Posts Tagged ‘Public Policy’


Damon Rich talks about the planning approaches that recently earned him a MacArthur Fellowship.


Damon Rich describes himself as a designer who uses the tool set of a community organizer. Rich says his goal at his design firm, Hector, with partner Jae Shin, and at his previous post as a founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy, is to “[assemble] constituencies, trying to connect people so they can better exert political influence.” As a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship grant recipient, Rich will get a chance to see how an infusion of money ($625,000), translated through broad-based grassroots urban planning, can pull policy levers to make urbanism more equitable, healthy, and vital.

With Hector, his goal is to go into a neighborhood and uncover design elements that can offer multilayered meanings and associations to meet a wide range of needs. “I’m really excited to keep on finding ways to design things that really become social objects and social symbols,” Rich says. At the Newark Riverfront Park project, designed by Lee Weintraub, FASLA, during Rich’s tenure as the planning department director for the city of Newark, New Jersey, the color orange is used prominently in a boardwalk. The color references local schools’ heraldry and Newark’s municipal neighbors, East Orange and West Orange. It also works because it’s a neutral hue across local gang turfs. After it was built, a yoga instructor who teaches classes there complimented Rich for selecting this color because (unbeknownst to him) orange represents the water chakra.

Rich practices largely in the urban planning tradition, but he’s not careful about disciplinary lines. At the Center for Urban Pedagogy, he created users’ manuals for the city, working with marginalized communities that most need civic jargon translated into plain language. “I Got Arrested! Now What?” explains in graphic novel format how the justice system works, while “Vendor Power!” uses nearly wordless IKEA-like diagrams to show street vendors (who may be recent immigrants who don’t read English) how to comply with vending rules. Clear explanations of the city’s form, use, and regulations are part of his responsibility to (more…)

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Mulan Primary School in Huaiji County, Guangdong, China, by Rural Urban Framework and the Power of Love. Photo Courtesy of Rural Urban Framework.

John Cary’s book Design for Good (Island Press, 2017) details a now familiar formulation for do-good design in the developing world: a western architect working closely with local partners, using local materials assembled to respect vernacular traditions and modern aesthetics, employing local labor trained as an act of grassroots economic development.

From the remotest outposts of developing-world privation to the forgotten places much closer to home that exist in the shadow of great wealth, Cary (the former executive director of Public Architecture, the public-impact design nonprofit) advocates on behalf of design for dignity. “Dignity,” he writes, “is about knowing your intrinsic worth and seeing that worth reflected in the places you inhabit.” It’s not an aesthetic goal, or a measure of the designer’s saintly ambitions. It’s a quality of the users’ experience.

The building types he examines are familiar (Rural Urban Framework’s Mulan Primary School, supportive housing by Michael Maltzan for the recently homeless in Los Angeles’s Skid Row) and totally singular to their contexts. There’s MASS Design Group’s cholera treatment center in Haiti made necessary by the region’s devastation from a 2010 earthquake that piled onto what was already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Also by MASS (Cary’s prototypical standard-bearer for his generation’s inequity-attuned designers) are “maternal waiting homes” in Malawi. These combat sky-high maternal mortality rates by creating lodging near health clinics for women in the last weeks of pregnancy, assuring quality medical attention when they give birth. Atlanta’s BeltLine, the most landscape-oriented project profiled, forges a new landscape type out of a disused rail corridor: a network of greenway trails that loop an entire city.

Quoting the social activist Dorothy Day, Cary calls for places like these that create a (more…)

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Image courtesy of LAF.

The Landscape Architecture Foundation has announced its first group of Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership recipients, whose research projects all involve the civic design and public policy implications of landscape architecture.

The four practicing landscape architects and academics announced in March will receive $25,000 to research their proposals for one year, with three months of that year dedicated to intensive full-time study. When the fellowships conclude (more…)

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