Communities by Design

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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)

Public Process Leadership in an Age of Distrust

  • 1.  Public Process Leadership in an Age of Distrust

    Posted 03-05-2023 01:35 PM

    On March 15th, the Communities by Design program at The Architects Foundation will host the next webinar in our Future of Cities series with a focus on the key connections between civic health and public participation in the solutions to our most urgent challenges. The global urban population boom has forced us to view our cities from a new perspective, not only as economic and cultural hubs but as the central organizing mechanisms for the survival of humankind. The implications are profound. We need to reconsider how we approach our built environment in the context of unprecedented change and with the need for more robust democratic methodologies. City-building is the grand calling of the 21st century and it requires a unified, integrated effort. Our contemporary approaches are demonstrably inadequate. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that the era of top-down, siloed city-building is over. Our national thinking must demonstrate greater understanding of the mosaic of local experiences that comprise it and the role that citizenship plays in bringing them to life. We need professionals to sharpen their listening skills to understand their communities and heal public trust. The community contexts in which we work today are defined overwhelmingly by pervading public mistrust, conflict and controversy, and community opposition. Many of our urban crises – climate, housing, equitable development - are forcing quick action to avoid catastrophe. Controversy, opposition and legal challenges pose significant and costly burdens to achieving our collective goals. A 2019 study found that 93 percent of Americans identify incivility as a problem, with 68 percent of them describing it as a "major problem." A National League of Cities study found that 58 percent of elected city officials said the lack of trust and degree of disengagement between residents and government is a big problem in the nation generally. And, the 2022 Menino Survey of Mayors found that many mayors want to do the right thing on climate action but fear the public outrage those actions would cause. We are reaching our ceiling on addressing our most urgent challenges with business as usual. Over the next week and a half leading up to the webinar, we'd love to hear what challenges you see to effectively working with the public in your own jurisdictions.  How has your city involved citizens in important public decisions? What processes have been most successful to building public understanding, trust, and sustainable solutions? 

    Joel Mills
    The American Institute of Architects
    Washington DC