Embedding Conversation, Culture, and Creativity into Inclusive Planning in America

Recent “Inspiring Design” sessions—a partnership between the Rudy Bruner Award and Northeastern University—explored the roles of memory and cultural resources in advancing equitable development.

01 Boston Creates Artsboston
One example of inclusive planning, the Boston Creates cultural plan—completed in 2016—included interactive programming that engaged residents in developing a shared vision for embedding art and creativity throughout the city. Courtesy ArtsBoston

In the three most recent sessions, speakers from cities across the country including Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, addressed the power of writing, art, and dialogue in creating inclusive and resilient urban places. They reinforced key themes that emerged in prior sessions on Planning Equity, Engaging Communities via Food and Education, Building Equity with Housing and Parks, and Addressing Climate Change, Homelessness, and Social Equity about the influence of history, culture, and leadership, and the importance of community engagement, collaborative partnerships, and design thinking.

In Cultivating Dialogue about Urban Development, Opinion Columnist and former Editorial Page Editor of the Boston Globe (and former editor of ArchitectureBoston) Renee Loth, Houston Chronicle Op/Ed Editor Raj Mankad (and former editor of Rice Design Alliance Cite), and Philadelphia Inquirer Architecture Critic Inga Saffron discussed the role of writers, writing about architecture and design, and the shift of critical attention away from individual buildings to the process of development, and from urban centers to distinct neighborhoods, as well as concerns about equity and gentrification.

02 Boston Artery And Rose Kennedy Greenway Renee Loth
The Boston Globe editorial page published articles and opinion pieces and hosted public forums series during planning for the 17-acre Rose Kennedy Greenway, created when an elevated highway was moved underground, transforming downtown Boston. Courtesy Renee Loth

Loth observed that “architecture is the lens through which we view our larger culture” and that “dialogue for the public, not the powerful, takes time and sustained attention.” She described her efforts to frequently publish opinion pieces, host public forums that foster understanding of the role of the built environment, and encourage engagement in the “long and difficult process” of planning for projects such as Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway.

03 Rice Design Alliance Cite Raj Mankad On Behalf Of Rice Design Alliance
Journals like Rice Design Alliance’s Cite offer valuable platforms to fuel conversation about architecture and design. Courtesy Raj Mankad / Rice Design Alliance
04 Buffalo Bayou Park Urban Land Institute Jonnu Singleton Swa Group
The 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park is part of a growing network of resilient green infrastructure in Houston, engaging and reconnecting residents with the city’s bayous and each other. Courtesy Jonnu Singleton/SWA

Mankad discussed the roles of history, civic dialogue, and race in shaping Houston’s ongoing urban efforts. He traced the inspiration for Buffalo Bayou Park (2019 RBA Silver Medalist) to a 1912 visionary proposal for a bayou-based park system that wasn’t realized until the Rice Design Alliance produced a series of articles, design competitions, and forums that catalyzed public interest and the creation of the nonprofit Buffalo Bayou Partnership to advance it. Although the park and more recent efforts including the Bayou Greenways Initiative are expanding the city’s network of parks and public amenities while increasing resiliency, predominantly lower-income and minority communities continue to suffer from flooding and a lack of resources due to historical segregation and disinvestment.

05 Saffron Becoming Philadelphia Book Cover Rutgers University Press
Inga Saffron’s Becoming Philadelphia: How an Old American City Made Itself New Again includes a selection of her weekly “Changing Skyline” columns, which chronicle the city’s revival, discussing the influences of people, politics, and power on its physical form. Courtesy Rutgers University Press
06 The Park At Penns Landing Hargreaves Associates And Drwc
The Park at Penn’s Landing is a proposal for new 12-acre public space that bridges a highway to reconnect downtown Philadelphia with the Delaware River waterfront. Courtesy Hargreaves Associates and DRWC

Saffron reflected on Philadelphia’s “profound transformation” and the impact of two decades of  writing weekly urban development columns, a selection of which are included in her book Becoming Philadelphia: How an Old American City Made Itself New Again. She observed that “advocacy is a long game; you don’t change minds overnight,” describing how her writings along with a five-part development proposal series for Penn’s Landing precipitated a citizen-led planning effort for the new Park at Penn’s Landing, which reconnects the city center with the Delaware River.

07 Millennium Park Bruner Foundation
Millennium Park in Chicago offers an example of the power of art to create vibrant places that bring people together. Courtesy Bruner Foundation

In Cultivating Creativity and Community with Arts and Culture, PROYECTO development consultant Daniel Hernandez highlighted the role of art, cultural institutions, and memory in creating vibrant places where people converge, citing Bryant Park in New York City, Watts Tower in Los Angeles, and Millennium Park in Chicago (2009 RBA Silver Medalist) as examples. He reflected on the importance of acknowledging and addressing the history and culture of places—including the attendant struggles, tensions, and victories—in the development process, as “places hold memory, and memories have value.”

