MacArthur

The MacArthur Foundation

MacArthur Fellows Program

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation support creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks, building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector.

President John Palfrey defines the values that drive the Foundation and remain accountable to the community. It is also the approach every narrative in search of resources should include. 

Creativity encompasses innovative, imaginative, and ground-breaking ideas, thinking, and strategies that will have a meaningful impact on large and complex challenges. Bring them inventive ideas that support the creativity of individuals and organizations.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion The Foundation sees Diversity as the characteristics that make people distinct. Equity as treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement while eliminating barriers that have prevented the full participation of some individuals. Inclusion is an environment where all individuals feel welcomed, respected, valued, and feel a sense of belonging.

Compassion is central to respectful and compassionate interpersonal interactions with kindness and caring, reflecting the foundation’s recognition and understanding of integrity as the act of behaving honorably. It is a commitment to sound judgment, honesty, dependability, and accountability. Finally, life-long learning is the practice of seeking new understanding, knowledge, and skill with values acknowledging continuous lessons from staff, grantees, partners, peers, and communities.

Environmental Works

Environmental Works is a nonprofit Community Design Center directed founded in Seattle, Washington (1997). EW’s long track record has proven to be pivotal in all areas of need in the Seattle area. For example, the design-resource library for sustainable, affordable communities developed by EW was instrumental in reducing the stormwater impacts and increasing overall energy conservation practices in vulnerable communities.

EW is organized into four studios: housing, community facilities, landscape, and special projects. Each studio is headed by an experienced architect with more than twenty years of experience. It is a nonprofit full-service landscape, and architectural firm that responds to projects that the for-profit architectural community agrees would be unprofitable. This community also recognizes that a substantial record of sustainable practice, material use, and cost impacts of this public service-based agency has been of value to community needs throughout Seattle.


Robert Gutman

Robert Gutman

In an all-encompassing life of research and study of the architecture profession, Robert Gutman (1926-2007) published a continuous critique of the state of that profession in a variety of well-grounded essays. It began with a 1965 research grant from the Russel Sage Foundation to explore interactions between architecture and sociology. This inquiry remains open and unresolved.

Architecture is driven by the “status” associated with design in an advanced capitalist society. It can be described as high or low, quality vs. the lack of it, and as a condition that expands to include entire neighborhoods, new and old, restored and gentrified, diverse or isolated, and most recently environmentally terrified.

Proving the Negative

Why do people demand proof, verified, and vetted facts when it comes to making changes in the quality of life in a community but do not apply similar demands to the ghosts and gods of change? Are these not the most dangerous in the world? Are these ghosts not swirling in the fossil fuel of war and terrorism? These are known forces. Why the lack of will to fill the gap between these ghostly and the general expectation that a better world is possible? Gutman saw the raw subjectivity that insists the builders are doing well and called it false. As Robert Gutman put, there is,

“an unreality of the espoused view of the world of practice is perpetuated by the profession itself, by the schools, and to some extent by the architectural press, and these distortions make it more difficult for architects to deal creatively and constructively with the problems which the profession faces.”

Architectural Practice – A Critical View 1988

What is the market for design among people who don’t believe they can afford it and have no respect for it? Are they correct? The provision of design resources is the initial architectural service and the entire built environment by extension. Do we accept that low- and moderate-income people represent an invisible segment in that market? The market exists with personal capital and credit. Others could be served, but only if serious gaps are acknowledged, and new values recognized.

Rarely will community organizations find themselves like a paper in the top drawer of a desk where there is proof can they have the answer to the problems of their community. Instead, a nonprofit institution may find itself responsible for a combination of services meeting the needs of vulnerable families. You will often see them as accountable for producing and managing affordable housing and community facilities. Yet, you may also know them working under poor or deteriorating conditions made tragically complex by meager, sporadic assistance.

To open that desk top, they will need built environment professionals to respond to their needs in a far less autonomous way. Unfortunately, architecture and those who study the structure and functioning of human society remain indecisive associates and silent to the indifference. Gutman, however, countered as a teacher by encouraging a significant segment of future architects to recognize that a form of architectural resistance, regardless of the disturbances caused, can help people demand a better world. These acts create a battle between design as fulfillment vs. corporate practice where the function is all that matters, leaving the work of realization to others. 

