Avenues, Volume 4: Authenticity

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a publication of the Urban Design Committee (UDDC) of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|DC)

avenues volume four

AVENUES, VOLUME 4: AUTHENTI-CITY Urban Design Committee American Institute of Architects, Washington, DC managing editors Mary A. Eveleigh Saakshi Terway, Associate AIA Scott Archer, AIA

published by AIA, Washington Chapter 421 7th Street NW Washington, DC 20004 aiadc.com


The views expressed are those of the author and not those of the Urban Design Committee nor the Washington Chapter, American Institute of Architects.

contents 06

letter from the chair: authenticity in action by Saakshi Terway, assoc. aia, leed green assoc.




stepping into nature by Ana Kaahanui


remove your bias and start designing equitable solutions now by Kia Weatherspoon


memorial as environmental justice: race and place by Glenn LaRue Smith


towards an authentic urban renewal by Omari Davis


an authentic process by Anna McCorvey


authentic placemaking through imposition by Ari Theresa


beyond authenticity in architecture by Bz Zhang


from finding my place to co-creating space: developing new possibilities in planning and design by Nupur Chaudhury


a recipe for inclusion by Shalini Agrawal


the authenticity of adaptive futures by Dan Kinkead, AIA





letter from the chair

authenticity in action promotes livability, spatial equity, and environmental stewardship.

Who We Are

Journal Overview

Each year we adopt an openended theme to frame our critical thinking on the challenges we face in urban design. The theme for 2020 is “Authenticity”. Throughout the year, we looked at authenticity through various lenses of urbanism.

Founded in 2017, the Urban Design Committee acts to improve the quality of cities and people’s lives. This mission is supported by our five key goals:

This journal is divided into three sections.

Ecological Authenticity:

1.Create a Forum to engage other organizations in Urban Design. 2. Raise Public Awareness of the value of Urban Design. 3. Promote Visionary Thinking about the future of cities. 4. Advocate for Public Policy that


Authenti - CITY

I am delighted to introduce the fourth annual publication of Avenues, the journal of Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects, Washington DC Chapter (AIA|DC).

5. Develop Allies among architects, planners, landscape architects, stakeholders, and policy makers.

Section 1, “Provocations”, talks about what authenticity means in today’s context. Section 2, “Happenings”, highlights the millstone events that were organized within the year to understand authenticity in the city better. Section 3, “Ideas”, exhibits a collection of competition entries that animate the essences of authenticity.

Urban ecology has a critical role to play in the future livability of cities. As urbanization prevails on a global scale, policy makers, planners and urban designers need to think about the implications that a city has on its natural environment. Bringing new perspectives to how natural systems need to be integrated into the fabric of cities helps in improving physical, mental, and social wellbeing of its people.

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Sensory Authenticity: The human perception about a place is based on their tangible and intangible interactions with the surroundings. The senses have a vital role in perceiving the space and strengthening the connection between the person and the place. In order to sensitize ourselves towards architecture and the role it plays in defining the lives of the people that interact within it, we have to develop mature thinking that takes into consideration the emotional as well as the sensory experience that we have to take

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into account when humans interact with built spaces.

Existential Authenticity: It is an activity-based approach and refers or a state of being. It is one of the most powerful form of authenticity as it focuses on the emotions that are generated by existing in a space. The impact a place can have on the human psyche should be used to promote better designs that pay attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.

Through these lenses, and many others expressed in this volume, authenticity is deemed essential to successful placemaking. As practitioners and passionate urbanists, we must understand this dynamic relationship between people, places, and meanings to bring authenticity in action.

Saakshi Terway, Associate AIA Co-Chair, AIA|DC Urban Design Committee


provocations this section challenges our assumptions and explores the meaning and application of our theme AUTHENTI-CITY

stepping into nature by Ana Ka’ahanui (Virginia Master Naturalist and Certified Forest Therapy Guide) Capital Nature

Wonder and joy are my favorite words. I’ve always been a curious person and I get a deep sense of satisfaction when I make discoveries and then share them with others. It’s what makes me feel most alive. I can say with certainty that I’ve been able to live my life with authenticity through my connection to nature and connecting others to nature. When 21% of the city area is designated for parks and that 98% of DC residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, I wondered, how I could bring the same joy to others?

