AAF’s fourth City Managers’ Design Academy  (CMDA), held December 7-9 in Washington, DC convened six city managers with six multi-disciplinary design experts to tackle the managers’ pressing planning and development challenges. Managers Donna Barron of Lewisville, Texas; David Biggs of Hercules, California; Ruffin Hall of Raleigh, North Carolina; Peggy Merriss of Decatur, Georgia; Jon Ruiz of Eugene, Oregon; and Pat West of Long Beach, California discussed the future of transit-oriented development in their communities, the advantages of incorporating landscape architecture early in a planning process to drive better urban design, how creating a central downtown government hub can benefit municipal efficiency and provide a better public amenity, how best to incentivize development through master planning, and how to tackle aging mall infrastructure in addition to complimentary and related topics.
The AAF Resource Team – comprised of a diverse array of field experts in architecture, urban design, real estate and economic development, and landscape architecture – included M. Scott Ball of Commons Planning ; Gina Ford, ASLA of Sasaki Associates ; Anthony Wolf Greenberg of the JBG Companies ; Jee Mee Kim of HR&A Advisors ; Matthew Kreilich, AIA, of Snow Kreilich Architects ; and Kennedy Smith of CLUE Group  and provided expert analysis, insights, and coaching around each city manager’s case study.
In addition to focused review and coaching for each city manager’s project, the three-day Academy included an in-depth tour of Washington, DC’s Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District , led by Dan Melman, Vice President of Parks and the Public Realm. Design Academy participants learned about how public and private stakeholders came together to plan, develop, and implement one of the District of Columbia’s most successful redevelopment projects that includes award winning Canal Park and Yards Park and provide enhanced amenity along the Anacostia River.
The city managers represented U.S. cities with varying median income levels, populations, and geographic characteristics. This intentional attribute of the Design Academy recognizes the common challenges cities face, identifies best practices that may help solve these challenges, and applies those practices in context-sensitive ways for each city represented. Additionally, the city managers provide feedback and advice on each other’s projects, in addition to AAF’s Resource Team’s recommendations, providing both direct technical assistance and peer-to-peer leadership development during the Design Academy.
When reflecting on her experience, Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss offered that it was “good to be in a room of professionals who believe in the power of good design for civic spaces.” Additionally, resource team member Matt Kreilich shared that after spending these immersive days with the city managers, he has an “enhanced appreciation for the steady hand of the city managers in the long-term change of cities.”
This session of City Managers’ Design Academy would not have been possible without the generous support of Siemens  and the Edward W. Rose, III Family Fund of The Dallas Foundation . To learn more about the City Managers’ Design Academy program or next available opportunities for managers and design professionals to participate, contact Program Director Elizabeth Okeke-Von Batten .
Photos courtesy of the American Architectural Foundation and Matt Kreilich.