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American Society of Landscape Architects
Northern California Chapter

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Emerging Professionals–Pro Bono Project

Emerging Professionals–Pro Bono Project

“Education. Beauty. Safety.”  –The three goals for a new schoolyard, as stated by a school official at PRIDE Elementary School, in Oakland.

In February 2012, ASLA Emerging Professionals (EP) members Carmen Erasmus, Melinda Stockmann, and Kate Tollefson completed their pro bono work with PRIDE Elementary School, in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, to brainstorm ideas to enhance their schoolyard and support establishment of an edible school garden.  Over the past year, the EP members volunteered with Gordon Piper, from the Oakland Landscaping Committee, continuing the efforts of EP volunteer Alex Witte, who drafted a design for planter boxes (in early 2011), which school volunteers used to construct boxes for a new edible garden at the school.

The final product of our volunteer efforts was a visioning document, which included conceptual site and phasing plans to map and prioritize opportunities throughout the schoolyard.  We included a “Design Components” section, highlighting the use of native plants to accomplish various goals and the importance of education and conservation of water. We identified a number of specific detail design sites within the schoolyard and created a vision for these places with plans, precedent images, list of suggested interventions and photo visualizations. Detailed designs included a Teacher’s Terrace (to give teachers an outdoor area to refresh and rejuvenate) and a redesign of the front entrance to the school (to provide safer pedestrian access for students).  Concurrent to our efforts, volunteers from a local community-organizing group, Oakland Community Organizing, met with parents and elementary school students to brainstorm ideas for the edible school garden and green schoolyard.

What We Learned

As with any project, time and budget were constraints for our work.  In this case, we grappled with how much personal time and monetary contributions to make to the project. Similarly, as with many types of projects, an important part of the work involved navigating the chain of command. Given the nature of the project, a public schoolyard, questions came up as to who had the final say (for maintenance, cost/budget) and what rules or standards were negotiable. In researching planter boxes and asphalt, we were witness to a discussion on standards for school gardens in Oakland.  It was humbling to experience firsthand the benefit of having a standard to use to wield persuasion power for using a specific technique or material.

Overall, it was a good learning experience. It was exciting to feel the autonomy of working independently and in a small team. It was also inspiring to collaborate with local government agencies and organizations, with a common goal and shared eagerness to support improvement of a school environment.

What’s Next?

Living Labs, on behalf of PRIDE Elementary, is planning to pursue funding to renovate the schoolyard and to redesign the front entrance to improve safety and create a more formal entrance that reflects the identity of the school.  UC Cooperative Extension is helping teachers at PRIDE to develop a curriculum that will bring teachers and students into the garden and integrate gardening with multidisciplinary learning.

Other Pro Bono Updates

A group of EP members, led by Chris Hardy, are now working to provide conceptual visions for six small areas of Golden Gate Park, as a means to focus capital improvement donations. To find out more about these opportunities, come to one of our organizing meetings and/or contact EP Pro Bono Projects Liaison Melinda Alice Stockmann, melinda.stockmann@gmail.com.

— Submitted by Kate Tollefson, Melinda Stockmann, Carmen Erasmus

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