particularly impressed by one of the camp participants who attended each of the four sessions and advocated for a memorial park dedicated to Tony Robinson, the 19-year-old African-American man killed by a Madison police officer in March 2015.
“She recognizes that city streets and buildings are some type of memorial to different people throughout a city’s history. And Madison does not have spaces that memorialize or recognize minorities, so what better name as of right now than Tony Robinson?” Ford said. “I was amazed that she didn’t have the fear of bringing it up. She felt she was in a safe space where people would support her ideas. She was saying it in front of the city planners! Everyone was watching her talk about this park for Tony Robinson.”