St. Vincent de Paul Market + Cafe
The Mid City Studio partnered with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Fall 2013 to lead a service-learning studio with LSU and Southern University Architecture students. Students were challenged to propose a fresh market and cafe designed to supplement a workforce development program run by St. Vincent de Paul.
Premise, Process and Engagement
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 70,000 East Baton Rouge Parish residents live in food deserts. A food desert is an area where 20% or more of its residents make less than 80% of the area median income and at least 33% reside one mile or more from a source of fresh produce. Mid City houses at least two food deserts according to a 2012 study by LSU's Ag Center. Mid City is also home to a high concentration of Baton Rouge's homeless population and the institutions that serve them like St. Vincent de Paul. Can we begin to find a solution through design?
Before designing anything, students built and deployed four chalkboard panels to collect stories and perspectives from the surrounding community - each focusing on relevant topics like food and housing. Residents told us where they buy groceries and what they like about their neighborhood. Students then hosted a picnic on the project site to talk directly to residents, distribute more detailed surveys and spend some time engaging the site. Many residents mentioned needs like better lighting, safe places for children to play outside, and a stronger sense of community.
Student teams assessed community needs, studied precedents and developed the program around three specific areas: food systems, homelessness and housing.
The site at 1730 North Blvd. once housed Romano's Pack N' Save - a small grocery store that was torn down in 2008. St. Vincent de Paul acquired the empty lot in 2010. The surrounding neighborhood is characterized by mid-20th-Century, detached homes in various states disrepair and occupancy. The nearest large-scale grocer is over a mile away, while sidewalks in the area are deteriorating and bus service is limited. Siting a grocery store here is ideal for local residents without transportation, especially the elderly.
Student proposals and presentations
Students later shared preliminary designs for the Market and Cafe in the activity center at the New Sunlight Baptist Church, located immediately south of the site. Reverend Dale Flowers and Assistant Minister Roy Simms, along with community representatives from the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance, and St. Vincent de Paul, offered valuable insight and feedback. Final designs were presented on Friday, November 22, 2013 as part of Mid City Merchants' White Light Night at Letterman's Blueprint and Supply. The students re-assembled the chalkboard panels to display their work. Letterman's graciously hosted the event and a subsequent design competition judged by a panel of local architects and members of the Mid City community. The work was turned over to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to raise money and promote the project. Winning proposals were displayed on Letterman’s billboards along Government Street in 2014.