A USC Architecture course, spearheaded by Alison Hirsch, Director of Graduate Programs in Landscape Architecture + Urbanism, put students to work on a comprehensive roadmap to help the city of Allensworth “Rise Again.”

Earlier this year, the USC Architecture course, Cross-Cultural Topics in Landscape Architecture History, focused on the history and revitalization of the city of Allensworth. Led by Alison Hirsch, Director of Graduate Programs in Landscape Architecture + Urbanism, the course’s topic for the semester - Allensworth Rising: An Agrarian Utopia of Black Possibility - gave students the unique chance to build out aspects of a Community Plan for Allensworth to help solidify the town’s path towards a resilient and thriving future. 

Allensworth’s Unique History

Allensworth, settled in 1908 to fulfill a vision for Black agrarian self-determination, is the first and only town in California founded, financed, and governed by Black Americans. It flourished into a center of economic and agricultural innovation, a place of prosperity for Black families to thrive. In the 1920s, Allensworth began to experience population declines and hardships due to racially motivated water rights disputes, the Great Depression and water contamination in the 1960s.

Despite these setbacks, descendant families of Allensworth banded together to fight for their town and in 1974, California State Parks purchased 240 acres in Allensworth and operates it as Allensworth State Historic Park, where it has restored and reconstructed primary buildings that made up the historic town – the library, schoolhouse, church, hotel, and more. 

Today, the community of Allensworth, just south of the State Park, has a population of 600 people and is predominantly Latinx, including many farmworkers living with high levels of economic, health, and immigration status vulnerabilities. 

This is where Hirsch’s USC Architecture course and its Allensworth Rising: An Agrarian Utopia of Black Possibility topic comes into play. 

Allensworth Rising

Hirsch, alongside a mix of architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and art students from USC, worked with the Allensworth Progressive Association (APA), a community organization that has been pivotal in securing funding to ensure Allensworth “rises again” as well as State Parks, local Native tribes and other individuals and agencies, to provide contributions to The Allensworth Community Plan. 

This Community Plan, which will serve as a roadmap to arrive at a more climate resilient, economically diversified, water secure, and healthful future for this culturally rich place, will soon be submitted to the County for review.

Students enrolled in the course spent time in Allensworth, met with the APA and other community members and stakeholders, and did boots-on-the-ground research. Students were divided into groups, each tasked with addressing different aspects of the Community Plan. Projects included planning for eco-cultural tourism, contributing to the design of a regenerative farm known as TAC Farm, and designing green infrastructure to manage flood risks and improve the town's resilience. These diverse projects aimed to ensure that Allensworth thrived both culturally and ecologically, and became resilient to environmental adversities.

During the semester, climate change brought not just an extension of the megadrought for which the students had been planning for, but instead, fourteen atmospheric rivers. With the added impact of large landowners redirecting flows to Allensworth, the community was placed in a state of flood emergency. The students and their work on the Community Plan had to adapt to this newest reality of acute flood events. 

“This course really allowed students to flex their landscape skills in topographic grading and green infrastructure in an effort to protect this really special place,” stated Hirsch. “They had to think about the geology, the soils, the ecology, and understand how to work with the foundations of this place to ensure that it can thrive into the future.” 

Hirsch continued to explain, “The APA wants Allensworth to be a model climate resilient rural community in the San Joaquin Valley, so work on the Community Plan was about economic development, regenerative farming, and community infrastructure, but also about adaptive response to climate stress and the tremendous environmental burdens from industrial farming in the region.”

The efforts of USC students and the Allensworth Progressive Association demonstrate the power of collaboration and adaptive thinking. 

The Master of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism and the Landscape Justice Initiative would like to acknowledge the Grant & Shaya Kirkpatrick Landscape Architecture + Urbanism Leadership Fund for sponsoring this important project. 

Learn more about the Landscape Justice Initiative here or listen to the latest podcast on Save As: Allensworth: The Past and Future of a Black Agrarian Utopia.

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