Urban Activation Update: Looking into Englewood's Education Data

Today in my "Urban Activation: Englewood" studio, we presented a first draft of our research. Right now we have four different research groups: history, demographics, mapping/zoning, and future planned developments. I'm a part of the demographics group, focusing on the education and also the analysis of all our collective demographic data. We presented information to one of our IIT librarians who is a research specialist. She helped us fill some gaps in our research and we'll be meeting with her to make sure we find as much data as we possibly can to help fuel our design project.

Most of my education data is straight from the web and I really want to dig deeper and make sure my numbers are correct. I also need to take this data and make qualitative conclusions of the collective information. I first began with some basic education statistics in Englewood. Most residents are high school graduates and 8% of the residents completed a bachelor's degree or higher, which is 26% lower than the city of Chicago.

I keep hearing about the Chicago Public School (CPS) closings when looking into Englewood's education information. Before going into the closings, I looked up the schools that are currently open in the neighborhood. Only a few of these schools are in good standing, with most of the schools listed as those needing "intensive support." I personally feel this information is important, but does not reflect the intelligence of Englewood students. There are many bright people coming out of this neighborhood, but I'm sure we just haven't heard about the talent yet!

Vacant schools are something I keep bringing up in my discussion with my studiomates. Something wonderful can be done with these buildings. I attended a CPS elementary school and a CPS high school. I was always intrigued by the architecture of both buildings. They're beautiful spaces and shouldn't be sitting there with no purpose except that of vandalization and crime. Check out these stats I found through Catalyst Chicago. Most of the CPS schools have no plans for them!
I love how residents of Englewood have ideas for the CPS schools that have been shut down. Asiaha Butler, for example, has an idea for one of the schools to become an agriculture education center. I wonder what ideas other people have about these schools. I really think something exciting could become of these buildings!

Image/Quote Source

“I’m thinking this back part could be like a little rest stop area, where people riding their bikes up on the trail can come down and learn about the community,” Butler says, describing a dream as she sweeps her hand toward a thicket of woods growing over the property boundary. “We also see a lot of opportunity for this to be a kind of urban agriculture education center, for farmers or for tourists—if you want to start an urban farm, you can come here and learn the basics.”

— Asiaha Butler
Activist looking for new uses for CPS schools in Englewood

Just as a disclaimer, this is research I found online and was not created by me. I only put the graphs together for a quick overview. My next goal is to dive deeper and find more data about Englewood and make sure my numbers are as correct as they can possibly be. My studio is collecting a variety of data and is also creating a physical model of Englewood with all of our research represented through various layers on the model. From there, we will draw some conclusions of how all of the data relates. We're also looking into shrinking neighborhoods and how we can create proposals for activating a specific part of Englewood, the Halsted Street corridor. Englewood is amazing and has an insane amount of potential. I look forward to coming up with possible framework ideas with my studiomates.


Urban Activation Update: The Potential of Englewood

“I know there is much more work to be done still, but I want people to realize it’s structural. It’s been set up this way. We don’t need saving. We’re not a social service community. It’s good that you want to help, but help by giving us resources, not more services."

- Rashanah Baldwin | Life-long Englewood resident

I'm taking a summer studio at the moment and the topic of study is the urban activation of Englewood. When I first heard about activating a neighborhood, I was excited and signed up for the studio immediately. Then, it hit me. "Oh my goodness, Englewood is a terrible neighborhood!" Whenever I read through the news online, all I read about is shootings that are taking place in Englewood.

Before I signed up for this studio, I always told myself that Englewood was an area I would never visit. Now, my mentality has changed. Today is the third day of studio and we visited the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation (GECDC). A gentlemen named Glen Fulton spoke about the history, stereotypes, future, and potential of Englewood. I have to say, he changed my views.

Englewood was a transit hub. It was also the second busiest commercial corridor after State Street in Chicago. To me, that's a HUGE deal! What it was and what it is now is totally different. How the heck did it become so vacant and unsafe? I looked at old photographs of Englewood (I'll post some later) that were provided by the GECDC and I couldn't believe that the place I was standing in was once a place that wasn't known for shootings, but instead was known for shopping, eating, and having a wonderful time with family and friends.

Glen Fulton speaking to some of our classmates about the potential of Englewood
As my studiomates and I conduct research about the past, present, and future of Englewood, we are astonished at how high the crime rate and unemployment rate is. Glen Fulton stated that 40% of Englewood residents are unemployed. Crime is high mainly between 64th Street to Bishop Street and from 71st Street to Ashland. Otherwise, the neighborhood is fairly safe.

