AIANY Civic Leadership Program Kicks Off
by Esteban Reichberg
On 06.24.17, the AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee kicked off the Civic Leadership Program (CLP) at the Center for Architecture. Ten carefully-selected future leaders, the program’s inaugural class, learned about the origin, mission and objectives of CLP. They are also learning about AIA New York, the invited guest speakers, and one another. Arising out of the urgency created by the 2016 presidential election, CLP aims to engage emerging professionals with all levels of government by fostering their civic leadership skills.
The kickoff began by discussing what ‘civic’ and ‘leader’ mean to them as architects practicing in the 21st century and how architects can best enter the public arena – whether by pursuing official appointment or running for elected office. Our keynote speaker, congressman, ambassador, and architect Richard Swett shared his story with our small group. He spoke from the heart, often laughing and even growing teary-eyed. The intimate setting allowed for a personal connection as he asked each of the future leaders what had brought them there and why. Every answer was inspired and inspiring, and as the idea of getting more architects involved at every level of government grew increasingly tangible, the importance of CLP became clear.
The panel that followed, composed of architects who serve or have served as civic leaders, exposed the opportunities and hurdles of public service. This panel included Margaret Castillo, FAIA, chief architect of the NYC Department of Design and Construction; Justin Garrett Moore the executive director of the Public Design Commission, Department of Buildings chief plan examiner William Singer, AIA and former regional director of HUD, Joe Monticciolo, FAIA, moderated by George Paschalis, deputy director for public outreach of the New NY Bridge (NNYB) project. Despite their diverse backgrounds, perspectives and positions, their unanimous message resonated with everyone in the room: to make long-lasting improvements to New York City, more architects are needed in public leadership positions now more than ever. Their message added urgency to CLP’s motivation to serve our city, state, and country.
In the afternoon, the inaugural class divided into pairs and decided what issues they’d tackle during their private development sessions, which will later inform two public programs at the Center for Architecture. The day flew by with ice breakers, exercises, and brainstorms. By the end, new teams and pairs of future leaders had begun to map the uncharted course of CLP. Suddenly our experiment in fostering architect-leaders seemed a bit less obscure, a little more palpable, and a lot more exciting. We left the Center for Architecture with a renewed faith that things would get better…and that maybe we could help make them so.
To learn more about the AIANY Civic Leadership Program, click here.
Esteban Reichberg is co-founder of the AIANY Civic Leadership Program and an advocate for architects to enter public service at all levels of government.
01. Community Case Studies: East Harlem, Philadelphia & Boston
by Jessica Morris & Jenna Wandishin
On 07.21.17, AIANY’s Civic Leadership Program convened at the Center for Architecture for the first of five development sessions. The discussion focused on civic principles and how they impact the practices of architects and architect-citizens in New York City. The program participants were joined by four guests.
Jenna Brown, teacher of civics and geography from the Metro Boston area, advocated for the importance of civic involvement to create stronger communities. Randy Mason, Executive Director at PennPraxis in Philadelphia, shared a recent white paper he co-authored titled “Civic Infrastructure: A Model for Civic Asset Reinvestment.” Mason’s work provides a framework for organizing around—and leveraging—civic assets in existing communities. Emaleigh Doley, Commercial Corridor Manager for the Germantown United Community Development Corporation in Philadelphia, offered insight on the nuanced relationships that are required to operate within bureaucratic processes as a facilitator between government agencies, development entities, business owners, and communities. Doley’s perspective exposed critical points the program participants at the table to question and apply to their practices. The group, also joined by Ahmed Tigani, Assistant Director of Land Use, Planning and Development at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, delved into the rezoning process in East Harlem. Tigani shared an overview of organizational dynamics from the perspective of the Borough President’s office and provided a basis for understanding the ongoing community engagement efforts in the neighborhood.
All agreed that increasing public trust towards those undertaking development, and overcoming challenges of scale that typically limit diversifying development contracts, could help to achieve greater equality and increase perceptions of common good. However, the group questioned where and how to bolster the ground work. Recognizing their own idealism as a potential challenge, the group acknowledged the prohibitive realities of community engagement.