Unexpected Inspiration It started with a leaf. I was walking our dog Lani on the trails near our home in Burke, VA, outside of Washington, DC. I was feeling a bit dejected with my head down. A colorful leaf caught my eye and I picked it up. I was awestruck by its beauty and


started looking around at other leaves. How was it that I walked these trails for over ten years and didn’t notice all the leaves and their trees? I started taking pictures of my discoveries. I then posted a series of photos called #thedailyleaf on Instagram and had the most amazing responses from friends and family. People were grateful for a simple image of nature to make them smile in such a confusing and crazy time after the 2016 election. I decided to devote more time to learn about all the local trees, which grew to fungi, then birds and even slime mold! It’s as if I flicked a light switch on and the world of nature became intensely visible to me. My Mom likens it to the scene in the film The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black & white to vivid color. With my newfound interest in biodiversity, I looked for ways

to educate myself and a friend encouraged me to pursue certification as a Virginia Master Naturalist. This communitybased natural resources volunteer program was the perfect fit for me as it allowed me to learn and share knowledge through education and citizen science. Community science, also known as citizen science, is when curious or concerned people collaborate with scientists in ways that advance scientific research on topics they care about. As soon as I learned that my photos of nature could contribute to global scientific research, I was determined to spread the word as much as possible. With so many people taking pictures of nature with their phones and cameras, it seemed like a no-brainer to me to encourage others to participate in citizen science activities using free apps such as

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My Instagram series #thedailyleaf showcased the wonderful leaves I discovered Image Credit: Ana Ka’ahanui

iNaturalist. It’s a win-win. People are getting outdoors and learning about their environment allowing scientists to collect more data for their research.

that relationships with nature not only provide physical and mental health benefits, but they encourage appreciation and environmental stewardship as a form of reciprocity To establish a more formalized entity to promote nature engagement, my friend Stella Tarnay and I co-founded the

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nonprofit Capital Nature in 2018 with the mission of connecting people in the DC metro area with the outdoors and the biodiversity in our region. We believe that relationships with nature not only provide physical and mental health benefits, but they encourage appreciation and environmental stewardship as a form of reciprocity. Through activities such as naturalist walks, citizen science projects and forest bathing, we are realizing our mission across age groups and diverse neighborhoods. One of my favorite citizen science activities is the annual City

Nature Challenge (CNC). This 4-day nature census focuses on observing wildlife, plants, animals, birds and insects in the DC metro area. Capital Nature partnered with the AIA|DC Urban Design Committee, the Design + Wellbeing Committee and the ASLA Potomac Chapter to participate in the challenge by recording urban biodiversity. This collaboration helped DC to compete in a friendly competition between hundreds of cities around the world. It also gave designers the opportunity to explore the urban wild landscapes. For CNC 2021, the DC metro area placed


USGBC’s Jenny Wiedower makes an iNaturalist observation at NoMa’s Alethia Tanner Park in Northeast DC Image Credit: Ana Ka’ahanui.

Watani Hatcher from the DC Department of Parks and Recreation observes a mushroom at Pope Branch Park in Southeast DC Image Credit: Ana Ka’ahanui.


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2nd in number of participants and observations made out of 419 cities in 43 countries – a tremendous achievement!

Biophilic Design Being outdoors isn’t the only way to experience nature. As humans we are hard-wired for nature connection. Biologist Edward O. Wilson popularized the term “biophilia” in his book The Biophilia Hypothesis, describing it as “a desire or tendency to commune with nature.” Working for the U.S. Green Building Council for the last 18 years has given me the opportunity to learn how our offices and homes can be designed to promote nature connection. When I learned about the biophilic design

strategies used in green buildings and in our LEED Platinum DC Headquarters, I became passionate about using the built environment as a teaching tool. Over 11 years, I led more than 900 tours to over 14,000 guests of our innovative space. Every tour started with “Does anyone know what biophilia means?” This was followed by a tour of the office where I pointed out the views of the outdoors from seated positions, the plants, the natural materials, the water feature and the motifs of nature throughout. Studies have shown that people who feel connected to nature from their workplace, homes and schools are happier and more productive. When guests saw biophilic design in

action, I could see the light bulbs going on above their heads. My greatest joy was witnessing the “a-ha moments” and seeing how our space inspired others.

Equal Access for All While many offices, homes, schools, retail establishments and even neighborhoods are designing with nature in mind, is our city’s design meeting our needs? In 2019, The Trust for Public Land, declared that Washington, DC had the #1 city park system in the country. Using their ParkScore Index, they calculated that 21% of the city area is designated for parks and that 98% of DC residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. While these numbers are

The biophilic design of USGBC’s LEEP Platinum Headquarters connects staff to the outdoors and natural elements Image Credit: Eric Laignel.

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City of Trees and Jefferson Oak on Mall. Image Credit: Ana Ka’ahanui.

impressive, there is a disparity across the city with regard to equal access to green spaces. One response to this inequality is the Ready2Play Master Plan, an initiative of the DC Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service. They are currently assessing if facilities and parks are meeting the recreational needs of the community. After gathering feedback from residents, this holistic plan will govern funding decisions, capital improvements and programming priorities for parks and recreational facilities in the District.


