Design competition to combat Austin’s high foreclosure rate kicks off

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Design Makes Change’s second design competition will focus on foreclosed homes in Chicago, specifically the Austin community.

The competitive project, “Sweet Homes Chicago: The Neighborhood Preservation Project,” kicked off March 1 and urges designers, urban planners, architects, civil engineers and others to use their talents to address the high foreclosure rate in Austin – one of the many communities across the nation hit hard by the housing crisis.

The Sweet Homes Chicago project, also sponsored by the Chicago-based Unit 2 Art and Design Collective, is looking for applicants to develop plans or strategies to help combat foreclosures in Austin while working with local community partners.

Andrew Born of the community group Austin Coming Together said the conversations around addressing communities ravaged by the housing market collapse tend to be driven by policy makers, housing advocates and community organizers.

“The opportunity to have designers influence our conversations and help us formulate strategies for preserving Austin’s housing stock is something that we are extremely excited about,” Born said in a written statement.

“We expect them to bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to help the community re-examine an issue that we have been struggling to address for years.”

The idea for Sweet Homes Chicago came about when Siobhan Gregory, founder of Deign Makes Change and an anthropologist, was doing research for the The Field Museum in Austin last summer.

“I was meeting some incredible people and learning about the neighborhood and community assets, but I was also learning about the key concerns residents have and some of the issues and challenges that are facing this area of Chicago,” she said.

From talking with community members, she learned their top concern was foreclosures in Austin.

“When it came time to pick a topic for the design contest this year, foreclosure came out as a top concern – both as a Chicago and nationwide concern,” Gregory said.

Elce Redmond, organizing director at the South Austin Community Coalition, is one of nine or so multidisciplinary individuals selected to judge the competition.

“The foreclosure crisis in Austin is systematically decimating the collective wealth of the African-American community,” Redmond said in a press release.

“Our hope is that this project will shine a bright light of justice for those fighting for neighborhood preservation.”

The contest, Gregory said, is all about picking topics so local designs can look at problems close to home, but also with national or international implications.

Last year, Design Makes Change, which is made up of a group of artists, designers and educators who work to address social and economic issues in Chicago, tackled air pollution in the city.

The project “The Air We Breathe: The Chicago Clean Air Design Challenge” brought in more than 16 designs. See the winners here.

Sweet Homes Chicago submissions will be accepted until Aug. 15. The first place winner will receive seed money starting at $2,000 and professional assistance to help implement their design in Austin. For more information visit

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