In conversation, the group called out the different representational styles used in public documentation by city agencies and entities, but fell short of identifying opportunities for humanizing rapid change as it may occur at the neighborhood scale. The working group conceded that architects must continue to be active in these processes, but all struggled to find clear openings for intervening.
Two points to consider: Given the existing complexity of stakeholder dynamics, is it necessary to advocate for yet another voice at a seemingly dismissible or superfluous point in the process? Could these points of intervention, currently overlooked, be essential to perceptions of outcome and actually hold enormous, untapped civic value?
In recent decades, there has been an increasing interest is “acupuncture urbanism.” Perhaps an equally vital and possibly effective strategy would be to apply the tenets of architecture not as a sum-total delivery of service, but rather as strategic insertions of autonomous, informed, and applied perspectives. These applications would occur throughout our spatial interventions, which serve many and inform all about our prevailing attitudes towards the civic realm.
The Civic Leadership Program will continue to meet through this fall and plans to host several public programs on related topics at the Center for Architecture.
02: Facilitating Inclusive and Productive Engagement – Strategies and Struggles
by A.L. Hu and Jack Dinning
“Engagement” is a term thrown around frequently by architects, but what does it really mean? Who are you engaging? For what purpose? How and when do you do this? How do you build consensus among a community, engaging all stakeholders in a collaborative way that allows them to express their feelings, goals, and values? How do you persuade others to listen? “Safe space” is a term that is rarely used by architects. What does safe space look like in different contexts? For whom is it important and why? How do architects create a safe space that is inclusive of all community members in order to productively engage?
The AIANY Civic Leadership Program (CLP) held its second of five development sessions this past Friday, 08.18.17, with the emphasis on how architects can facilitate inclusive and productive community engagement. Participants were joined by Dr. Sharon Sutton, long-time educator in participatory design processes, and Isella Ramirez, senior project manager at Hester Street Collaborative. The pair shared stories and lessons-learned from their experiences in the field, from struggles with engaging predominantly white populations as a black woman, to the value of engaging children with their honest and thoughtful suggestions.
While these projects ranged in size, scope, demographics, and budget, all seemed to share a common message: community engagement cannot be a checklist. It cannot be a clinical, predefined procedure, conceived by higher ups as a one-size-fits-all solution. It must be responsive, adaptive, and human. It must include the constituents for which it is concerned in the design of the engagement process itself. Only then can there be an environment where all members of a community feel safe and comfortable expressing themselves, and only then can there be trust amongst residents, architects, developers, contractors, and all stakeholders involved in the integrated design process.
We explored subjects of communication, identity, and safe-expression throughout the session. We started with a “show and tell” of artifacts that represent our values and continued with a participatory exercise in which we grouped the artifacts by similarities. Both activities were done once silently and once with verbal communication, highlighting the different forms that communication can take.
Then we heard presentations on multiple real-life community engagement case studies from Sutton and Ramirez, who offered sobering perspectives on the important role that architects play in fostering inclusive engagement where everyone’s views are heard and valued.
Finally, we held a workshop where we collectively set ground rules for future sessions. Inspired by Sutton’s takeaway that civic leadership is “conducting a chorus, not a solo,” these rules are guiding points for how to conduct a chorus—even amongst the participants of CLP. If discussions between architects are not inclusive and open, then their engagement with the community will not be either.
03: Community Transformations through the Lens of Resiliency
by Ayo Yusuf and Daniel Horn
As our co-existence with natural systems is pushed to limits, cities and communities are having to face some harsh realities. As was the case during Sandy, and most recently with Harvey in Houston, Texas and Irma in the State of Florida, we are witnessing the incredible scale of property destruction, severely compromised infrastructure, and the disruption of lives. Communities are now facing the prospect of long recoveries from the aftermath of these extreme events.
