North Richmond is no stranger to challenges – or proposed solutions. But a class of UC Berkeley grad students, backed by The California Endowment and a network of local allies, hope their efforts can make a difference.
“Our hope is that we can help bring neighbors together in a way that creates new energies focused on key neighborhood issues and shared concerns,” said Heather Imboden, a first year master’s candidate in city planning.
Imboden is one of a half dozen students studying under Malo Andre Hutson, a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning. The class is focused on studying North Richmond, where they hope their work will engage residents and draw up a broad blueprint for the community’s social, economic and physical development in the coming years. At 4 p.m. on Thursday, the class and its community partners will host a “New Voices” youth forum in the neighborhood’s Young Adult Empowerment Center (YAEC), a social services and education building located in the Las Deltas public housing projects.
Hutson’s class, in partnership with The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative, has worked in the last three years in other Bay Area communities, including East Oakland.
This year, endowment officials asked the class to work in North Richmond to develop a community plan with the goal of making the community more healthy and economically sustainable. Diane Aranda, the Richmond program officer for the endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative, pushed for Hutson’s class to focus on the issues facing the tiny North Richmond community, including assessing the community resources available and providing recommendations for supporting residents of the neighborhood in the future.
Beginning in January, Hutson’s class set out to learn about North Richmond through class work, reading and getting out into the neighborhood. They began with a series of chats with staff and volunteers and neighborhood institutions, inside and outside North Richmond, including YAEC, the Center for Human Development at Shields-Reid Community Center, RYSE, the Richmond Community Foundation, the Contra Costa County Service Integration Program, Supervisor John Gioia’s office, and Youth Enrichment Strategies.
The advance work has all been building toward the youth forum scheduled for Thursday. “The forum is about hearing directly from young people in North Richmond,” Imboden said. “We want to hear about assets and restrictions, what resources they draw from, their hopes, what they need.”
Imboden said the outreach is aimed specifically at young people, but all are welcome. “We think young people have a unique understanding of the community and may see resources worth supporting where adults and service providers don’t,” Imboden said.
The culmination of the research and dialogue will be a report the class will present to endowment officials in early May. The report will include findings and a series of recommendations, which will be circulated in the community.
“Working with people in North Richmond has been an inspiration and a lesson,” Imboden said. “The things they have been up against, and the will to keep pushing and make progress is really amazing.”