As practitioners, policy makers and thinkers gathered at the 2014 Bruner Loeb Forum to discuss how to tackle design equity on the ground, one group exemplified the community-driven agenda. The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows are a distinguished group of young designers that lend their skills–from site design to planning–to community organizations for three years, supported by Enterprise, a leading institution for affordable and sustainable housing development and research. The first day of the Bruner Loeb Forum closed at the Initiatives on Cities at Boston University with a review of the 2012-2014 Rose Fellows’ three-year journeys.
Katie Swenson, vice president of Enterprise National Design Initiatives, opened with a sobering statement about the millions of American citizens who face housing insecurity due to lack of affordable housing. Referring to a talk earlier in the week by Peter Senge, cofounder of the Society for Organizational Management, Swenson suggested that, “the most equitable thing you can do may be to approach someone with love and forgiveness.” It speaks to the open minds and hearts with which Rose Fellows acknowledge the power within community members’ voice and design decisions.
Katharine Lusk, executive director of the Initiatives on Cities and former policy advisor for Mayor Menino, welcomed the crowd to the venue. She spoke warmly of the Mayor, who had been slated to deliver the keynote but passed away on October 30. His passion for social equity and affordable housing is evident in his $16 billion housing plan, Housing Boston 2020. Phillip Henderson, president of the Surdna Foundation, introduced the Rose Fellows and pointed out that their commitment was demonstrated through the fact that “85 percent of the Fellows continue to work with their community organizations to some degree.”
The Fellows had planned an unusual presentation. Mark Matel, Boston Fellow working with Nuestra Comunidad Development, opened the presentation with a general video that introduced his 5 colleagues, who led presentations according to design equity themes overlapping in their work: inclusion, rural development, neighborhoods of opportunity, and the creation of community space. The clapping and cheers that greeted the Fellows as they took the stage made it clear that this audience was very much an extended family for the Fellows.
The projected words of Gil Penalosa, executive director of 8-80 Cities, resonated with believers in design equity, “If you create a city that’s good for an 8 year old and good for an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for everyone.” Sam Beall, Rose Fellow situated with Cathedral Square Corporation in Burlington, Vermont, told how his fellowship had allowed him to work on preserving 11 acres of open space, creating 82 affordable homes and overall giving seniors and people with disabilities peace of mind within their households. Other features included making energy costs visible to residents through TV screens, creating a “garden for the senses” and making each apartment 100 percent accessible.
Nathan Poel, who participated with the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing in Yakima, Washington, helped create 13 units with 200 beds to accommodate the seasonal influx of farmworkers. The housing units were a hybrid between home and hotel to respond to the itinerant lives of farmworkers. According to Poel, 60-80 percent of farmworkers are undocumented so they have no voice within the political system. When Poel led a charrette for Catholic Charities Housing Services’ new development in Prosser, the farmworkers were surprised he wanted their input. Through the charrette and design process, migrant children were able to help build acoustic barriers, such as colorful woven curtains. And by leading a housing design competition for the community of Sunnyside in Cashmere, Washington, Poel helped create a community that was more equitable for farmworkers, with greater proximity to banks and grocery stores.
Interwoven throughout the 5 design equity themes, Mark Matel presented his work with Bartlett Yards, a former transit yard in Boston, where he led a design process to activate the site. By painting a mural on an old retaining wall, the community re-appropriated the space through the arts. Bartlett Yards has been host to community-led events as diverse as sculptural potlucks, art swaps, and block parties. In a similar vein, Sam Carlsen stewarded community conversations about transit-oriented development through workshops, community art mapping, and community walks for the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation in Minnesota. Ceara O’Leary, who worked with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center in Detroit, Michigan, used pop-up spaces to fuel neighborhood conversations. By resuscitating a store with community-produced goods and services along Livernois Avenue, she helped enrich the Livernois thoroughfare as a place for cultural exchange.
Carlsen spoke for the Fellows when he said, “We’re leading this conversation out in the community.”
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