Local Vacant Spaces Full of Possibility for Teens

Students make a 3-D model of a Sleepy Hollow vacant space. Photo: ArchForKids

Amphitheaters, go-carts, putt-putt, an infinity pool, a dog park and a zero-carbon footprint skate park are just a few concepts local students envision for the vacant spaces around Sleepy Hollow. Through a 2-day design workshop, or design charrette, organized by ArchForKids, an arts organization focusing on learning experiences in architecture and design for kids, local Westchester teens were invited to transform a real vacant space in downtown Sleepy Hollow into something beautiful and useful that will have a positive impact on the community.  

“Giving kids a voice in local decision making and planning is so important. The young people get to tackle real world issues and get truly invested in their communities” said ArchForKids Partner and Executive Director Kathryn Slocum.   

Mentored by design professionals, the students are grouped off and given a six-step assignment to guide them in developing an architectural program and 3-D model for the vacant space. “This charrette allows the young people to collaborate with peers and mentors in the design field. They develop their critical thinking skills, model making abilities and presentation skills,” said Janny Gédéon, ArchForKids founder and president. “Archforkids was founded to engage young people in real life situations, whether it is designing, working in groups, thinking about their communities and their own future,” added Gedeon, “this design project aligns perfectly with our mission”. 

‘Almost all of them had a reflective area mapped out, or “thinking spaces”. Photo: ArchForKids

River Journal visited the teams during the 3-D modeling portion of the challenge. When asked about their design ideas, it was clear that considering community needs came easy for the children. While there were plenty of kid-friendly fun built into the concepts, almost all of them had a reflective area mapped out, or “thinking spaces,” as the kids called it. “The students’ observations and insights of existing community needs and their understanding of the sites’ context allowed them to create thoughtful solutions” stated Kersten Harries, architect and Sleepy Hollow Planning Board member. Gédéon echos Harries’ sentiments: “We can learn a lot from the young people and not stick to what we know which is limiting but let our imagination flow” she said. “Their ideas are fresh because they have not had many experiences yet that would limit them. They think outside of the box. They are inclined to take chances in their designs,” she adds.  

The completed designs were presented by the students to Sleepy Hollow Mayor Ken Wray. Their 3-D models will be on display at the Warner Library in Tarrytown beginning with a public reception on Saturday, December 11 from 11am to 12:30. All models will be displayed, along with opportunities for the public to weigh in (via a post it notes board and/or an online survey)  on what they would like to see done with these vacant lots.

“Their models provide an opportunity for the large community to engage in a continued dialogue about how they would like to see vacant lots and public spaces be better utilized,” Harries said. “All should be encouraged to speak up at local public meetings where every voice matters; when more points of view are represented the best outcomes are possible.” While there were elements of various concepts that could be incorporated into real projects, Harries said, the end goal runs larger than the square footage of the vacant lots. “I hope the students feel empowered that their voices and input are important and leave inspired to be future leaders, activists, and advocates for their communities,” Harries said. 

Although we may have spaces void of design in our community, we are abundant with a generation of bright futures ahead.  

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About the Author: Angela Bosco