When Bahia Marks was 10 years old and living in Cape Town, South Africa, her mother, who worked in public health, sometimes took her on visits into the local communities. Even at that age, Marks – now a master’s student at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design – noticed a relationship between what people looked like and where they lived. “I wondered why some people, who were often white, lived in areas of extreme wealth and others did not.”
These questions lingered with Marks, and as an undergraduate in the U.S. she became interested in “participatory design.” She began thinking about how neighbourhood residents might contribute to the design of their own communities.
Now, Marks is exploring this topic – both in her master’s work at the university and as a volunteer with the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program in St. James Town, where Marks meets weekly with a group of 11- to 15-year-olds.
Together, the group – one of several junior youth groups that meet across Toronto – considers what their neighbourhood needs. Then they act. “Our group decided they wanted to create a space where children can watch movies together,” says Marks. While this may be a small change, she hopes the skills the youth learn will stay with them. “It’s like a muscle we’re building together,” she says.