Appropriately, the third AIANY Civic Leadership Program (CLP) development session, held on 09.08.17 and organized in two parts, focused on the resultant transformations these impacted communities will be forced to undergo, particularly through the lens of resilience. Part 1 of the session kicked off with a site visit to Wagner Park in Lower Manhattan, where the group was joined by Jamie Rogers, Chair of Manhattan Community Board (CB) 3, and Diana Switaj, Director of Planning and Land Use at Manhattan CB1. The group discussed anticipated lower Manhattan transformations: “The BIG U” Rebuild by Design Proposal + Wagner Park Resilience Plan (the former has since advanced into two key ONENYC Projects that have received federal funding), the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project (LMCR), and the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR).
Rogers and Switaj briefly outlined the LMCR differences and commonalities between both CBs and described how task forces are put together on such city resilience projects. They also shared with the group the community’s experiences, including a few comments on the community boards’ connections to resilience policy and personal thoughts and ideas on how project implementation hold-ups could be minimized within their respective districts. CB1’s participation in the Wagner Park Project was also highlighted, especially in the context of how it fits into the overall picture of a comprehensive protection system for lower Manhattan and the project’s unique position to be a demonstration project for the city.
For Part 2, the group reconvened at the Center for Architecture to tackle the topic on a macro-scale – and through the work of 100 Resilient Cities (100RC). Tanya Gallo, who heads the organization’s Strategy Partner Network, joined us for a discussion centered around policy frameworks for cities as developed by 100RC (32 cities have developed their resilience strategies), the strategy development process, and the critical step of the institutionalization of Chief Resilience Officers (CROs). 78 CROs have been hired/appointed to lead their cities’ cross-agency resilience efforts.
This part of the session focused on the word “resilience” itself, with the understanding that developing a global resilience movement, such as 100RC, relies on a common and shared language. Discussions also focused on metrics for measuring impact, the importance of social networks, the critical roles platform and strategy partners strategy partners play to the network, the success of the recent Global Summit (takeaways yet to be published), and thoughts on how architects can engage cities under this effort as cities change their governing strategies in relation to resiliency.
With resilience-transformation perspectives provided from both a community level and a global perspective, the group was able to engage in more nuanced discussions on resiliency, recovery, and reconstruction. In addition to learning about resilience principles and practices and how they might be applied to design and built environment challenges, the group also got to examine the architect’s role in advocating for resilience thinking at multiple scales. For cities, it’s not about them not having resources, but about how they are able to effectively leverage the resources they do have. Lest we forget, the resilience conversation is largely about encouraging humility in the face of complexity and unpredictability. Failure is a likely possibility and outcome because there are obvious limits to human foresight. Resilience assumes that we don’t have all the answers, but that we shouldn’t stop asking questions; that we’ll often not like the answers, but that shouldn’t stop us searching. It assumes that we’ll make mistakes, but that these shouldn’t stop us trying to find better and more equitable solutions.
04: The Activist, the Architect, the Artist
by Michaela Metcalfe and Michael Caton
On 09.29.17, the fourth development session of the AIANY Civic Leadership Program (CLP), titled “The Activist, the Architect, the Artist: Case Studies in Civic Engagement,” brought together six practitioners from various professions – architecture, art, landscape architecture, law, and urban design – to explore different forms of civic engagement in communities both large and small.
Defined as individual and/or collective actions that critically address issues of public concern, civic engagement is essential to the mindful transformation of shared spaces within our built environment. Civic engagement lies at the heart of an inclusive, democratic development process, and is poised to augment traditional, top-down design processes through meaningful conversation, collaboration, and collective visioning.
The session endeavored to gather and learn from individuals who are cultivating civically-minded processes infused with, and reliant on, creating and maintaining community partnerships. From organizing local, grassroots community organizations to initiating collaboration with local government, the six invited panelists challenge the status quo and lead an undercurrent of civic action that is influencing the transformation of design processes and the resultant public space.