One of the local nonprofits that advocates for equitable access to parks is Green Spaces for DC. This coalition of sixteen nonprofits, including Capital Nature, serves to enhance the health and wellbeing of neighborhoods across the city. For example, Oxon Run Park, situated east of the Anacostia River, is the largest park in the National Park Service’s DC inventory, yet it lacks amenities that other parks in the city provide. Therefore, the Friends of Oxon Run formed to advocate for and encourage residents to use the park and enjoy it’s many beautiful trees and trails.

The park boasts the 2nd largest collection of cherry blossom trees in DC. Since part of our mission at Capital Nature is to reach underserved communities, we are happily partnering with the Friends of Oxon Run to bring nature walks, citizen science, forest bathing and bird watching to their wonderful park.

City of Trees As a dendrophile, or lover of trees, I am truly grateful to have access to such an abundance of species and local resources to learn more about them. My dear friend and mentor, Melanie Choukas-Bradley, is an award-

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Results of City Nature Challenge 2021 DMV area. Image Credit: Ana Ka’ahanui.

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For me, being with trees feels like a warm embrace image Credit: Nik Raval.

The tea ceremony provides a mindful conclusion at the end of every forest bathing walk Image Credit: Ana Ka’ahanui.


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winning author, naturalist and forest bathing guide. She has written the only field guide to the 300+ species of trees in the DC metro area – City of Trees. It’s a spectacular resource for anyone interested in knowing about the trees in our region. One of my favorite local nonprofits is Casey Trees. Their mission is to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital. Through tree plantings, inventories, advocacy and public education, they have set a goal of reaching a 40% percent tree canopy in DC by 2032. The DC Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Division has created an interactive map to document the 145,000+ street trees in DC. Capital Nature has used this map to create walking tours of city and neighborhood trees to illustrate urban biodiversity. Many people don’t realize that even in the city the streetscapes are teeming with wildlife, they just have to take the time to look.

Coming Home to Nature It’s taken a global pandemic for people to actually stop and smell the roses. We’ve been forced to hit pause, take a look at what we’ve been doing to the planet, and start to think strategically about how we can start to repair our relationship with the natural world. When I hear comments like, “Is it me or are there more birds singing outside this year?”, my response is “Nope, I think

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we just have more time now to stop and truly listen. With less sound pollution from planes, cars and public transportation we’re able to tune in more.” If anything positive has come from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s the introduction or the re-introduction of people to the great outdoors. A popular misconception about “being in nature” is that you have to get in a car and drive out to the wilderness, to be in the mountains or deep in the forest. Nature is all around us, even inside our homes. Besides living critters and houseplants, take a look around your house. How many things have been made from nature? Your wooden desk where you sit every day? That woven mat you picked up on a tropical vacation? That smooth stone you found on your last hike? In her book Resilience: Connecting to Nature in a Time of Crisis, Melanie ChoukasBradley speaks of a ‘wild home.’ It’s finding a place in your yard, on your balcony, at a nearby park where you can visit regularly to get to know the place. Over time you can experience your wild home through the seasons and form a relationship, much like visiting an old friend. You may be amazed by what you discover.

the time to slow down and just be? “Shinrin-yoku”, also known as forest bathing, is a Japanese term for taking in the forest atmosphere with your senses. This therapeutic practice is the perfect antidote to the stress of our daily lives. As a certified forest therapy guide, I have been leading both virtual and safelydistanced in person walks where I facilitate a series of invitations to slow down and experience nature with all of one’s senses. It is a relaxing and restorative process which fosters a deeper connection with the natural world. When stepping into nature, I am stepping into my authenticity. Whether it is teaching others about biophilia or how to use the iNaturalist app, leading a nature walk or guiding a forest bathing experience, there’s an inexhaustible supply of wonder and joy to share.

