City Managers’ Design Academy: Overview

The American Architectural Foundation’s Center for Design and the City launched the City Managers’ Design Academy to provide key decision-makers in U.S. communities the opportunity to strengthen their leadership skills and engage with peers and design professionals around the planning for and implementing of the most critical civic projects; commercial and residential rehabilitation and infill, multi-modal transportation systems, affordable housing, open space, and green infrastructure.

The City Managers’ Design Academy (CMDA) program launched in 2015, with one session in April and one in October. Both academies were held in Dallas, Texas where city manager participants witnessed firsthand the city’s transformation through strategic design decisions. Through a generous gift from the Edward W. Rose, III Family Fund of The Dallas Foundation, all participants invited are sponsored to attend the event in Dallas and receive pro bono advice from AAF’s curated design resource team.

CMDA’s programming spans three days and provides intimate groups of civic leaders (city managers, county officials, and economic development and planning directors) the opportunity to present specific design challenges from their communities. After presenting their case studies, participants receive feedback from their peers and from a diverse group of renowned designers working throughout the U.S. These design experts share best practices that respond with innovative solutions to the challenges brought forth by the participants. Throughout three days of discussion, reflection, and retreat, AAF provides an intimate and collegial format for the select group of civic leaders and design professionals to build trust and solve some of their most pressing civic design challenges.

As part of Center for Design & the City, the City Managers’ Design Academy furthers AAF’s commitment to support civic leaders on issues related to design, leadership, and sustainability. CMDA joins the Center’s marquee initiatives including the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD), which for 20 years was a National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative in partnership with AAF and the United States Conference of Mayors, and the Sustainable Cities Design Academy. Together they have provided development and technical assistance to over 1,000 communities leaders in over 300 U.S. cities. Through this work, AAF has developed a firsthand understanding of the best ways to provide resources and support to leaders as they give shape and form to their evolving communities.

For further details on the City Managers’ Design Academy or 2017 sessions, please contact Elizabeth Okeke-Von Batten, Director of AAF’s Center for Design & the City, at or 202.787.1017.

Image courtesy of Robert Hensley.

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Posted in: Center for Design & the City, City Managers’ Design Academy

The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.