Holiday Warm Fuzzy #3

Back in August, Women in Design joined Habitat for Humanity in the Women’s Build Week for 2015. We offered local Colorado students a $250 scholarship opportunity to join the team by competing in an essay contest. We now want to share those winning essays with you. We are proud to have these amazing, fantastic, creative, talented women living among us in Colorado and as a part of WiD.


Essay Winner #3

Essay Topic: If you could not fail – How would you use your design passion and skills to help make the world a better place?

As a young girl, I grew up in what is now referred to as Sunnyside. An up-and-coming, hip neighborhood in Denver, located northeast of Downtown. When I lived there, however, children did not play outside for fear of being hurt during frequent gang related drive-by shootings. Crime in the area was high and ones home was the only flimsy barrier offered from the chaos outside. There were no parks or safe public spaces within walking distance, the closest public library was the Central branch located near the Denver capitol miles away, accessible at that time only by car.  In this urban captivity, my home and neighborhood felt for like prisons than places of refuge. My goal as a design professional is to establish and maintain a safe, lively, and economically accessible built world.

For an impoverished population to truly thrive, there needs to be civic investment in that populations well-being. The outside world needs to care about the quality of life for their neighbors. When every citizen is proud of their home, the city as a whole is healthier. The state is healthier. The world is healthier. Economically healthy as well as mentally and emotionally healthy. There is nothing quite as detrimental to the psyche of a struggling, low-income population than being treated as a weak “other”, begging for scraps from the table. When visiting the homes of my friends living in Park Hill or Cherry Creek, I was met with lush, sprawling parks bordered and rows of cute shops and cafes. I walked away knowing that I was poor and that worlds like that were not built for people like me.

After being ignored or institutionally neglected for generations, the poor are left feeling like unwanted burdens. No child, no family, no community should feel this way. Some turn this pain into anger and perpetuate crime in these challenged areas. The only solution is to enable these groups to be their own advocates and feel confident speaking with designers to improve their area, this means that designers need to be more engaged with these groups. Engaged not as saviors with advanced degrees and inflated egos, but as community development partners.

As a working-class Latina entering a profession that is historically predominated by affluent white men, I feel it is my duty to represent my people as hard working and dedicated to a bright future for all- regardless of income. I have mentored young women of color who hope to someday be architects and I would love to participate in projects operated by Habitat for Humanity. Both activities challenge me as an aspiring design professional and part of a build team, but more importantly strengthen individuals who want to build a better world for themselves.

Author: Emilia Cabeza de Baca
Field of Study: Architecture at University of Colorado-Denver


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