Sustaining design as a resource for finding complex solutions to complex problems recognizes that design and architecture can lead the way. There will always be projects that have the potential to shift the status of architecture toward comprehensively better places. What is needed is a set of self-renewing political acts and the institutional continuity of a design purpose in a community.

The technique of creating a drawing to envision a future or align intention is one of humanity’s most significant accomplishments. When done well, the design practice formulates what needs doing, and it has been so for thousands of years. In creating environments, whether raw survival or human actualization, the need is increasing among the invisible clients, and like refugees, altering the structure of demand. The entrants to the profession are undersupplied in this sector, often relegated to second-class status within the profession, yet this is the area of greatest need. It is vital to alter society’s perception of the architect as one with short-term relationships in a community. It is time make design a permanent institutional presence in underserved communities and make them as purpose-driven as a public school.

Every urban region’s density and structural complexity are too siloed into rigid regimental structures and components to manage. However, these parts need to be recognized and defined as a whole by a local institution with the primary purpose of structurally understanding all of the connective tissues that make it part of a city. Therefore, this institution needs to be in a community as a permanent entity to ask one question until answers are produced. What is our design? How do we create and renew ourselves?

The Opposite End

In February 2022 an opinion article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy was offered to its readers entitled: Will More in Philanthropy Adopt the MacKenzie or Melinda Approach to Giving? The term “end of the scale” is used to describe the power expressed by dollars in trillions, because the quantity and management of these huge fortunes have produced an “opposite end” or a new extreme to examine in the world of charitable giving.

First, the amount of cash involved is truly unfathomable but highly transparent via the Melinda Gates approach, and Mackensie Scott describes her approach to giving by saying her researchers and administrators form a constellation “attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change.”

The graphic below is a description of the Gates Foundation transparency by Wouter Aukema (here) as drawn from the foundation’s highly accessible database access (here). In Mackenzie’s blog, there is a list of nearly three hundred organizations given grants,($8.5 billion ), the suggestion that ongoing gifts may not be public, and the recipients will be trusted.

The article closes with the “end of scale” elements that alter the traditional approach to the presumed partnership between vast wealth and the challenge of the 2010 Giving Pledge (Gates and Buffet) First, grants are made based on trust. Second, the cash is unrestricted, but the third end-of-scale element is the expectation that the funds reflect the problems the grant is addressing by directly benefiting those who experience those problems.

The Not for Profit Architect

Community Design

Community Design’s institutional development history began in the 1970s (here). Its practitioners continue to bring a transformational idea to community development by investing time with people at very early stages regarding the design of everything, of all places in which they live and work, as vistas, rows of buildings, gateways, hallways, entrances, and portals through which life occurs. The result of this design approach has planners and architects on an entirely new path in an attempt to advance the field of community development through design — a practice through which all cultures embrace discovery.

The philanthropic community continually improves its investment structure with resources that defend against threats and uplift the human spirit. The choices are many, improved educational opportunities, enhanced anticipation of economic shifts that leave people behind, including incentives and subsidies to level “the playing field.” These and many other investments in people are vital. But, why leave the physical environment where these advances must occur to individual projects and urban landscapes defined by pre-supposed functions in poorly thought out places? An investment in Community Design has become essential as it is greatly needed.

One aspect of the need to take this position examines the trillions of charitable dollars flowing into the world economy. In a brief examination of two huge foundations (here), the list of recipients can be discovered to have acquired millions of these dollars. All of them expect to function in physical environments that are inadequate and crumbling around them, and not one dollar could be found by The Report aimed at the professions expected to help them build for change. The quality of the physical environment is as much a clear community design problem as it is to uplift the human spirit. The agents expected to be responsible are woefully unprepared. Community Design offers answers.

Form Follows Feeling

Community Design is a practice that builds visions for the future in neighborhoods. It builds confidence in the capacity for change. It is a power that shows community leaders, emerging leadership, and ordinary people how to align their interests to one modest goal that all can share – creating a beautiful community for everyone.

In New York City, developers get added square footage as a supply-side incentive for affordable housing, known as mandatory inclusion. Other approaches look to demand-side subsidies to reduce economic disparities and support diversity. Unfortunately, these points of view are solely monetary decisions. As a result, there is very little design thinking beyond building height, bulk, and sky exposure.