08 Yerba Buena Gardens Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco includes a convention center and hotel, housing, memorials, museums, public gardens, and extensive public art. Courtesy Yerba Buena Gardens
09 Ybca Programming Tommy Lau
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts partnered with the City of San Francisco to pilot the San Francisco Creative Corps, which puts artists to work in service of the health and well-being of communities. Courtesy Tommy Lau

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) CEO Deborah Cullinan shared the story of the four-decade development and ongoing evolution of Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco (1999 RBA Gold Medalist) as an inclusive, mixed-use urban space and downtown cultural district. She emphasized the importance of artists and cultural programming—like YBCA’s Market Street Prototyping Festival and the San Francisco Creative Corps—in activating places to “incubate possibilities.” She noted the importance of seizing crucial moments—such as now—for action, along with a willingness to wrestle with challenges and create the “invitation and conditions that allow change to happen.”

10 Midtown Santa Fe Mass Design Group
Art, creativity, and equitable development will be the focus of Midtown Santa Fe, the redevelopment of a former university campus into a place where artists, businesses, and nonprofits converge to share space and resources. Courtesy MASS Design Group

Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) Executive Director Jamie Blosser echoed the importance of memory and history. SFAI is collaborating with Hernandez and the City of Santa Fe to create a vision for Midtown Santa Fe, the redevelopment of a 64-acre site that includes a Visual Arts Center designed by architect Ricardo Legorreta, into an inclusive community anchored in arts and creativity grounded in the site’s history. The organization partnered with local artists to curate programming including Recentering Santa Fe and the Tilt Podcast “Unsettled Series,” and to craft a land acknowledgement to identify, honor, and preserve community memories and values.

11 King Boston Memorial Hank Willis Thomas And Mass Design Group
King Boston is developing a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King on Boston Common along with a research center and festival that address social justice. Courtesy Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group

Boston Chief of Arts and Culture Kara Elliot-Ortega and King Boston Executive Director Imari Paris Jeffries noted recent changes in the city’s mayoral and philanthropic leadership that signal potential for an increased focus on arts and culture and addressing the legacy of racism. Elliot-Ortega described successful efforts to embed arts and culture in planning via implementation of Boston Creates, the city’s cultural plan, but noted the need for infrastructure to fund its realization and to ensure “equitable on-ramps” to participation.

Paris Jeffries noted the role of Black churches “as art institutions, places of learning, and sources of moral development and intellectual stimulation,” and suggested the potential for the arts to be “an igniter for social justice.”

12 Invest South West 75th Street Boardwalk Site Design
Chicago’s INVEST South/West initiative is improving “the front doors” of neighborhood main streets through projects like the 75th Street Boardwalk, created in partnership with the site design group, ltd. Courtesy site design group, ltd. 

In Planning for Equity, Chicago Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development Maurice Cox observed that while “downtown is the heart of the city, the neighborhoods are its soul,” and emphasized the importance of balancing large- and small-scale investment in cities. He described how Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative is making strategic catalytic investments in Chicago’s predominantly African American South and West Sides, ensuring new development is driven by and benefits existing residents and businesses through inclusive planning and development.

13 Englewood Rising Billboard Campaign Tonika Lewis Johnson
The Englewood Rising Billboard Campaign purchased five local billboards to showcase local art and spark conversation about positive change in the community. Courtesy Tonika Lewis Johnson
14 Folded Map Twins Tonika Lewis Johnson
The Folded Map project demonstrates the impact of racial segregation by highlighting the economic and physical disparities among Chicago neighborhoods. Courtesy Tonika Lewis Johnson

Lifelong South Chicago resident and social justice artist Tonika Lewis Johnson explained how her artistic practice and experience as co-founder of the Residents Association of Greater Englewood and Englewood Rising Billboard Campaign inspired the creation of the Folded Map project. The initiative invites pairs of “map twins”—people living at the same street address on the North Side and the South Side of the city—to meet as a way of promoting dialogue and understanding about the economic, racial, and social disparities that result from segregation and redlining.

The Boston Public Library’s Normal B. Leventhal Map & Education Center Curator of Maps and Director of Geographic Scholarship Garrett Dash Nelson commented on the ability of maps to “tell stories” and the “power of the city to shape and direct investment to create gathering spaces.”

Cox emphasized the need for government to align with communities’ cultural assets and human resources to build relationships and to embed planners within these locales to help make connections. Johnson agreed, offering that initiatives like INVEST South/West illustrate “what can happen when you create opportunities to amplify a community’s existing resources and talent.”

Next month, our final post will highlight observations and lessons learned from our 14-week Inspiring Design series, including a discussion with Northeastern University Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy Director and Myra Kraft Open Classroom facilitator Ted Landsmark.

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