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Building community on campus, brick by brick

Two seniors co-founded the group Building Relations in Communities.

Andrew Mazer said a brick opened his eyes to the “ecology” of the North Philadelphia neighborhood he lived in—after a group of teenage girls hit his girlfriend’s face with one in March 2014 just west of Main Campus.

Since then, he’s been on a mission that is reflective of a brick’s original purpose: to build.

“It gave me this drive to try and find a way to kind of tap into [the community] and start to make it … more of a peaceful, harmonious kind of a place,” said Mazer, a senior architecture major. “My medium to do that was through architecture and more specifically, the architecture of relationships and communities and the sociology in an urban environment.”

That spring semester, he and Veronica Ayala-Flores, another senior architecture major, co-founded Building Relationships in Communities, a multi-disciplinary student organization aimed at fostering stronger relationships between Temple and its neighbors.

One of the group’s three core initiatives is to create relationships among local organizations with common goals. Through mapping and reaching out to various groups, Mazer and Ayala are working toward a “network-finding, network-building” database published on the group’s website. It would be a resource for students and groups to find other like-minded activists who could use their help.

“It would be more productive if we unite all of our efforts, so if there is already an organization there, you can easily access it and volunteer for them,” Ayala said. “That way, we have less competition and more addressing the actual problem.”

Mazer and Ayala have been collaborating with local community efforts, like Temple’s Good Neighbor Initiative, Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Inc. and the Urban Creators.

BRIC also teamed up with Dr. Mahbubur Meenar, a professor and the assistant director of Temple Ambler’s Center for Sustainable Communities. Mazer and Ayala helped write a proposal for a Green Stormwater Infrastructure plan in three sites around Philadelphia, with help from an Environmental Protection Agency grant aimed at reducing urban runoff pollution.

Another of BRIC’s initiatives is to help improve the urban physical environment.

The  two co-founders said they value design charrettes held at the sites, which bring together designers and developers with community members who would be directly impacted by the project’s changes.

“There’s a lot of top-down mentality of an architect coming in and just saying, ‘This is what should be here,’ but our experience with these events were quite the opposite,” Ayala said. “It was just learning how to listen to the people that live there every day and experience this site every day to tell us what they think is best.”

It’s this kind of approach that BRIC hopes to continue—especially amidst the current on-campus stadium debate, which the Board of Trustees approved funding for last week. The group’s Facebook page contains a survey for students and community members to let the group know how they feel about the potential stadium.

Ayala and Mazer said they hope to gather these narratives to better understand the problem from all sides.

“That’s what we’re trying to extract from our work and our research right now, is trying to build all of those narratives so that we can construct what the stadium represents, from all possible angles,” Mazer said.

“A lot of the students sometimes say, ‘I’m only here for four years, what do I care what this place looks like when I leave?’” he added. “Their mind is already kind of made up as they come into it, so there’s this lack of pride and appreciation for this place that could be very wonderful.”

Ayala said BRIC will hold a lecture this week focused on teaching Temple students how to be good neighbors.

“What we’re doing isn’t really that revolutionary at all—it’s pretty simple,” she said. “It’s just people coming together and saying, ‘Enough is enough. What can we do?’”

Albert Hong can be reached at albert.hong@temple.edu.

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