Kounkuey Design Initiative Launches their first U.S. Project in Coachella, CA
October 5, 2011 | 12:00AM

Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that partners with residents of impoverished areas to create low-cost, high-impact built environments, will formally launch its first U.S. project in October 2011 in the Coachella Valley. The project site is St. Anthony Trailer Park, where an estimated 570 residents, mostly agricultural workers and their families, will collaborate with KDI to create a sheltered meeting space, play structure, community garden, small-business incubator and improved landscaping, in combination with a nutritional education and small-scale gardening program.

The Coachella Valley sits just two hours outside of metropolitan Los Angeles, only miles from several of the wealthiest zip codes in the U.S. It is also one of the most fertile agricultural growing areas of California, yet it shares many similarities with some of the poorest com¬munities in the developing world, where KDI has undertaken several projects. These communities lack oversight and regulation of housing, contributing to hazardous living conditions; have no formal sewage infrastructure; lack potable water and waste management; and have limited access to local services.

"When I read about how the challenges facing the residents in the Coachella Valley, I was surprised that they were similar to those facing residents in Kibera, Nairobi," says Chelina Odbert, co-founder and principal of KDI. "We wondered if we could use what we had learned in Kenya and apply it here, and we eventually found a place to "plug-in"–St. Anthony's. We are excited to launch this project and demonstrate what the community – with a bit of help from KDI – can accomplish in just four short months," explains Odbert.

In February 2011, KDI began a series of community workshops at St. Anthony to understand the community's most pressing needs. Residents identified three: improved access to affordable food; a central gathering space to facilitate community organization and education; and a safe, climate-appropriate, recreation area for youth.

In March and April of 2011 KDI held a youth art and gardening day to engage residents and introduce the possibilities for an income-generating, socially constructive, and sustainable space that would serve as a catalyst to improve the social, economic, and environmental lives of their residents. In May, a committee of active community members was formed to manage the design, construction, and maintenance of the St. Anthony project.

With funding for this project now in place, a formal Hechale la Mano! Kick-Off is scheduled for October 9, 2011. This event will be followed by design workshops with the residents. Construction will begin in January 2012 and the project is slated for completion in the spring.

History of KDI

Begun in 2006 by graduates of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, KDI is an innovative international partnership specializing in the practices of architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and urban planning. KDI believes that participatory planning and design are key to sustainable development. By working collaboratively with communities from conception through implementation, they build on their ideas, enhance them with technical knowledge and design innovation, and connect them to extant resources. In doing so, KDI empowers communities to advocate for themselves and address the major physical, social and economic challenges they face. KDI has completed and ongoing projects in Kenya, Morocco, and Haiti, and Coachella Valley, California.

Additional Information

This project in Coachella Valley is a partnership with Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation, and is made possible through the generous support of the California Endowment. In 2010 the California Endowment launched Building Healthy Communities, a 10-year, $1 billion place-based initiative in 14 communities, including the Eastern Coachella Valley. Their goal is to help communities make where they live healthier by improving neighborhood safety, unhealthy environmental conditions, access to healthy food and more.