The first part of the session included case study presentations by an architect, a landscape architect/urban designer, and an architect/urban designer who are action oriented, facilitators of engagement with passionate commitment to inclusive design processes that allow communities to explore the potential of shared space. Amanda Schachter of SLO Architecture took us on a journey to the Bronx to show us how underutilized infrastructure is being activated by collaborative design explorations with community partners. Runit Chhaya of Grain Collective showed us the value of collaborating with community partners in the design process through various forms of engagement and shared guiding principles vital to facilitating outreach. Finally, Lee Altman of SCAPE discussed how the Hudson Valley Initiative at GSAPP is contributing to the long-term health and viability of the region through new paradigms of research, practice and pedagogy that rely on community partnerships.
After the case study presentations, the panelists gathered with participants to examine how the power of shared decision-making impacts and strengthens design processes, how activating community resources can foster inclusive design-thinking, and how empowering residents and citizens with a sense of agency can positively transform civic space. Each panelist demonstrated a spirit of activism to earnestly addressing issues of public concern. Their individual commitment to collaborative processes that root design decisions and resulting artifacts in the fertile seedbed of community stakeholder knowledge enables an architecture uniquely equipped to serve its community.
CLP Public Event: Defining Citizen Architect
by Michael Caton, Jack Dinning, Daniel Horn, Shilpa Patel And Jenna Wandishin
On 09.25.17, the first of two public events of AIANY’s Civic Leadership Program (CLP), “Of, By, and For The People: Grassroots Movements and Policy Transformations,” highlighted the work of four practitioners from across the country, broadening the audience’s understanding of what it means to be a Citizen Architect and how this can apply to our own professional journeys.
AIA defines “Citizen Architect” as a design professional who utilizes his or her expertise towards the efforts of local, state, and federal issues in advocating for issues related to community, resiliency, and the built environment.
Five of AIANY’s Civic Leaders, Michael Caton, Jack Dinning, Daniel Horn, Shilpa Patel, and Jenna Wandishin, were joined by Ron Shiffman, Professor Emeritus at Pratt Institute School of Architecture and Co-founder of the Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development; Suzanne Nienaber, Director of Partnerships at the Center for Active Design; Esther Yang, Design Director at the City of Detroit Department of Planning and Development; and Jack Matthews, AIA, Former President of AIA San Mateo and City Council Member and Former Mayor of San Mateo, California. Each speaker presented a specific project or initiative that shed light on how their career has expanded from that of a traditional practicing architect or urban planner toward a civic-minded professional.
The second portion of the program, a panel discussion moderated by the CLP, focused on relationships, tools, processes and the future. When the panel was asked to provide an overview of how their interests led to their further involvement in civics, Yang summarized that it is somewhat innate to the individual to have the desire to push their role as “design professional” to be for the greater, common good.
The panel advised that young professionals can become more civically involved by forming relationships with those at varying power levels of decision-making. They reminded the audience to capitalize on their toolsets and creativity to drive decisions forward. Audience members prodded the panelists for their opinions on the potential outcomes of having an architect in political, elected roles, and for the reasons why so few architects are currently engaged in this manner. Shiffman countered that perhaps it is not the push for an architect in government where our focus should be placed, but rather in encouraging all design professionals to be more civically minded on a local level, in their own communities and networks, for greater impact.
The evening concluded with the understanding that how we define Citizen Architect is critical to our efforts toward advocacy. For some, the design world and public policy were never mutually exclusive.
05: Bridging the Gap Between Architecture and Policy
by Christina Hernandez and Shilpa Patel
WANTED: Government Architect
A government architect provides strategic, independent expert advice to the government about architecture and urban design, including advising on state and federal policies.
On 10.20.17, the fifth and final development session of the AIANY Civic Leadership Program, “Design and Leadership: Bridging the Gap Between Architecture and Policy,” highlighted three practitioners and leaders working to impact change in the regulation of the built environment, demonstrating the potential role architects can have in shaping public policy and legislation. All three embody the ideals of leadership within our profession, and thus, are representative of the government architect.
The session sought to learn from individuals who have devoted their efforts to establishing collaborations between the public, private, and civic realms, moving between “top-up” and “bottom-down” strategies to affect change. From organizing a campaign for a seat in local government to acting as an advisor to mayors across the country, the three speakers provided incredible insight into a body of work that goes beyond the traditional practice of architecture.
