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By providing pro bono design services to organizations in need, Long Beach Community Design Center hopes to uplift Long Beach’s underserved communities.
Established following his retirement and based off of a design concept from the 1960s, founder and executive director David Salazar gathered a network of experts from architecture, engineering and urban planning fields to volunteer their services.
While conceptual design makes up about 10% of the overall design process, it’s a process that many nonprofits and community groups can rarely afford, explained Salazar, who spent his career in urban planning.
“The opportunity for them to access whatever they need on the urban planning and architectural side is really important, and at a level that is more than community-focused, but engaged with them in terms of how to articulate their vision and what they want to accomplish and not have there be a financial barrier for them to pursue that vision,” Salazar said.
The qualifications a nonprofit must meet to receive services from the center are simple: the project has to directly impact underserved communities in a positive and meaningful way.
“Because of my ethnic background and my socio-economic background, the political side has always been important to me and understanding what it means to be underprivileged and what it means to live in these communities,” said Salazar. “That was a big driver for me on a personal level.”
Since the center’s founding two years ago, its first project has focused on assisting Centro CHA, a Long Beach-based nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the city’s Latino community.
Currently in its final stages of gaining the necessary permits from the city before moving on to construction, board member Eduardo Perez hopes that not only will the design of the workforce development center allow the organization to better meet the needs of the community, but it will serve as a catalyst for urban renewal in the area.
“Architecture can’t cure anything, but it’s definitely part of a solution in some respect,” Perez said.
Developed in partnership with Long Beach-based firm Studio One Eleven, the plans include an immigration legal services center, a kitchen for culinary training, a multifunctional center with computers and digital technology, and potentially a hub for celebratory community events.
However, at Long Beach Community Design Center, its project-focused work is only one part of the equation.
Apart from developing its projects, “investing and engaging youth around urban planning and architecture” is a primary goal, said Salazar.
This past spring, the organization hosted a series of urban planning workshops for teens, in partnership with Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine Department, and Cal Poly Pomona students.
“I want to get students excited and understanding how it works, so they can look into the community, and can say we need to improve pedestrian safety, or affordable housing or cleaner streets, and make that connection between urban planning and those kinds of improvements,” said Salazar.
Salazar hopes to work further with the city and continue offering workshops once or twice a year.
“The student part means a lot of me, it creates this pipeline among young people about the discipline, giving them that exposure that they probably wouldn’t get,” he said.
At the Design Center, design and social justice intertwine, and including students who can relate to the community and understand its needs is key.
For Perez, who has taught at Cal State Long Beach since 2007, including students in the Centro CHA project was an immensely rewarding experience, as students understood the community center’s goals as well as its challenges.
“Long Beach is just such a beautiful and diversified city, but we know that ultimately there are some areas that are underrepresented, and ultimately they needed to have voices such as ours that have been around the neighborhood a little bit here and there,” said Perez.
As students developed unique solutions to problems in the community, there were some underlying parallels, said Perez.
“It was very heartfelt, there was intellect and creativity and purpose for the community,” he said.
Through passing on knowledge from his career and from his professors and mentors before him, Perez hopes his students will be driven to create positive change in Long Beach and beyond.
“These students are the ones that are going to be shaping the world,” said Perez. “Through my profession . . . I do feel that I’ve been able to change some things for the better. And I’m hoping that they can do it even better than I did. I’m a huge proponent of thinking provocatively about ideas that may seem kind of like fantasy today, because they’re tomorrow’s realities.”
Nonprofits interested in receiving services from Long Beach Community Design Center can reach out through its contact page.
Join Long Beach Community Design Center at this weekend’s Getty + Long Beach Summer Festival, at Houghton Park, 6301 Myrtle Ave, June 4-5 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Design Center will have a booth information on its services and an interactive city building model.