According to the most recent publicly-available data, the population of people experiencing homelessness in and around Orleans and Jefferson parishes is approximately 1,179 and until recently, Louisiana led the country in its incarceration rate. With 481 service stations in the City of New Orleans alone, we have a vision to embrace and support marginalized populations, support their long-term success, and contribute to the enrichment of the community at large. Our concept for co-op centers proposes the evolution of existing service stations in order to eliminate homelessness by 100%, and give co-op members access to education, training, mental health support, employment, and re-integration into the community in ways that will destigmatize and empower. Our vision is to embrace these individuals, provide them with housing, and most importantly, provide them with an opportunity to feel needed and be an integral part of the future of one of America’s most unique cities.
Each former service station will be reinvented to simultaneously fill existing community demands (e.g., cafes, animal adoption centers, neighborhood grocery stores, EV charging stations, restaurants, furniture shops, and beyond) while maximizing carbon neutrality and harnessing solar and wind power. We propose that some centers should fulfill solely professional outlets while others may fill residential needs or joint residential and employment/training services. This innovative approach has the flexibility to serve multiple community needs and contemplates empowering a marginalized population by housing them in co-op style apartments and providing them with a multitude of opportunities to cultivate professional skills and relationships in a way that bridges the gap between homelessness and full integration back into the community.
With 481 available service stations to showcase for purposes of our design submission, we selected this particular station because of its central location and proximity to transportation, tourist destinations, museums, other businesses, and a burgeoning population of Central Business District residents. We have designed this location to serve as a wind-powered bicycle shop, where co-op members will get exposure to retail, technical, and technological skills while interacting with local community members and supporting a movement towards a “greener” and less congested Central Business District in New Orleans. New Orleans’ rapidly growing Warehouse and Central Business Districts currently have no bicycle shops at all, and by designing a center to support a community within a community that values inclusiveness, innovation, involvement, and sustainability, we believe we are filling an existing community need while providing a marginalized group with the social interaction, exposure to innovation and cultural trends that will help sustain their professional development and goals, and an opportunity to celebrate rather than stigmatize. Our vision contemplates opportunities for individuals to thrive -- not just survive -- while helping innovate the city. Shops may employ experienced professionals right alongside co-op members in the execution of our ambitious social entrepreneurship vision. Our hope is that this model may be exported to other cities and states, where our co-ops contribute to a greater sense of community and decrease--if not eliminate--homelessness and prison recidivism.