The Englewood neighborhood has been in the news lately, because of the new Whole Foods that is being built right now. Fulton believes that this will be a wonderful thing for Englewood, along with the Chipotle and Starbucks coming in right next door to Whole Foods. Many residents show concern that that the Whole Foods development is going to move them out of the neighborhood. Many of them also stated that the Whole Foods just "wasn't for me." I thought that was an important statement. Something foreign was coming into Englewood and the residents felt it wasn't being made for them.

Fulton also mentioned that a lot of Englewood residents' money was leaving the community, because there aren't many grocery stores and shopping stores in the area. "Incomes need to stay in Englewood. The money is leaving the community," said Fulton. I personally think the Whole Foods, Chipotle, and Starbucks might be a step in the right direction, but I could see why residents are getting worried.

Looking at the photographs and artifacts about Englewood at GECDC
Greg Fulton also mentioned that in the future he sees Englewood being like the area near North Ave. and Clybourn: filled with many shops and people from various backgrounds. "People are afraid that the Whole Foods means gentrification for the Englewood community, but I think the right word is diversity." He emphasized his desire to see more diversity in the neighborhood and feels that Englewood is heading in the right direction.

He mentioned the beautiful grey stone buildings all around Englewood and he feels that one day those buildings are going to be worth a lot of money. "People should invest in the neighborhood now, because it will soon be a place in high demand." Fulton mentioned that developers are hoping to invest in Englewood, because they feel that it's the next hotspot for Chicagoans to live.

Overall, today I learned that Englewood is more than what I thought it was. It's not a scary place where people get shot left and right like I hear on the news. Yes, it's true that it happens often, but Englewood is more than that. It's an area filled with passionate people wanting to show the world that the place they call home is beautiful and filled with rich history and culture. I'm looking forward to working on my studio project titled "Englewood: Urban Activation", taught by Monica Chadha and Carlo Parente.

We ended our visit to Englewood with a stop at Kusanya Cafe. It was delicious! 


The Giving Keys | Jewelry with a Cause

"Is that your apartment key around your wrist? Do you really need that thing to be a bracelet so you don't forget it?" My friend asked me this when she saw my new bracelet. When she looked at it closer and I explained the story behind it, she was blown away at how much more meaningful the key really was.

I came across The Giving Keys website after watching a short video about it on Jasmine Star's YouTube channel. After watching the video and looking into the story behind the simple jewelry, I knew I had to purchase a piece and be a part of this wonderful project that had such a strong message. The Giving Keys was founded by singer/songwriter, Caitlin Crosby. One day, she wore her hotel room key as a necklace and soon thought of the idea of engraving unused keys with positive messages. Caitlin wanted the keys to have a powerful message that could be renewed over and over again.

Eventually, she came across a couple that was suffering from homelessness. She took them out to dinner and came up with the brilliant idea to use her keys as a way of helping people attain permanent housing. The couple joined her team and with a bunch of keys and an engraving machine, the couple was eventually able to afford an apartment and a better life. According to their website, "since the beginning, The Giving Keys has employed 19 people experiencing homelessness, providing opportunities for the team members to move into permanent housing."

I absolutely LOVED the message behind this business and the jewelry actually looks beautiful. At first, it just looks like a key, but then when you read the message, it holds a totally different meaning. The idea is that each person who gets the key must pass it on to someone who they feel needs the message written on the key. On their website, you have the option to choose messages like STRENGTH, FAITH, BELIEVE, and more. Then, you can blog your story on their website and keep the positivity moving forward. How awesome is that?

I chose to buy a bracelet. I had the most difficult time choosing what I wanted mine to say. Eventually, I picked the word FAITH. I feel that it's a message I would happily pass on to someone who is in need of encouragement during a difficult time.

For more information about The Giving Keys, visit their website.


Happiness and Kindness

Part I.
Be happy.

Yesterday was the first day of my final semester in college.

During winter break, I avoided thinking about school. I knew I had a big load ahead of me this semester and I refused to let that distract me from my break. A few days before school started, I decided to gather my things and prepare for my classes. I purchased notebooks, made sure I had the right textbooks, bought a fresh new sketchbook for my studio course, and cleansed my mind of any negative thoughts about school, work, everything.

Don't get me wrong. I actually love going to school. I've loved it ever since I started attending school, but every now and then (just as any normal person), I get stressed out. Toward the middle of the semester, studio gets a bit more stressful, the exams start pouring in, the assignments keep coming, and I just want everything to go smoothly. I always tried to be the best at everything. For the first half of college, I told myself that stressing out was completely fine. Actually, I thought it was necessary to stress out in order to finish my work properly. It was unhealthy and unproductive, even though I told myself that it was a part of life and I just had to get used to it.

