“Space:Queens” – We Want to Build Our Futures Here

Design for RPGA Tiny House project

Yesterday, I heard those words from our current borough president, Melinda Katz, who discussed all the changes that are happening in Queens and how those changes will affect us. Right before her address, I was fortunate to sit amongst a few community members who discussed what responsibilities we need to take to build our futures here. Because changes are coming to this borough and some of them may not have out best interest at heart.

How do we “revitalize” our communities for ourselves, outside of the loaded use of that word and its connections to urban renewal and gentrification. One suggestion I heard was providing community services, funding, spaces and other resources to teach skills that we have neglected to pass down in our mass production, consumer-oriented culture. I heard from one woman whose from the Caribbean who trained as a motorcycle mechanic and that is how she built wealth. Another told us that when she was younger, classes such as woodwork and home economics were available. We discussed how there is a lack of support for vocational schools and hands-on training in favor of colleges and universities that usually lead people into debt with little experience needed to get a job. Another member of the conversation spoke about how schools overall are not structured to teach for areas like computer coding which could strengthened the labor force.

These members of the community were all older than me and it reminded me of how a lack of a tight-knit community with a set of cultural values can prevent certain traditions from being passed down. Many of us cannot build a house. Many of us do not know how to sew, knit, crochet in order to repair our clothes and make our own crafts. Many of us do not know how to grow food, cook for ourselves, heal ourselves and live healthily. Many of us don’t know how to do electrical work or plumbing. A lot of those are parts of traditions that are lost in our fast-pace, instant gratification culture. So then we are always at the mercy of consuming from others instead of producing for ourselves, which is part of how we can economically grow.

So in order to build our futures, we do need to look at how we can actually “build” our futures – the creativity, infrastructures and engineering we need to do so, and begin strategizing and planning on how to do so.

One person I know who we can look to as an example is Yvonne Shortt, who recently created as part of her RPGA Studio organization, Women Who Build. Her work is centered around teaching women and girls to build with their own hands.

We should be taught basic skills of carpentry, of cooking, of sewing during our youth. That hands-on training and experience are the building blocks of S.T.E.A.M. Constructing a house is engineering. Creating a quilt requires an understanding of geometry. Cooking is an understanding of what food is beneficial to our bodies and knowing which ingredients work well together; it is food science. And all of it is arts and crafts and arts and crafts is technology (look up the etymology).

We cannot expect things to last forever or that they will just naturally exist. Things comes into existence through both resources and funding as well as work and effort. Infrastructures eventually break down or become obsolete and have to be repaired. But if we don’t have people who know how to repair and rebuild, then we are at a huge loss.




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