Sustainable Cities Design Academy 15: Recap

AAF’s Center for Design & the City held its 15th Sustainable Cities Design Academy August 5 – 7 in Washington DC. During the 2.5-day long charrette, teams from Las Vegas, NV; Milwaukee, WI; Pittsburgh, PA; and Wasco, CA collaborated with a group of multi-disciplinary designers to provide design assistance on local sustainability building projects.

The Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Wasco teams benefited from a singular focus on their projects, which allowed them to evaluate them through new lenses, learn current best practices, and expand their capacity-building networks. SCDA 15 alum Gina Venglass, PE, Engineering Project Manager, City Engineer Division, City of Las Vegas Public Works Department, spoke of her experiences, saying she gained from the “concentrated, off-site, group design work. Creativity and progress flourish in this setting. I would love to do this for all of my projects.”

Las Vegas Cultural Corridor Connector

area II NEC looking southeast

The Las Vegas teams plans to transform this swath of the U-95 corridor into a vibrant, arts-rich public space.

At SCDA, the Las Vegas team, composed of Michael Howe, Courtney Mooney, Gina Venglass, and Dianne Cripe of the City of Las Vegas and Rae Laethrop of Outside Las Vegas Foundation, explored best practices for re-conceptualizing a quarter-mile corridor of US-95 as a shaded public art trail way. This Las Vegas Cultural Corridor Connector project aims to connect nearby cultural facilities to the downtown core and Mob Museum area. The proposed site, which sits on 6.45 acres, is currently being utilized as surface parking.

las vegas

The Las Vegas team works with their resource team members to develop concrete strategies for their arts corridor.

At SCDA, the team worked with their resource team to focus more specifically on pedestrian connectivity and public place-making. They identified specific arts, including installations, concerts, and other cultural events, for the site, an drafted a pilot funding strategy to engage the nearby community to build excitement and a sense of ownership and pride in the site. Engaging the community was a critical take-away for the group. Courtney Mooney shared, “As a city, we take it for granted that we know what is needed in any particular area. Once a project is constructed, we’re surprised that it’s not being used to its full potential. It was very helpful to learn some of the more interactive and non-traditional ways to engage various community groups.”

Milwaukee’s Harbor District Sustainable Development Plan


The Milwaukee waterfront holds the potential to brings together residential, commercial, and recreational uses, while preserving the existing natural habitats and industrial uses.

Milwaukee’s team is made up of Dan Adams from Harbor District, Inc.; Sam Leichtling from the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development; Jim Wasley from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee’s Institute for Ecological Design; David Misky from the City of Milwaukee’s Redevelopment Authority; and Nathan Guequierre from AECOM. The Harbor District Sustainable Development project aims to create a comprehensive development plan for the 1,000 acre Harbor District, located just south of downtown Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee, Kinnickinnic, and Menomonee rivers meet. Currently, the Harbor District is facing development pressure as surrounding neighborhoods like Walker’s Point—the fastest-growing neighborhood in the city—begin to reach capacity. The site spans 100 acres of large brownfield parcels, the new University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences building, and the last 6 acres of wetland on the Milwaukee river.


Eric Tamoulis outlines green infastructure solutions to the Milwaukee team’s project.


At SCDA, the project team created a plan to build upon the “Refresh Milwaukee” campaign, and embrace the city’s moniker as “America’s Freshwater Capital” to rebrand the district. Through strategic marketing strategies, they plan to emphasize the district’s many offerings, including water- related residential zones,, cultural activities, restaurants andretail, industry, boating access and transit options; freshwater research; and green infrastructure opportunities such as a net zero waste water treatment facility.

Pittsburgh’s Smallman Street Produce Terminal


Pittsburgh’s Produce Terminal is at the epicenter of the city’s Strip District.

Susheela Nemani-Stanger and Marty Kaminski from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Ray Gastill from the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning, and Pamela Austin from McCafferty Interests comprise the Pittsburgh team. The Pittsburgh Smallman Street Produce Terminal project team is developing a plan for the approximately 125,478 square foot Smallman Street Produce Terminal and its surrounding area, which is located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District along Smallman Street, between 16th and 21st Streets. To date, none of the proposed plans for the building have addressed all of the sites issues and challenges.


Clark Wilson explores sustainable solutions for the Pittsburgh Produce Terminal.

At SCDA, the Pittsburgh team gained clarity from the fresh perspectives of other attendees and from the resource team’s technical expertise during the charrette. Specifically, they identified opportunities and best uses for the structure and surrounding area, including expanding connectivity and access by strategically placed parking areas on the west side of Smallman street. They also revised their “complete streets” strategy for the street, choosing instead to rely upon the newly improved improvements of nearby streets.  and determined implementation strategies, and developed a street typology that builds on and prioritizes the unique attributes of the connectors in the Strip District.

Wasco Farmworker Housing


A recent comparable affordable housing project by Wasco Affordable Housing.

Suzanne Hague of the California Strategic Growth Council, Pat Newman of Wasco Affordable Housing, and Roger Mobley and J. Paul Paris of the City of Wasco comprise the Wasco project team. The Wasco Farmworker Housing project plans to relocate almost 200 families currently residing in disconnected, industrially-zoned areas to a new, sustainably-designed public housing development. Their project aims to serve as a beacon of best practices in farmworker housing in the 21st century.


Resource team members Sean O’Malley and Jesse Olson-Ledesma outline design solutions for Wasco’s affordable housing project as Suzanne Hague and J. Paul Paris look on.

At SCDA, the Wasco team outlined their site plan and design of the new units, including connectivity to amenities and bike and pedestrian connectivity improvements based on community travel flow. They also prioritized utilizing nearby natural resources and community and individual household needs for indoor and outdoor activities, and developed a plan to engage the community to better inform their plans going forward.

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


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Posted in: Affordable Housing, Center for Design & the City, Civic Leaders + Government, Community Engagement, Creative Placemaking, Design Leadership, Economic Development, 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.