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First National Urban Ecosystems Forum Held in Oklahoma City, OK | September 28-29, 2017



The first-ever National Urban Ecosystems Forum was held September 28-29 in Oklahoma City, OK.

The American Architectural Foundation, in partnership with the Kirkpatrick Foundation, brought over 20 thought leaders from 12 different cities across the country to Oklahoma City to share their expertise and discuss holistic and multi-disciplinary strategies to maintain healthy urban ecosystems for all species.

The group included top leaders from:

  • Two federal agencies,
  • Three universities,
  • Two global planning firms,
  • Six nonprofit organizations,
  • Three landscape architecture firms,
  • Two city governments, and
  • One strategic real estate advisory firm.

The two-day event began with an introduction to Oklahoma City by Aubrey McDermid, Director of the Planning Department of Oklahoma City, who shared some key facts about the city (Oklahoma City, or “OKC” to locals, is the third largest city in terms of land area in the United States, at 621 square miles) as well as highlights of the their new citywide comprehensive plan, planokc, with the group.

Oklahoma City Planning Director Aubrey McDermid giving a brief introduction to Oklahoma City.

Following this comprehensive introduction to the city, the group spent an afternoon on an in-depth tour of local design and planning projects in Oklahoma City, such as the Wheeler District, Edgemere Park, Boathouse District and Myriad Botanical Gardens; historic areas like the Farmer’s Market and Paseo Commercial District; as well as a few projects currently in development, such as Scissortail Park. At each stop on the tour, city officials, ecologists, planners, landscape architects, funders, and others provided key insight into each project’s design and development, shared some of the challenges as well as successes they encountered along the way, and addressed key questions from the group about funding mechanisms, design strategies for creating a balanced ecosystem, and their community engagement process.

The Wheeler District provided a fantastic backdrop for a group photo

A few participants walking along the riverfront in the Boathouse District

John Slack of Perkins+Will explains some of the sustainable design elements of Edgemere Park

On the second day, the group convened at the OU Community Design Center in the historic Film Row district of OKC for a day of large- and small-group discussions focused on defining urban ecology, holistic design approaches, and charting success for local leaders. The day began with a request from Louisa McCune of the Kirkpatrick Foundation for an “urban ecosystem manifesto.” Noting that the room was comprised of some of the country’s top design, planning, and ecology leaders, she tasked the group with taking advantage of this unique opportunity to develop a unifying vision for how cities large and small can ensure a healthy and balanced environment for all species – plants, animals, and humans.

The entire group reflects on the various definitions offered for “urban ecology”

One of the small groups discussing how local leaders can create successful urban ecosystem projects

Expertly moderated by AAF Regent Ted Landsmark, the Director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, the day’s discussion was broad and wide-ranging, with several participants remarking on how unusual it was to have designers, planners, landscape architects, and wildlife specialists at the table together. David Drake, professor and wildlife specialist in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, articulated the need for “developing a shared vocabulary amongst designers, planners, and wildlife ecologists.”

Moderator Ted Landmark looks on while Aubrey McDermid shares her definition of “urban ecology.”

Read the summary report of the convening > 

Forum participants included:

The National Urban Ecosystems Forum would not have been possible without the generous support of the Kirkpatrick Foundation. 

To learn more about this program and other AAF Center for Design & the City programming, contact Program Director Elizabeth Okeke-Von Batten.

Photos courtesy of Deane Madsen and the American Architectural Foundation. 

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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.