How to Engage and Include Communities While Designing Outdoor Amenities
For Jeremy Iannucci, “Access is not just about ADA requirements and physical disabilities, but other people as well.” An architect at Marvel, Iannucci believes that inclusion is about getting as many different voices into a project as possible, beginning with active and equitable community engagement processes. From New York City’s Active Design Guidelines to the American Institute of Architect’s guide to creating equitable change through design, the resources below prove that there is no one-size-fits-all to successful engagement design. Rather, it’s about listening to and designing with the communities at hand.
Scroll down for a list of design and architecture resources or consult the full METROPOLIS Outdoor Amenities Resource.
The American Institute of Architects’ Architect’s Role in Creating Equitable Communities is a 52-page framework for how architects and other built environment professionals can advance social equity and environmental justice both within their organizations and in the course of a project’s development. Informed by six months of focus groups, the density of the document is commensurate with the weight and urgency of the issues it seeks to address, chief among which is a process of design and development that if not reimagined will “continue to perpetuate the social, economic, health, environmental, and geographic inequalities that exist in our communities today.” A key focus of the guide is on equitable citizen engagement. While a handful of projects are shown, the emphasis is on supplying designers and organizations with the kinds of guiding questions they ought to ask themselves at each stage of a project in order to increase community participation and equitable outcomes.
Engagement, as a methodology for gathering community input, is itself a product of design, but few architects and planners give it the level of attention that is given to other aspects of a project or modes of creative exploration, such as visual representations like models or renderings. Eskew+Dumez+Ripple’s A Pocket Guide to Engagement Design argues for project- and community-specific engagement methods and how to customize an engagement process to various needs or constituencies. Organized as a hands-on tool with worksheets and an accompanying card deck, the guide provides an overview of common outreach, engagement, and data-synthesis methods, along with a discussion of their advantages and disadvantages, making it especially valuable for large project teams and/or early-career design staff.
METROPOLIS’s Best Resources for More Meaningful Community Engagement was created in 2022 following a three-week hackathon in which participants from architecture and related disciplines shared their insights on how to equitably involve communities in the design process. The resulting list assembles respected—and freely available—resources on the subject, from the NAACP’s Guidelines for Equitable Community Involvement in Building and Development Projects and Policies to the AIA’s Equitable Development Frameworks. The project is part of METROPOLIS’s larger Design for Equity Primer, which touches on issues of equity in human health, environmental sustainability, supply chains, and more.
Smart Surfaces Coalition, Smart Surfaces Coalition – heat island mitigation, stormwater management, climate change mitigation, adaptation, and equity through smart surfaces in cities
As city leaders continue to invest in “smart cities” technologies, a different form of urban intelligence is the focus of the Smart Surfaces Coalition. A nonprofit made up of various building industry players, the coalition’s mission is to advance the “rapid, cost-effective global adoption of Smart Surfaces.” According to the group, many of our cities’ climate and health challenges—for instance, urban flooding, extreme heat, declines in biodiversity—stem from, and can therefore be mitigated through, our urban surfaces: parking lots, rooftops, roadways. The coalition’s website offers design professionals a series of reports and analytic tools on surface-based mitigation strategies such as roof coatings, solar panels, green roofs, reflective pavings, bioretention channels, and more.
While it rarely gets the media coverage of a major hurricane or wildfire, extreme heat is the deadliest climate threat, claiming as many as 5,000 lives each year. Meanwhile, the dangers of extreme heat are disproportionately felt in communities of color due to higher prevalences of underlying health conditions and the inequitable distribution of things like urban shade canopy. Gensler Research Institute’s Sustainable Shade Structures report, released in 2023, details lessons learned from two heat-mitigation projects, one in a predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood in Austin, Texas, and one in an underserved area of San Jose, Costa Rica. Both projects resulted in designs for shade structures—the selection of which was left up to community leaders and other stakeholders—but equally informative for readers is the illustrated and narrative account of the team’s research methodologies, which included community involvement at every stage of the project.
Collaboratively produced by five New York City departments in 2010, the Active Design Guidelines provides a history and rationale for the ways that architecture and urban design can encourage physical activity. Although the guide is overly focused on, and perhaps misdiagnoses, some of the causes of the obesity epidemic while also failing to sufficiently account for the needs of the country’s disabled population (encouraging stair use is a key recommendation), it nevertheless remains useful to planners and urban designers. The document lays out the long history of design’s direct response to public health crises before detailing broad objectives and then specific strategies for promoting active design. Chapter 2 (Urban Design) is the most relevant to the planning of outdoor spaces, with recommendations for how to integrate play into plazas, courtyards, and rooftops, and a range of case studies.
The Outdoor Amenities Resource was produced in partnership with Expormim, KFI Studio, Landscape Forms, and Tuuci, with the participation of RIOS, SWA Group, Marvel Architects, Matthews Neilsen (MNLA), Climate Positive Design, and Perkins&Will.
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