The first part of the development session encompassed speaker presentations and a lively follow-up discussion. Jess Zimbabwe, AIA, AICP, LEED AP, Director of Urban Development at the National League of Cities, spoke candidly on the need to define service and leadership within our profession. Brian Loughlin, Director of Planning and Urban Design at Magnusson Architecture & Planning, emphasized how architects can bring together state, capital, and public resources to make changes in their communities. Finally, Joseph Minuta, Principal and Founder of Minuta Architecture and candidate for Orange County Legislator, advocated for architects to devote their efforts to civic leadership and spoke of how the architectural skillset translates into civic work. Their stories provided an understanding of how we as architects can draw on the parallels and intersection of architecture and public policy to impact change.
During the second half of the development session, the ten CLP candidates worked together to develop a framework for continued civic leadership. Through a series of exercises, they brainstormed future initiatives and goals for the Civic Leadership Program. Over the past six months, the Civic Leaders have learned from a broad and distinct group of individuals leading the way in the civic realm and have been trained in topics ranging from community engagement to resiliency. Moving forward with great enthusiasm, their goal is to synthesize this information and turn passion into action within their own communities.
CLP Public Event "…And Justice for All"
by By Christina Hernandez, A.L. Hu, Michaela Metcalfe, Jessica Morris, Ayodele Yusuf
On 11.17.17, the AIANY Civic Leadership Program (CLP) hosted its second and final public program, “…And Justice for All: Reconstituting Just Potentials.” Exploring the complex duality of justice and injustice, the event brought together five practitioners from multidisciplinary backgrounds who are dedicated to transforming the justice system through activism, policy reform, community programming, and design. They discussed how their efforts have impacted, or will impact, spatial and social injustices within the criminal justice system in New York City and beyond. With presentations followed by a discussion moderated by Dr. Susan Opotow, the evening provided a range of perspectives on justice reform—who it is for, what it looks like, and how it works—and ongoing efforts toward a more just future for those within the criminal justice system.
Dr. Harold Appel, a neurologist who has dedicated his life’s work to providing medical services for over 30 years within the corrections system, shared his experience and provided historical context to the injustices that have plagued the criminal justice system in New York City for many years. He reminded us that each detainee is a human being and the facilities provided for detention are not fit for human occupation. He recommended closure of facilities and releasing detainees that should not be held. Further, he expressed an imperative for treatment of mental illness and addiction.
Lex Steppling, lead national organizer with JustLeadershipUSA, shared how he is using his voice to call for the transformation of the justice system through advocacy and activism. He called for total system change by going beyond reform, beyond radical transformation, beyond “fringe” movements, and setting a new precedent that reduces harm and rejects the sanctioned torture that is prevalent in our criminal justice system. He called for normalizing deincarceration, noting that historically, it has not resulted in a rise in crime rates. He reminded the audience that the AIA has a Code of Ethics and encouraged exploration into the possibilities of abolition.
Dan Gallagher, principal of NADAAA, shared a vision for the physical space of justice reform through the efforts of the Justice in Design team, which culminated in a report presenting innovative design and programming guidelines for future borough-based Justice Hubs. Gallagher believes that design could be an active and integral part of the conversation about justice reform. He expressed the importance of creating a model that is civic, with proximate services and a community understanding that is positive.
Fernando Martinez, Project Director at the Osborne Association, demonstrated actionable justice reform through innovative education and advocacy programing at the Fulton Community Reentry Center in the Bronx. He spoke of normalizing reentry and removing the institutional mindset to create a supportive community environment.
Finally, Dr. Susan Opotow, Professor and Sociologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, opened the moderated discussion with the question, “Who counts?” She described the justice of exclusion and inclusion and how stakeholder involvement could include all communities, those detained and families impacted by the criminal justice system. She continued with the questions, “Who decides? Who’s involved?”
The event brought to light injustices that are part of the urban fabric and reminded us that, as citizens, we are all responsible for ensuring that our city is fair and serves to improve the quality of life for all. Through our collective power, we can.