On the other hand, the design process provides a more vital understanding of development and control points in every imaginable aspect. Public engagement improves when design thinking becomes a combination of investment in people and places for social action. Discovering a sequence of design innovations and integrations for creative use is a clear alternative to a predefined bulk with a function.

Innovations in Community Development

Architects interpret individual structures or combinations of places as a fabric that reveals a dimension of emotion and a capacity for insight into the human spirit and condition. Buildings transcend generations, structures decay, renew and adapt to ideas that form the design of a community many times over and for many generations. Vast physical areas are in constant physical change. Housing, schools, childcare centers, police and fire stations, shopping districts, parks, playgrounds, and places for worship fit as forms with functions along pathways. There is a design, but does the community see it, have a sense of control, and like or dislike the places surrounding them every day?

Here are a few examples of the innovation in design thinking made possible through design as it engages a community

More examples are needed that reflect the ideas below

  • Resources to regularly engage people in shaping strategy or discussing choices are routine and well-understood public engagement activities. However, the design effort to give shape to a place for these discussions is still haphazard.
  • Testing the viability of new program ideas or getting existing programs and services to scale for more significant impact is a common requirement of nonprofit organizations. However, community design is a valuable inclusionary testing process in determining choices and is rarely used to its potential.
  • Nonprofits are asked to evaluate new business models and earned revenue opportunities to sustain impact. Resources to examine the physical aspects of the ideas are rarely funded.
  • Design assists in aligning decisions, comparing material resource selections, and action plans based on days, months, and years to bring a strategy to life? Why do these services unexamined.

More examples are needed, that reflect the ideas above with one added thought.

Design Democracy

The Kettering Foundation among several others are possible resources for design centers. It is a “portected” list and leads to a directory (here) of highly successful nonprofit firms. It is protected because of the attacks from for profit firms. The Kettering Foundation as an example of this content expresses a singular purpose by asking, “what does it take for democracy to work as it should?” So naturally, a short question deserves a brief response from dthe community design point of view.

Keep your imagination focused because we are in times that test our eyes and ears. Our imagination of the vote proves we can have expectations but that every community gets a different test. Let us explain.

A vote is a test that fills in what we think is there, but it is limited by what we are expected to be in two, four and six year cycles. To pass or fail, yet grow, we learn to take the test of others as our own and work to become mates as if we were on a ship. Safe harbor such as your city or neighborhood offers time for preparation and a purpose, but to stay there is to fail a journey of unlimited tests that stretch from a front door to and equally fragile solar system distinguished only by the passage of time. Whether that ship is the earth in the cosmos or a small boat in the ocean’s winds, the thinking we use to define the problems does not help solve them. Democracies work as they should when they take tests of our thoughts and the validity of our ideals. The first test is the vote, and the second is on the value of one voice, “the committee of one,” and of the many in all forms that engage generations of thought and policy from dry runs to shakedowns.

Tests work as standards in the teaching/learning situation. They can be diagnostic regarding proficiency with a subject. They can be internal or external, objective or subjective but always fall to the hand of a final arbiter. In the case of a democracy, that would be the law. In matters in law, one or more legal tests help resolve the propriety of law as enacted. However, in the context of a congressional hearing, discovery, or other legal proceedings, the resolution of specific questions of fact or law now hinges on the application of valid assessments disregarded by the manipulation of rules. For democracy to work, replace the poor use of rules with final tests and an arbiter. The future of democracy is part of the American experience with oppression. This is most commonly considered a thing that happened and far too rarely as a thing made by us continuously and therefore demands Democracy.

Design Centers

In applications for financial support, we believe the “made by us” is an area where the skills of design and architecture offer enormous resources. It can produce advances in the democratic processes by establishing a community design practice as a bedrock institution. The vast physical landscape of the urbanized world is a product of planning and design professionals that do not control the products envisioned by their masters, investors of capital. The establishment of a community design practice in urban areas represents balance in the analysis of the as-built environment, its preservation, and the impact of new build practices on what is standing. It is an evaluation through demonstrations of creating places that are beautiful for everyone in the eyes of all. This is the “behold” challenge of design from the “front door” to the third rock from the sun.

“Where would we be without the agitators of the world attaching the electrodes of knowledge to the nipple of ignorance?”

