in Change Agents, Community Design

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

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