A Community Design Event Makes Space to Reflect on Race

Overview

This past summer, the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC) of Baltimore hosted Reverberations — Roots and Relevance of Community Design, the Association for Community Design’s (ACD) annual conference. As described by the NDC, every year ACD holds a conference that, “brings together community members, faculty and students, architecture, design and planning firms, nonprofit organizations, and local governments invested in community-engaged design.

The Conference

Architect and professor Dr. Sharon E. Sutton, FAIA opened the event with a powerful keynote address, “Racism and Resistance in American Cities,” taking us through a brief history of institutional segregation in American cities, and the stories of those who have worked for change.

OAC — Washington DC, Chau Pham and Dia Stewart presenting the ‘Design for Children’ work
Jonathan Tolbert and Chau Pham of OACDC and Bonnie Stewart-DeLancy and Dia Stewar tof Footsteps for Children.
Bucky Willis’ “Designers of Color Birthing New Design Centers” workshop

Application

Reverberations was inspiring and educational. It was also valuable to have a space where presenters could speak about failure as well as success. Often there is pressure to share only success stories, which obscures the setbacks it took to get there, and the opportunity for us to learn from mistakes. The presentation by Garrett Jacobs of OAC SF Bay Area was a lesson in the value of self-examination and criticism. Well-meaning community designers have been known to go into situations with a savior-complex attitude, a one directional I-will-help-you approach, versus a partnership or collaboration. Alternatively, designers should look to building relationships within communities as the first step. OAC design volunteers should know why we are involved in any project or partnership and we need to be transparent in our motivations with community partners. This communication is easiest when we are asked by a community group to come in but requires more thought and rigor when we reach out to potential partners.

Garrett Jacobs of OAC and Annie Ledbury of EBALDC discussing the Design Dash program and lessons learned during and after the 6 month creative placemaking program.
Chau Pham of OACDC discusses recommended facade improvements for a neighborhood effected by fire on an environmental justice walking tour.

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