“Territory primarily focuses on creating mentorship and career pathways for young people who don’t have as many opportunities just because of the neighborhood they’re from,” says Xochitl Hubbell-Fox, AmeriCorps VISTA at Territory.

Territory is a nonprofit organization that strives to provide place-based urban design opportunities for young people to build better futures for themselves and their communities. Through their design programs and projects, Territory hopes to empower young people to understand their own agency and the ways in which they can have a positive impact on their community. Created in 2011, Territory’s founders saw a need to give young people the means to express their opinions and ideas concerning issues affecting their neighborhood.

“Young people rely more on all public things,” says Helen Slade, Executive Director of Territory. “They’re very much at the mercy of where people allow them to go. So, they need more agency in those spaces than others do.”

Through Territory’s design programs, young people are granted the agency to influence the spaces around them through urban design, public art, and community planning. While some initial obstacles included facing the stigma young people cannot act as valuable community leaders, the organization’s work over the years has proven that the perspectives and ideas of young people are essential to community growth.

It is important for young people to be included in decision making processes, especially when those decisions affect the spaces that they occupy. As the COVID-19 pandemic has raged on, it has stressed the importance of digital space building alongside physical space building. Though many—adults and youth alike—are experiencing virtual burnout, Territory staff has realized the value of using technology, and is looking into creating hybrid design programming in the future. Through a hybrid model, participants will have the opportunity to take advantage of physical space, as well as digital space through online programming. That way participants can choose which type of programming best suits them.

More than anything else, this pandemic has shown the need to prioritize the mental health and well-being of program participants. Territory has become flexible in that regard, putting the mental and physical well-being ahead of any deadlines and allowing participants to set their own pace.

Through their programming, Territory hopes to shape communities so that youth have a platform. By arming teenagers with the tools necessary to become advocates and leaders, Territory knows that teenagers can transform their neighborhoods for the better, creating a safe space that addresses issues like housing, and fighting for economic stability and ownership.

Six people around a table talking

Three staff members from Territory at Northwestern University, sharing their work at the Kellogg Cares Conference. 

Lesley Rodriguez, housing community navigator, giving a rental assistance presentation

Territory staff crafting a marketing pitch at the Kellogg Cares Conference.