John Lithgow

Nathan Cummings

Kavita Nandini Ramdas has departed after four months as president and CEO of the $473 million Nathan Cummings Foundation. If a social justice movement person needs help, have them look at their grant guidelines(here). The website has a “partner search” engine. I put in architecture, project, and “inclusive clean economy” from a drop-down menu to get a list of funded groups. One was the Auburn Theological Seminary. General Support $500,000 over 24 months in 2020 for its national programs that build the capacity of faith leaders, activists, and social movements.

Updates

The Graham Foundation

The Graham Foundation is well known for its contributions to the work of architects and designers as thought leaders. In recent grant programs, grantee projects (research), and public programs (social advocacy) The Available City program Chicago Architecture Biennial (Sept – Dec. 2021) revealed that some thinking never changes, fails to develop, and feeds on the most lasting problem of our time.

The video below describes a recent public program initiative of the Graham Foundation. As one involved in projects exactly like those below, only a half-century ago. The shock continues to be nothing has changed. It is as if I am watching a time loop with irrevokable power.

After watching it is easy to rationalize my experience and theirs. The vacant lot conversions of my New York past are now well-institutionalized community gardens or taken city-owned land absorbed into more extensive projects such as a head start center and housing. I wrote of one example in Brownsville, New York (here).

Another part of the surreal time loop feeling of “now it is all happening to you” is more critical regarding the essential sadness beneath the optimism of The Available City video. It is for the lack of robust, institutional stewardship of the built and “to be demolished” environment this is capable of reforming real estate development as a process. The lack of that stewardship allows the renewal strategy to be little more than restocking a supermarket shelf with packaged and processed, nutritionally neutral foods. Or, it could be worse than that. It supports development practices that are pleased to support a vacant, lead soil lot for a modest community garden or some adventure play. Oh, and a vague hint of change.

The sadness is that these are earnest attempts to create a new life. They reflect the possible elimination of poverty with further use. The design builds on a grand purpose, recalling the loss by considering rebirth. Yet, to this day, the despair remains. It is limited to vegetables or keeping a playground safe amidst the chaos of the vacant lot neighborhoods of Chicago or those of Brooklyn. It was not enough then, and it is still that way.

The Theory of Change

Combining ideas about systems of thinking needed to explain something is often based on principles independent of the thing to be explained because they involve feelings. On the other hand, direct actions seek to make someone or something different. The acts alter or modify an existing condition into a new one. The banners in the above graphic on the “Theory of Change” combine ideas with action applied in various institutional settings. It is a discipline worthy of routine use in achieving long-term goals. Perhaps this is why the phrase “community design” is used by the architects and planners. They practice it as an art. Community feelings are the vibrant heartbeats of change, and as an equal part of its street and building design. 

RLC

Interventions

The goal of philanthropic investment in supporting community vibrancy, financial sustainability, and resilience integrates three fundamental objectives:

  1. To magnify local power to address this generation’s pressing societal and environmental challenges to equitable change
  2. To implement strategies and programs to make self-sustaining organizations possible with solutions developed in partnerships with financial asset associates.
  3. To confirm new and traditional investment models that break down portfolio and grantmaking barriers to reduce the conflict of interest between short-term impact and the desired permanency of inclusion, diversity, and equity.

Of course, these are not the only objectives, but they can be measured. The purpose of an intervention is to bring about an outcome. For example, in community design, the construction and rebuilding of physical space is an intervention in a communities life. But unfortunately, terminology can get people hung up. For example, the production of tall residential buildings in a community yields a variety of emotions. Understanding a community’s experience of this as an intervention is an excellent example. In it, the relationship between community and design becomes extant. However, another less complicated example would be helpful regarding a desire to produce change instead of reacting to one.

“In ten years, the number of children from impoverished backgrounds that become successful students and citizens will be doubled in community-X to help meet broad citywide diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.”

When stated as a long-term goal with implied objective components (i.e., defining “successful student,” “impoverished household.” “doubled”) establishes a base criterion. That done, a set of possible actions can become strategic.

The next step is to provide a structure that will prove a proposed intervention is working. The desire for change lacks meaning without an empirical basis along the path to its achievement. So a tactical prototype could be “after-school programs.” The steps following this decision would be to create a managing policy and a supportive work plan involving students, faculty, space, and material resources. In addition, the spatial and project design for the program would take active shape with a sense of priority regarding implementation.