Eventually, I realized that freaking out was not the answer to getting things done. I realized that I wasn't getting the most of my education with all the sleepless nights, unhealthy eating habits, and being worried all the time. I decided to force myself to relax, to make more time to do what I love at school and also outside of school. I missed reading for fun. I missed writing for enjoyment. I missed having a balance. I used to be one of those architecture students who had the mentality that studio was my life. School was my life and everything else was secondary until I was done with school. Now, as I begin my last semester of college, I can tell you that I'm so, very happy I stopped thinking that way.

Recently, a couple of my friends told me that ever since I got married, I had changed. I thought I was about to get the typical you're-such-a-married-person, you-never-have-time-for-us talk, but instead they said I was more relaxed. I seemed happier. I smiled more. I joked around more. I seemed to just feel lighter and calmer. They said they loved it and were happy they finally got the chance to meet the real me. It sounds mushy, but I seriously loved hearing that. It was true. I felt wonderful Alhamdulilah. This isn't to say that marriage is the reason I'm happy and that the only way to feel happy is to go get hitched. It's vital to feel happy on your own, not depending on others as a source of happiness. But Afroz did help me realize that I had to make time for myself, that I had to take care of myself, and be content with my lifestyle. He's good at pushing me to go to the gym when I'm tired and getting me to watch a movie when he can see I'm close to stressing out.

This blog that you're reading now was the start of my new calm-the-heck-down-Fariha lifestyle. Reading new books was also part of the new journey. I started reading a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I was in Target one day in the books section and to be honest, the cover just looked cute to me, so I picked it up. The summary on the back sounded like I would benefit from the book, so I said why not?

Now, I freaking love this book and think everyone should read it, both young and old, men and women, whoever you are, go read it. The book has information in it that at first you think you know. Actually, we all already know the information in this book, but Rubin explains how she thoughtfully applied the things we already know in her own lifestyle. She would make time for happiness, which is something most of say we don't have much of. She made everyday things part of her "Happiness Project," so that her life would be a little less dull and more exciting. When I say everyday things, I mean everyday things like cleaning, reading, talking to people nicely, managing your money, etc.

Each month, she focused on a different part of her life to focus on. She would ask herself how she could improve that specific part of her life. She explains what her successes were and what her failures were. She's super transparent, which makes the book more relatable. I never thought I would read such a book at this age. To be honest, I had the perception that self-help books were for people who were engulfed in many problems and were very unhappy. I was so wrong. This book isn't the kind that makes you feel like you have so many problems and the author has the answer to them all. She just shares her two-cents and made me realize that I can totally be happier if I just try to be happy.

Part II.
Being happier means being kinder.

When I see what's going on all over the world, I feel depressed at first, which obviously goes against my goal to be happier. I realized that I can continue to have sympathy for the unfortunate events that take place. I can pray for peace and happiness for everyone in the world--but I cannot let anyone or anything predetermine who I am as an individual. In The Happiness Project, Rubin mentions that she always looks for opportunities to make new friends and, in general, be nicer to others. She mentions how she started to avoid gossiping and saying negative things about people, events, etc. She also made a checklist for first new encounters:
  • Smile more frequently.
  • Actively invite others to join a conversation.
  • Create a positive mood.
  • Open a conversation.
  • Try to look accessible and warm.
  • Show a vulnerable side and laugh at yourself.
  • Show a readiness to be pleased.
  • Follow others' conversational leads.
  • Ask questions.
You're probably wondering, where am I going with all of this?

I dislike it when people assume something about me, because of what's on my head or what I'm wearing or because of my faith or culture. Predetermining how someone is as a person without getting to know them is just going to keep people from being kind to each other. Some might say, that the solution to all the unfortunate events that take place everyday in our world is by creating a hashtag or putting up a Facebook status. Some might say protest. Some might say don't get involved. It's quite fascinating how every person has their own way of dealing with these situations. Everyone has a reason for what they do, usually with positive and respectful intentions. 

My little goal in life, starting now, is to be happier, which includes being kinder. This involves holding the door open for my apartment neighbors in the lobby, saying hello to the person standing next to me as we wait for the bus, not talking negatively about a professor just because I'm stressed about his/her class, being a better listener to my friends, and being positive overall...to every single person I encounter, regardless of faith, race, whatever. As easy as this sounds, we are all guilty of doing the exact opposite of this every now and then, but this post serves as a reminder to myself before anyone else. 

Part of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) include being happy and being kind to family, friends, neighbors, strangers, etc. The Prophet (pbuh) was human. He would worry and stress, he would laugh and joke around, but he was always kind to others. I pray that Allah (swt) helps me follow my two goals of being happier and being kinder to all. And that everyone attains happiness and shares kindness with others as well.


"Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day speak good, or keep silent; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbor; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest."

"None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself."

- Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)