Editor’s Note: New College News has featured ISPs throughout the month of January. Next month it will publish a photo gallery highlighting additional projects. If you would like to be featured, please submit a photo and brief description of the ISP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.
By Liz Lebron
When entrepreneurs Lauri Contarino and Erica McReadie saw the empty drive-through window vacated by a bank in downtown Bradenton, they saw a coffee shop. Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies David Brain saw the space, which Contarino and McReadie named Tellers Coffee, as an opportunity for his independent study project (ISP) students to build community through a tactical urbanism project.
New College student Lauren Lobeck, who enrolled in the ISP and helped organize the event, described tactical urbanism as “activating public space in order to show people what it can be.” It’s tactical, Lobeck continued, because “it’s low cost and not permanent, so you don’t have to get over barriers like big funding or permission from the city in some cases. It’s a real grassroots effort to activate urban space, which otherwise wouldn’t be happening because the development process takes so long.”
The goal of the ISP was to bring small business owners together and empower them to change the downtown landscape using limited financial means. Lobeck and her five classmates converted the parking lot adjacent to Tellers Coffee into a street fair with the help of Realize Bradenton, which connected the students with the coffee shop’s owners.
“We are a place-based economic development nonprofit that uses arts, culture, history and food to bring people together for economic development, greater downtown vitality, and quality of life,” said Realize Bradenton Executive Director Johnette Isham. The organization is especially interested in fostering a sense of community and pride among young people, whom it encourages to invest in the place where they live.
Throughout the month of January, the students solicited business owners, booked performers, organized family activities, and promoted the event to the Bradenton community. Students worked directly with Realize Bradenton to organize the event because the space adjacent to Tellers belongs to the coffee shop, not the city, which allowed them to bypass the permitting process.
“[Realize Bradenton] already has standing relationships with a lot of city officials,” said Alia Quadir, a New College student who participated in the ISP. “Because everything is so small-scale, and because we didn’t need to apply for funding or zoning because we didn’t do a street closure, we didn’t have to get permission from the city.”
Brain and Isham cautioned the students to be realistic when measuring the success of the street fair. Attendance for a first-time event would be low, they said, especially since Tellers Coffee is not along the newly renovated waterfront.
“If you have 15-20 people come out, it’s a good day,” said Jacob Spence, a student who transferred to New College when his wife accepted a position teaching graphic design at Ringling College. “I say we had 25 people here at 11 a.m., when we started.”
Spence enrolled in Professor Brain’s ISP and was responsible for recruiting vendors for the pop-up event. Recruiting vendors helped Spence, who is a veteran, not only build community among the business owners, but also for himself.
“I met some really great people, some people who I’m going to work with in the future. It was really nice because I got to check out the Village of The Arts here in Bradenton, which I had never been to before.”
Brain was pleased with the students’ accomplishments in only three weeks and hopes they will use the skills they learned to carry out similar projects in the future.
“The students had a really great experience,” shared Brain. “The opportunity here was for the students to put what they learned into practice, have the experience, with all of the ups and downs, of organizing the event. I’m really happy with how all six of them were really active in the whole process. They really took ownership of it. After the second week, they kept me in the loop, but I didn’t have to do anything at all.”
— Liz Lebron is associate director of communications and marketing at New College of Florida.