Sustainable Cities Design Academy 14 : Recap

AAF’s Center for Design & the City held its 14th Sustainable Cities Design Academy June 10 – 12 in Washington DC. There, teams from Chicago, IL, Kansas City, MO, New Brunswick, NJ, and Pittsburgh, PA collaborated with a team of multi-disciplinary designers in a 2.5 day charrette to design charrette to evaluate their projects, learn about relevant practices, and strengthen their capacity-building networks.

SCDA prioritizes collaboration and information exchange between project teams and resource teams. Project teams have the opportunity to work directly with the nation’s top architects, environmental designers, landscape architects, planners, real estate developers, industrial economic development specialists, and urban designers. This dedicated space allows them to learn about best practices in urban design, place-making, phased financing, and authentic community engagement practices as they co-create solutions to their projects’ challenges.

Chicago’s Englewood Square Corridor


The intersection of 63th and Halsted in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Image courtesy of Wikipedia: MrHarman.

Ernest Brown of Brown & Momen, Monica Chadha of Civic ProjectsGlen Fulton of the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation, and Michael Newman of SHED 5tudio comprise the Englewood team. The Englewood community has endured low employment and low economic growth for many years, and as a result,  its population has dwindled by 11% since 2000. The Englewood Square Corridor plan outlines a long-term solution to revitalize the community, which includes building a Whole Foods Market, a food/retail district, a GECDC business accelerator and incubator, and a mixed-use space.

At SCDA, they worked with resource team members Sustainable Community Development Group‘s Deeohn Ferris, PolicyLink‘s Anita Hairston, and WRT’s Nando Micale to research the feasibility of mixed-use retail and commercial development at the intersection of 63rd and Halsted. They also explored adding infill development and complete streets improvements north to north and east of the initial project site.

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The Chicago project and resource team explore options to best develop Englewood’s 63rd and Halsted.

Priority action items to drive their project going forward emerged from their collaboration with the resource team: creating leasing spaces for local businesses; places for residents, shoppers, and Kennedy King Community College students to congregate and enjoy programmed neighborhood activities; and thoroughfares for pedestrians and cyclists to feel welcome. They also identified the need to better connect neighborhood institutions when planning and implementing next steps.

Kansas City’s Municipal Farms Sustainable Reuse Site 

Area 1 - Blue River Confluence Panoramic

The Brush Creek/ Blue River Confluence is located on a parcel of land at Municipal Farm. Image courtesy of Kansas City, MO.

Andrew Bracker and Gerald Williams of the City of Kansas City, MO, Scott Schulte of the Heartland Conservation Alliance, and John Gordon Jr. of Boys Grow comprise the Kansas City team.  The Municipal Farms Sustainable Reuse Site team aims to transform Municipal Farm, a 440-acre site owned by the city, into 21st century sustainable, urban agricultural and multi-use campus. The Sustainable Reuse Plan for Municipal Farm includes walking and recreation trails that connect residents to nearby neighborhoods, links to a planned regional commuter rail line and a rails-to-trails system, renewable energy projects, development of a city-owned green infrastructure maintenance and training facility, and creation of outdoor learning spaces.

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The Kansas City, MO team discusses the best use of a contaminated parcel of land on Municipal Farm during the charrette.

During SCDA, the Kansas City project team collaborated with resource team members AECOM‘s Garrett Avery, New Territories’ Christina Grace and SWA Group‘s Joe Runco to reorient their master plan approach to better connect the site. They realized that they could unite the two halves of this large site with an iconic bridge running east-west over IH-495, and conceptualized a thoroughfare that would draw interest and attention to the overlooked acreage as well as the new uses on the site that include urban agriculture (growing -production) and community recreation uses.  The team also developed a phased strategy for rehabilitating contaminated areas within the site.

New Brunswick’s Rail/Arts/River Project

The Raritan River is an integral component of New Brunswick's Rail>Arts>River project.

The Raritan River is an integral component of New Brunswick’s Rail/Arts/River project. Image courtesy of AAF.

New Brunswick’s team, composed of Heather Fenyk of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, Dan Swern and John Keller of coLAB Arts, and Tobiah Horton of Rutgers University will explore their Rail/Arts/River project. The Rail/Arts/River project intends to use visual art and sustainable design as a way to connect the city’s riverfront and railway transit station. Key to the project is several different zones connecting the New Brunswick train station, Raritan River, Lord Stirling Elementary School, and the central business corridor. The team plans for community members to explore these zones, which span two miles, by foot.

The New Brunswick team worked with resource team members SH!FT Design Studio‘s Jane Martin and Jason Bregman of Michael Singer Studios. During the charrette, they developed a plan to redesign the Raritan Riverfront park space, which is prone to heavy flooding and subsequent damage. This redesign would accommodate extreme weather changes and create a scheme where the park could be “given back” to the river. This feature became a main organizing point for the team’s planning of the remainder of the proposed way-finding / public art / environmental education initiative from NJ Transit / Amtrak Station to the Raritan.

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The New Brunswick team outlines how to redesign the Raritan River parking area to alleviate flooding and provide a commons space for the community.

Additionally, they examined ways to demonstrate water-related cleaning, harvesting, and reusing demonstration projects that could be included as part of public art features along the suggested route. These environmental learning stations could add high visual value to their neighborhood context while serving a functional and necessary water management activity.

Pittsburgh’s Strip District Riverfront Park Project

Pittsburgh Strip District

The Pittsburgh team proposes a 20-block riverfront park in the Strip District along the Allegheny River. Image courtesy of Wikipedia: phillipq23.

The Pittsburgh Strip District team, composed of Riverlife’s Addy Smith-Reiman, Oxford Development Company’s Michael BernardFriends of the Riverfront’s Jeff McCauley, Wigle Whiskey’s Eric Meyer, and Katherine Camp of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, propose a new 20-block riverfront park concept for the Allegheny Riverfront in Pittsburgh’s Strip District neighborhood. Their vision for the park will provide the Pittsburgh community with much-needed green space for recreation and relaxation. Upon completion, the park will be equipped with storm water management solutions, riverbank stabilization, restored habitat/riparian ecology, and a continuous bike/pedestrian pathway to connect residents to downtown Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh project team worked with resource team members Lesley Bain of Framework Cultural Placemaking, Josh Nims of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, and Dan Melman and Michael Stevens of Capitol Riverfront BID to evaluate the programming and maintenance challenges that faced this in-concept  amenity. They recognized that several underused adjacent parcels could contribute as gateways to the Strip District residential and commercial neighborhood and the trail system. To provide proof of concept for more permanent design solutions that would contribute to the functionality and vibrancy of this area, the team could test and monitor temporary interactive demonstration projects, including those that contribute to riverbank stabilization, stormwater management, and extension of the trail system into the neighborhood.

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The Pittsburgh team explores how to use cisterns underneath the riverfront trails as a stormwater management strategy.

Participants at SCDA also established a wider social network of support, learning, and leadership from which to draw when faced with opportunities to design better places.  Recent SCDA alum Tom Phillips, Executive Director of Capital Workforce Partners, said of his experience, “[SCDA] provides a broader perspective on how to better align more strategically ‘bricks and mortar’ with human capital development. I hadn’t realized that design can have a greater impact on community development and be a catalyst for meaningful change.

To learn more about the upcoming session or to learn more information on the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, contact Center for Design and the City Director Elizabeth Okeke-Von Batten at

Featured image courtesy of the American Architectural Foundation.

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Posted in: Center for Design & the City, Community Engagement, Creative Placemaking, Partnerships, Print, Sustainability, Sustainable Cities 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.