Communities all over the world are struggling to build effective strategies to address their key challenges, from climate change and equity to housing and revitalization. In response, the Communities by Design program brings together architects and other professional disciplines to work alongside the residents, professionals and institutions of host communities on key local issues. Every project is community-driven and includes meaningful public participation in an intensive process to match professional expertise with public values and aspirations for a place. Communities by Design is a program of the Architect's Foundation, the philanthropic partner of The American Institute of Architects (AIA)
"In our democratic polity, already severely stressed along many fronts including the culture and politics of climate, we cannot afford to ignore or minimize civic work that generates practical collaboration for sustained community resilience...We cannot succeed at the community level unless we also invest in developing the civic skill sets and civic mind sets of professional partners over the next generation." These are key underlying positions that motivated a convening of democratic practitioners earlier this year to explore a set of civic policy recommendations. As one recent article summarized it, "A new report, Civic Engagement in American Climate Policy: Collaborative Models, makes the case for ambitious policy that builds upon the best models of engagement across multiple fields of innovation and considers how to build the civic and institutional capacity for resilient and just communities in the face of the twin crises of climate and democracy."
The initiative sought to identify needed investments in civic capacity which might help democratize our collective approach to the climate crisis. The event was held under the auspices of Civic Green, a national collaboration of practitioners and scholars working on democratic methodologies in the climate space. The convening included 50 participants representing a brought range of institutions, organizations and agencies working at the federal, regional, state and local level. Federal agency participation included representatives from EPA, NOAA, USDA, and AmeriCorps. The final report captured several key recommendations moving forward:
The full report recommendations and background are here. It draws upon the long history of democratic practice chronicled in Sustainable Cities in American Democracy: From Postwar Urbanism to a Civic Green New Deal, which profiled the Center for Communities by Design's work among many others. Democratic professionals "are those who not only see their work as contributing to a larger public good, but who also learn how to be responsive to ordinary citizens, to co-produce knowledge with communities so that professional expertise can be fruitfully combined with local insight, and to collaborate with them to solve public problems. Since virtually all institutional systems in our complex society today depend upon high levels of expertise, democratic professionals are essential to a robust civic democracy."
The AIA's work in communities fits well within this tradition. At the 1988 Remaking Cities Conference, AIA President Ted Pappas defined the 'Citizen Architect' as follows:
"To get to the future from where we are now, we must make room for, and nurture, what I call the "citizen architect." What does this citizen architect look like? This person is committed to universal enfranchisement and works to see that everyone in the community is given a meaningful stake in, and a part in directing, the future. The citizen architect is committed to seeing that, at the drafting table, the public's hand exerts at least as much force as the developer's or banker's. The practice of architecture must no longer be seen as a luxury that only the wealthy can afford. The public must be a vital part of the process. Architecture is the most public of the arts. It should be collaborative."
The AIA has been a leader in this democratic tradition through its design assistance team programs, which have spread democratic methodology all over the world during the past half-century. The report hopes to begin a broad conversation in the field about skill-building for civic success, and the necessary institutional collaborations that will be needed to address the climate crisis. Please reach out to the Communities by Design team with any questions.
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