Placemaking Through Storytelling

Baptist Hill Cemetery dates to the late 1870’s and is one of few remaining African-American landmarks in the city of Auburn. Here, in Auburn’s first independent black community cemetery, plots are owned by families that date back six generations or more and represent men and women who were key in the early development of the city. The oldest grave in the four-acre cemetery is dated 1879.

During the summer 2021 semester, students in the Environmental Design ENVD 2000 introductory seminar explored creating a public, educational, and community-centric learning center for the neighborhood  contiguous to the cemetery. Partnering with family descendants, the city of Auburn, university researchers, the Lee Country Remembrance Project and K-12 educators, students developed ideas for sharing what is often told primarily through oral history with visitors, pedestrians, and the community. Sharing the stories related to Baptist Hill Cemetery was of primary concern, and students were encouraged to explore placemaking and storytelling in the constructed landscape and program spaces to meet community needs and share stories and histories sacred to the African American community.

Students were required to provide a buffer between the actual cemetery and their project site, both physical and visual. The cemetery itself was not to be included in the project as it is considered a sacred space, and students were asked to design within the context of the surrounding single-family, low-density housing. Providing improved pedestrian access to the site from adjacent busy roads was imperative as the city library is on a direct visual axis with the cemetery. Projects were to incorporate structured space for learning as well as the experiential sharing of knowledge for pedestrians and a visual or physical connection to other sacred spaces in Auburn, Lee County, or across the state of Alabama.

The final review for the project was held at the Auburn Public Library on Thursday, July 29. Guest reviewers included Mayor Ron Anders; Becky Richardson, Auburn Parks and Recreation Director; Steven Dixon, Auburn City Council Member and Ward Representative; Ashley Brown, Lee County Remembrance Project Director; Tyler Whitten, Auburn Public Library Director; Professor Anthony Tindall, AIA. Assistant Professor of Environmental Design, Jennifer Smith said, “Our cities are imbued with placemaking potential. One significant way this occurs is through evidence of history in the constructed landscape, and it is critical that all histories are preserved and legible. Auburn is a special and diverse place, and it is an honor for our Environmental Design classes to be a small part of facilitating this at Baptist Hill.”




Related people:
Jennifer Smith