The third day of Meet the Loeb Fellows presentations demonstrated how creative thinking, collaborative measures, ethics and human-to-human interaction with the community can build sustainable, progressive, and successful planned cities now and for the future. Kimberly Driggins began by sharing her work of creative placemaking in the Anacosta region of Washington DC. With over 10 years experience working in public, private and political realms, Driggins is driven by the question “how can we revitalize a community, not gentrify it, while remaining both sensitive and inclusive to the local cultural history?” As she showed, the greatest challenge in being an effective designer and planner is to communicate intentions to and collaborate with the community by listening to their needs and desires. The proof of success of her approach is in the strong public engagement she has elicited in public art works and events, urban design and culture pub crawls.
The second presenter, Alejandro Echeverri, approached the dilemma of community revitalization by exploring how a single community is one part of a larger ecological and political system. In citing examples of his varied community impact projects in Medellín, including a sustainable development spanning the river, he addressed the need to have an ethical viewpoint. He believes the design practitioner must work towards transparency in order to build trust among formal and informal communities and the government agencies that provide resources. It’s a simple concept, but a daunting task facing the design community, which is often removed from this reality. What Echeverri emphasizes is that in building, designers are not just intervening in space but in the social and political processes as well.
Ending the day’s presentations was Neha Bhatt. In a very playful and straightforward presentation she connected her past as a biological researcher to her present day activities. The same skills developed in laboratory life are beneficial to the planner: resisting the drive to a solution in favor of allowing outcome to unfold from the scientific process. With a career that has spanned research, nonprofit organizing, lobbying and political advising, Bhatt has managed to synthesize what true design innovation can do: change multiple institutions for the greater good. She closed with a most encouraging statement on civic development for the future: “If you want to save the world, if you are an environmentalist, we need to build great cities that are sustainable, diverse and built on a human scale.”
That is a challenge I am glad to be tasked with.