AAF’s second City Managers’ Design Academy  (CMDA), held October 28 – 30 in Dallas, Texas, convened six city managers with six urban design experts to tackle the managers’ pressing development challenges. Hailing from Charlotte, NC; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Fort Collins, CO; Tacoma, WA; Hampton, VA; and Palo Alto, CA, the group discussed project challenges related to brownfield development, transportation, and community communications. They focused intently on solving the complex and often sensitive issues, zeroing-in on solutions that make for healthy, sustainable, and inclusive cities for all people, both now and in years to come.
The two and a half day Academy included an in-depth tour of Dallas. Led by Mary Suhm , former City Manager of Dallas and Senior Fellow of AAF’s Center for Design & the City , and Brent Brown, AIA, Founding Director of bcWORKSHOP , the tour highlighted Dallas’ transformation of urban design challenges into community benefits. Klyde Warren Park , for example, was once unused space above a freeway. Now, the unused space is a vibrant, sustainable urban oasis, financed through a public-private partnership.
The Trinity River Audubon Center  site was an illegal dump in Dallas’ urban forest. Now it is a LEED Platinum-certified building where Dallas children interact with nature and come to an understanding of their city’s ecological systems. Each tour stop highlighted spaces intentionally designed with the surrounding community’s needs and the environment in mind. As Brent Brown told the Academy, “Good solid city design is about people and places. It’s a highly contextual relationship between the physical world and the social structures.”
For the workshop, the city managers presented challenges including:
- Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee discussed how best to redevelop a former shopping mall site and stitch this large parcel back into the fabric of the city.
- Fort Collins City Manager Darin Atteberry presented a communications challenge between public and private interests.
- Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman asked how best to balance continued growth and development along Fort Lauderdale’s beach front without creating an overcrowded environment.
- Hampton City Manager Mary Bunting showcased the wealth of modest size dwelling units that the city hopes to celebrate and revitalize to bolster aging neighborhoods.
- Palo Alto City Manager James Keene, discussed how best to position his city for continued economic growth while respecting the public’s wish to keep Palo Alto’s current character.
- Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax discussed how to encourage economic development in a neighborhood that would like measured growth, but is worried about gentrification and change.
The managers represented diverse cities from across the country with disparate income levels, populations, and environments, but an overarching theme became apparent: how to preserve and maintain a sense of community while managing physical and economic growth.
The honest conversation and diverse attendees proved to be a successful combination. City Manager Mary Bunting of Hampton, VA reflected, “I learned so much here, not only with my own case study where I feel like I’m really energized to go back to Hampton.” Similarly, City Manager Jim Keene of Palo Alto told Academy members, “I appreciate the generosity of the Foundation and everyone who is here: frank, honest, creative, caring…This has been a gift.” Lee Feldman of Fort Lauderdale concluded, “There are hundreds of managers I can think of that should be at this table for round three and round four. Just the diversity of talent that was around this table makes me humbled to be here.”
This session of City Managers’ Design Academy would not have been possible without the generous support of the Edward W. Rose, III Family Fund of The Dallas Foundation, in addition to in-kind support from Matthews Southwest , Trinity River Audubon Center, and the Dallas Center for Architecture , which not only gave Academy members a place to convene and stay, but also offered inspiration through their sustainable and dynamic designs.
Photos courtesy of the American Architectural Foundation.