Sites of Interpretation | The Africatown International Design Idea Competition
Our world faces complex challenges that threaten all aspects of Black space and the disenfranchised lives contained within it. We must elevate discussions about the interpretation of Black history and Black space in ways that protect the truth, health, safety, and welfare of Africatown, Alabama—in the Deep South.
In 2018, against the backdrop of the Clotilda discovery,1Learn more about the Clotilda, Africatown, and this community’s history. M.O.V.E. Gulf Coast Community Development Corporation (led by this report’s associate editor, Vickii Howell) commissioned my practice, studiorotan, to explore a range of planning tools that could unite divergent Africatown community interests under one single big idea.
The Africatown International Design Idea Competition was developed to prove how historic, yet underserved, communities such as Africatown can harness the power of design to contribute creative (rather than mundane) solutions to multisite and multiscale development issues in the service of an authentic narrative.
During the competition development phase, many community engagement events led to the identification of many site priorities, which, in turn, led to a well-defined matrix of multiple Black spaces—monuments, memorials, and interpretive sites that together tell the stories and produce what the competition now calls The Africatown Cultural Mile.2Learn more about planning efforts and the ways in which this competition fits into larger community initiatives and organizing. The story is bigger than Africatown’s historic district.
After listening to and consulting with the community, we dedicated the competition to committing all historic points of interest to the regeneration of Africatown.3Learn more. Through design programming, we constructed multivocal narratives at multiple sites to arrive at fresh interpretations of Black resilience in Black spaces throughout Mobile.
Here, we use design as a tool for spatial justice—to raise public awareness, promote imagination, repair community inequities, and secure economic benefits—by insisting that design ideas transform this unique African American story into a world-class cultural heritage destination.
Additional details about the Africatown design challenge can be found through the following tour of interpretive sites.