by Iyatunde Majekodunmi, Assoc. AIA, and Kim Choy, Assoc. AIA
On September 16, the 2022 Class of the AIANY Civic Leadership Program (CLP) gathered for their fourth development session, organized by Iyatunde Majekodunmi, Assoc. AIA, and Kim Choy, Assoc. AIA, during which participants discussed how designers and city agencies foster the welfare, protection, and accessibility of our civic commons. The panel tackled limitations and opportunities to further equity in the commons, ranging from challenges of capital funding, maintenance budgets, and cross-community collaborations to creative funding solutions to make impactful changes to our neighborhoods.
The development session started by defining what “care” means in the built environment. To define care, we turn to Justin Garret Moore, Program Officer for the Humanities for All Program at the Melon Foundation, who cited from Toward a Feminist Theory of Care, written by Bernice Fisher and Joan Tronto: “On the most general level, we suggest that caring be viewed as a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web.”
Majekodunmi and Choy then focused the discussion on whether we can foster and sustain health, welfare, and the protection of our civic assets. To frame the panel discussion, the session leaders defined eight types of civic assets and provided evidence of their faltering abilities to provide essential care and critical functions, ultimately eroding public trust.
Measuring Indicators & Values
Utilizing the Reimagining the Civic Commons framework, we encouraged participants to re-examine how impacts in our civic commons are valued and measured. The power of civic data and the allure of technology will never stop pushing policymakers, designers, and urban planners to advocate for better and smarter solutions, yet we constantly witness a missing link between execution and impact. We ask ourselves, who is this for? How was this decided? How does it impact and benefit the community? How can impactful yet intangible indicators be valued in our valuation models?
Indicators like female visitorship, opportunities for impromptu interactions, the income diversity of site visitors, the perception of access to nature, and the length of an average visit to the civic commons all represent community health but have no direct relationships to return on investment. Shedding light on more productive indicators allows decision makers to better connect people, cultivate trust, and create more adaptable communities.
Following the introduction, the conversation continued with our panelists who work in the public, private and non-profit sectors:
- Jeffrey Schumaker, AICP, Founder and President, urbanscape
Deborah Marton, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute
- Becky Yurek, Director of Strategic Initiatives, NYC Department Of Design and Construction
- Eman-Rimawi Doster, Access-A-Ride Coordinator and Organizer, New York Lawyers for Public Interest
The panelists discussed the challenges of capital project funding and maintenance budgets, noting that the funding mechanism is innately flawed because there is often no project budget for scoping or feasibility studies. As a result, targeted briefs often fails to take into account the multitude of voices and needs of communities. The panelists pointed out that we should start small and create a sustained communication channel through community board meetings and local community organizers to create a proof of concept and demonstrate critical use case scenarios.
The discussion led participants to think about who the community is composed of, the timescale of projects, and the intentionality of language when communicating with local user groups and stakeholders. The panelist also noted the inaccessibility of the city, highlighting areas such as practical transit solutions and alternate mobility access. The final recommendations to this year’s fellows were to explore creative avenues to obtain funding, listen to and work with affected communities, and focus not only on impact-driven design but people-driven needs as well.
A Conversation of Care
Justin Garret Moore, Program Officer for Humanities in Place program of the Mellon Foundation, concluded our session with a discussion on his work and his thoughts on care and how to sustain it. During his presentation, he proposed the radical idea of creating a Department of Care within our city government. According to Moore, the Department of Care would allow New York City “to go beyond the traditional BID and conservancy system and build out a citywide yet community-level infrastructure of maintenance and care for the spaces we interact with daily.” This idea has been explored in his interview “Care, Where?” with Urban Omnibus, which delves into how the separation of development funds and maintenance budgets for civic projects is inequitable by design.
Moore also highlighted the Indy Redbud Project as a way to strengthen community identity while providing environmental services. The projects Moore highlighted were largely hyper-localized, such as the 34th Ave Open Street Coalition, to focus on direct impact to communities.
Advocating for equity in the public realm is challenging; it is often hard to fathom the fruits of our labor, especially when the time scales of projects span multiple decades. Some main session takeaways were to make visible the impact of design in affected communities, to choose work you are passionate about, and to work closely, listen to, and collaborate with local organizers and communities to deliver projects that enhance rather than displace.
Special thanks to:
Deborah Marton, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute
Jeffrey Shumaker, Founder & President, Urbanspace
Eman Rimawi-Doster, Access-A-Ride Campaign Coordinator and Organizer, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
Becky Yurek, Director of Strategic Initiatives, NYC Department of Design and Construction
Justin Garrett Moore, Program Officer, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Anne Chen, CLP Advisor, AIA New York
Christina Brown, CLP Advisor, AIA New York
Kavitha Mathew, Special Project Director, AIA New York
Jenna Miller, Deputy Director, Urban Design & Policy, NYC Public Design Commission
Delma Palma, Deputy Director of Architecture and Urban Planning, NYCHA
Amanda Miller Amankona, U3 Advisor, Reimagining the Civic Commons Learning Network
Julia D Day, Team Director, Gehl
Keri Butler, Consultant on Humanities in Place Program, Mellon Foundation
Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIA New York | Center for Architecture
Suzanne Mecs, Hon. AIANYS, Managing Director, AIA New York
Philip Stevens, Technology Manager, AIA New York