Refugees in the Rust Belt

Today, there are over 65 million refugees worldwide—the highest number of displaced persons ever recorded. In the design community, most of the efforts to help deal with this humanitarian crisis have rightly centered on immediate needs related to the design of refugee camps. Especially in the US, however, the design community has paid less attention to refugee resettlement. Since 1975, close to three million refugees have been resettled across the US, a process that has resulted in large refugee communities in places like Lancaster, PA (Syrians), St. Louis, MO (Bosnians), Minneapolis, MN (Somalis), Detroit, MI (Iraqis), and Fort Wayne, IN (Burmese) to name just a few. In the city of Utica, New York—the “city that loves refugees”—one in four residents is a refugee.

These communities remind us that refugees don’t just move to nations—they move to cities. While officials at the national level determine who qualifies as a refugee and establish refugee quotas, how well refugees fare depends in part on the efforts of local entities entrusted with helping refugees find housing and employment, get around, and more generally adapt to everyday life.

The premise of this interdisciplinary studio is that architects, landscape architects, and urban planners and designers in the US can and should play a larger role in this refugee resettlement process. Working with refugee resettlement organizations in St. Louis, Detroit, and Cleveland, students will make proposals at a range of scales aimed at helping refugees thrive in their arrival city. 

In the first part of the studio, students will create an atlas of refugee resettlement that visualizes resettlement patterns in the United States. Following this, students will work on individual proposals that can range from the design of individual buildings (housing typologies, community centers, educational facilities, retail, etc), to the design of neighborhood and block typologies, to the design and planning of public spaces, transportation networks, and so on. More high-level planning and policy proposals are also welcome. As there are a myriad of ways in which architects, landscape architects, and urban planners and designers can intervene in the refugee resettlement process, deliverables are expected to be very diverse.

A field trip to St. Louis, Detroit, and Cleveland is tentatively planned.