Why a Theory of Change? (TOC)

Kurt Lewin’s work as a psychologist initiated a strong understanding of human cognition combined with social change. His work became a significant interest of the Aspen Institute (Roundtable on Community Change). As a result, Aspen is credited with the broad dissemination of TOC and its wide acceptance. While it began under the auspices of Aspen in the 1980s, the body of work “in the field” over the last forty years has produced well-received and practical examples of TOC efficacy.

A global leader on TOC implementation is Actknowledge – a nonprofit organization in New York City. The founder of Acknowledge, Heléne Clark, has helped expand TOC from its early beginnings to include the Center for Theory of Change to provide additional training and education resources worldwide.

In 2007, the first web-based processes offered by the Theory of Change became available. Since then, it has drawn nearly 25,000 registered participants. The impressive list of Acknowledge TOC clients is (here) for review. In addition, a series of publications are available (here) for further reading. Also, there are a variety of spin-offs. One example points to the Theory of Change compared with the Logic Model used by ASAID (here) and more broadly (here).

The logic method is linear. It is used to extrapolate and optimize what exists as knowable. The process is functional, but there is an alternative. Design thinking offers equally practical processes by which concepts develop through a feedback loop that includes verifying measures yet involves a wider range of participants. 

Applications to Planning, Design and Architecture

Since Lewin’s founding work and the investment by the Aspen Institute, the Theory of Change is recognized today as a revolutionary contribution to social change because it is counterintuitive. TOC is an alternative to the prevailing thought that following specific indicators such as prescribed functions will lead to a design program. However, the sole use of “indicators” or “outputs” are not sufficient contributors to long-term social change as a process.

Implementing TOC is supported by the  Four W’s — asking who, when, where, and why, followed by how. The answers help define a change in the context of feelings — asking how injects that emotion into a place. As a thought experiment exercise, asking why with a minimum of five responses also produces tangible results. Working with a community to gain information specifying an experience with change (also known as the Big What?) has significant implications for the end products created by design and architecture. TOC offers an excellent pathway. Here is another example.

The experience of travel is a helpful example to share regarding the practice of goal setting. Simply traveling is one aspect; however, it is very different when feelings and destinations allow for distinctions. For example, heading for Alaska requires significant differences in thinking compared to the Philippines. Getting to those differences and back-mapping to a present location offers many preparation planning and action choices with a place and a time.

In social change, it is crucial to develop a similar set of specifics to produce the needed perspective — it does seem counterintuitive to work backward from the desired outcome. Social change succeeds when the practice commands a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures. A well-known New York urban planner often quotes Yogi Berra, “You have to be careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.”

The example of the after-school program would require several specific quantities (attendance, grades, testing, grad rates) followed by results in the post-education experience of former students in the long term. Of equal importance, however, is the quality of experience. The feeling of getting to a destination. Here is one example of TOC’s impact on design. One fieldwork TOC effort sought to discover meager attendance rates in a Manhattan elementary school. It proved not to be the cause of parental or teaching behavior initially considered a function of the problem—a fully applied TOC process discovered it was the school’s adjacency to a high school with abusive students. The design solution – alter the design using time and the pathways. Initiate efforts at the HS level to effect change.

The contribution of TOC to the practice of community design is its emphasis on “long-term” when the goal is to achieve a social change as an outcome. Even randomized surveys of human opinion ironically prove that people lie on surveys. A typical example is that many people will say they practice recycling compared to the far lower percentage of actual household recycling. The TOC message is that it is difficult to measure an attitude accurately, but it is possible to measure observed behavior correctly.

Endnotes

Lewin’s 3-Stage Model of Change: Unfreezing, Changing & Refreezing. (2012, September 11) is available in (here).

In addition, two publications for downloading from Actknowldege examine goal formation and back mapping as a process for selecting short, medium, and long interventions to achieve outcomes. Theory of Change Technical Papers (Dr. Dana H. Taplin, Dr. Heléne Clark, Eoin Collins, and David C. Colby) and Basics, A Primer on Theory of Change, (Dr. Dana H. Taplin, Dr. Heléne Clark)