Design for Equity: Bruner Loeb Forum 2014 featured a keynote panel at the historic Old South Meeting House, surroundings well suited to a public event focused on the public’s role in urban development. Boston was an equally apt setting for the conference, a city with an innovative set of urban policies and an ambitious agenda for affordable housing.
Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh opened the evening with an energetic welcome and his commitment to fostering “a city of opportunity” for all residents, regardless of income. He signaled a set of key priorities to build a platform for opportunity: taking a fresh and comprehensive look at all neighborhood services, elevating the work of the Office of Financial Empowerment and linking new innovations and partnerships into the infrastructure of service delivery in the city.
True to the aims of the Bruner-Loeb partnership, the keynote panel opened a candid conversation in which panelists answered the question: "How can design build equity?" The conversation encapsulated the ethic of the two-day forum, as passionate professionals engaged with on-the-ground design and development as a means to understand the equity impacts of urban interventions. The panelists, experienced professionals in housing, policy and design, reflected on the powerful intersections of design and equity. The panel featured the following voices, each with a unique perspective on the role of design and their own questions about how to build equity into a rapidly changing urban fabric.
Nigel Jacob, Co-Chair for the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics.
The leader of the innovative New Urban Mechanics office of the City of Boston described it as a place where “people can take risks.” Jacob emphasized the need to keep equity at the center of every policy, beginning with human-centered initiatives.
Theresa Hwang, Community Architect, Skid Row Housing Trust, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow 2009-2012
In her work with the Skid Row Housing Trust, Hwang has seen firsthand the importance of design in communities with scant resources. She asked the audience, “How do we leverage the design process to redistribute power?”
Rick Lowe, Founder, Project Row Houses, Loeb Fellow 2002, MacArthur Fellow 2014
“Equity already exists,” Lowe declared. In his community work, Lowe has consistently used community vision as a forum for engagement and the basis for implementing design. He broadened the challenge at hand, asking instead “How do we acknowledge, honor and capture equity through design?”
Marc Norman, Director, UPSTATE Center for Design, Research, and Real Estate at Syracuse University, Loeb Fellow 2015
Norman posed a question and a challenge: “Why would state and federal governments use incarceration as a common development strategy?” He emphasized that with the proper tools, communities as partners and integration as a priority, “designers can have a big impact.”
Geeta Pradhan, Associate Vice President for Programs, The Boston Foundation
Pradhan outlined the need to “tell stories about inequity,” underscoring that equity is about fairness, justice and a willingness to see change.
A powerful moment concluded the evening, when the panel confronted an often-routine question in a public forum: an audience member with concerns about sufficient parking in his rapidly changing neighborhood. Rick Lowe immediately understood the question at its root. He thanked the participant for his question and posed an important question in return: “Is it possible for the city to see and ensure ‘staying power’ for its residents?”