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ARIANA AKBARI — Design a Better World: Create an Architectural Summer Program for Children and Adults

Port Arthur is important. No matter where I have gone, studied or lived, I have always thought this.

Just one drive down one of its historical roads or along the seawall and you can see that it was once a place that was highly cherished.

Looking back through the historical records, you read that before the oil boom, Port Arthur was established as a dream for a coastal holiday town. You can still feel that energy in the open spaces and the areas that should be teeming with people but aren’t now because they loom small in the shadow of enormous refineries.

As the refineries come up, as the neighborhoods are demolished, as community networks suffer, as crime rates rise, and families struggle — everyone suffers and there’s no real way to get out of it, no matter how well-intended people are.

However, I think that there is one way to save and healthily reinvigorate this place. Start developing a culture of design-positive thinking by creating programs that teach people how to think like architects, urban planners and designers.

Equip them with the tools to literally build us all a better community, the community that we were always meant to have and truly deserve.

I propose a Port Arthur summer design program with two tracks — one for high school students and another for adults of all ages — where they can begin to make a small portfolio, learn the basics of architectural and landscape design and be educated on architecture through tours of local buildings of architectural historical import.

There currently exists a similar program at the University of Houston School of Architecture that I myself did and loved, however, it is just not feasible for people here to attend it. The next closest school, I am told, that offers such a program is Tulane, which is also not feasible for people here to easily attend.

Beyond that, Port Arthur has a unique energy all its own that could inform its own brand of architecture and design – rooted in the maritime, in the open green spaces and in community.

We need to believe that we here can do things that no one else thinks that we can do. We can repurpose buildings and build a diverse and functional cityscape, while working together as a community.

“If you give someone a fish, they eat for a day. But if you teach them to fish, they eat for a lifetime.” Similarly, if you give someone a building, they might live in it for a bit or sell it or demolish it. But if you teach them to design cities, you will all have beautiful places to live.

Anyone interested in helping to get this proposal off the ground, particularly folks at Lamar State College Port Arthur, please contact me, Ariana Akbari, at arianaakbariart@gmail.com.