Drawing a New Bronx

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Walking north along Third Avenue from 149th Street in the South Bronx, most people see a jumble of discount stores, boarded-up buildings and empty lots. But ask Danny Rodriguez what he sees there, and he’ll talk about pedestrian parks, wrought-iron streetlamps and a new Bronx Historical Center.

Rodriguez, who will be a senior at Morris High School in September, is one of 25 students from the South Bronx who worked in the Urban Design Studio over the last school year. Created by the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SOBRO), the Urban Design Studio teaches planning and places students in paid internships with local firms and nonprofits.

Last fall, students in the program worked with a team of design professionals and activists from the community group Nos Quedamos, to study the Third Avenue Corridor. The students documented conditions along the avenue and developed plans for street improvements, like adding benches and trees. Then they came up with more ambitious plans, like renovating of the long-abandoned former courthouse on 161st Street and creating a historical center.

They were also given lessons in urban realism. “They understand that without jobs, all these delightful environmental changes are not going to be as meaningful as they should be,” says landscape archi-tect Lee Weintraub, a program advisor.

Already, one of the ideas from the Urban Design Studio is being implemented. Student-designed banners will run down Third Avenue, visually uniting the neighborhood. The work is fun, says Julie Mejia, a student in the program. “If things change, you can look back and say, ‘I was part of that.”