Sources When was the last time you sat outside and did nothing? Our busy lives, work, friends, family and social media have a tendency to fill up our waking hours. What if you gave yourself

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Capital Nature Harvard Health article: Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature City Nature Challenge DPR’s Re ady2Play Master Plan Green Spaces for DC DDOT Map of DC Street Trees Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs


remove your bias and start designing equitable solutions now. by Kia Weatherspoon, NCIDQ, ASID Determined by Design

A label is defined as a classifying phrase or name applied to a person or thing. In some industries, using identifiers can be advantageous to curate, meet and exceed the needs of a person. However, labels are often inaccurate or restrictive. When used to create communities, these labels reinforce inequities and are counterintuitive to the intent of the creative process. In service professions like Interior Design, Architecture, and Landscape Architecture, the labels used to aid in the design process are based on socioeconomic demographics and have been counterproductive in creating equitable design outcomes. As a result, these labels have and continue to cripple black and brown communities. These identifiers result in buildings,


interior, and exterior spaces funded, designed, and built under the guise of providing the bare minimum to “these people”. The outcomes are biased, unchecked, and lack the empathic approach necessary within all disciplines connected to creating communities. My goal as a black leader in the design space is to illustrate why/how these labels fail the community, how these industries can and must change the outcomes, foster accountability and reengage our responsibility as design professionals to lead with empathy.

The outcomes are biased, unchecked, and lack the empathic approach necessary within all disciplines connected to creating communities.

Demographics devalue the true asset “This community does not need two million dollars’ worth of brick facade.” This was a statement made by a major stakeholder of a redevelopment project in a historically designated retail corridor of a black community. A statement one could easily assert was made in response to exceeding overall project cost. Yes, the exterior facades of buildings often necessitate value engineering. However, when located in an affluent white neighborhood where historic guidelines must take precedent, the worthiness of a facade isn’t correlated to the overall community’s perceived value and its needs. The irony being a brick costs the same whether used in affordable housing or market rate housing. Is one community really less deserving

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Archer Park Apartments, Determined by Design Photo Credit: Jennifer Hughes

of brick than another? This is one of many examples of how labels and inequity permeate and hinder the design process and equitable design outcomes. In this instance a stakeholder not only devalued the community, they also assumed they knew what the community needed. Instead of empowering agency within the community to maintain an architectural vernacular to celebrate a retail corridor in a black community. Does the brick matter? Absolutely, because the result has a trickle-down effect, or should I say a trickle-inside effect:

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“We need to secure these places like prisons.” “We don’t want these people hanging out.” “Our funding source won’t allow us to make it look too nice.” Writing these statements gave me great pause. Not because it was my first time reading them, but because of the frequency in which I have heard variations of these blatant biases toward black and brown residents before the building has even been developed, designed, and constructed. Long before black

and brown mothers, children, and fathers have even stepped foot into their future home.

This community does not need two million dollars’ worth of brick facade.” This was a statement made by a major stakeholder of a redevelopment project in a historically designated retail corridor of a black community. The disdain and expectation of people labeled by their AMI (area median income) is deplorable and comes with a level of bias.


It takes center stage during the interior design process, where the interiors of a space have the capacity to bring value to a property, worth to a community, and immerse people in beauty, comfort, and solace. This sounds like a seemingly standard thought process for an interior designer. However, the fact is we spend 90% of our time indoors, so it is not conjecture. The reality is an emphasis on interiors is exceedingly important, pre and post pandemic. If, when and how those spaces are designed based on the biases of the constituents, means we are failing the people. We have allowed these labels to dictate how we design.

Data does not absolve prejudices Intentionally creating depressed and repressed interior environments is a detriment to the health, safety and welfare (HSW) of a person(s). HSW is often referenced when discussing the built environment and associated with numerous codes and regulations. However, what often escapes the acronym’s purview is mental health. The long term negative mental and psychological effects of a stripped down, hard surface clad, institutional reminiscent and bare minimum “dignified” space frequently left for individuals of color takes decades to undo.


The long term negative mental and psychological effects of a stripped down, hard surface clad, institutional reminiscent and bare minimum “dignified” space frequently left for individuals of color takes decades to undo. It could be assumed that as the reader your expectation of scholarly data should be now referenced to reinforce the detrimental effects. However, a global pandemic has forced us all indoors, with an emphasis on staying in our homes. Take pause now and think how the design, comfort, beauty, and functionality of your space aided you mentally, during an unprecedented time. Do you still need data? We often want data to tell us how to do better, data that can take decades to garner a bare minimum change. Interior design’s ability to improve mental health, reinforce value and increase quality of life is unquestionable. It requires us to not wait on the evidence but lead with empathy!

Creatives are the change agents While you (developer, architect, city official, general contractor, housing agency representative) are waiting on the scientific evidence, I ask you to take

your child, spouse, parent or loved one to go live in Greenleaf Gardens in Washington, DC for two weeks. The sense of urgency that would be deployed to remove them from that type of environment would not need to be warranted by evidencebased data or skewed statistics. It would be a simple exercise in empathy. Yes, empathy. It is often the simplest solutions that yield the greatest results.

Yes, empathy. It is often the simplest solutions that yield the greatest results. While I have listed numerous constituents engaged in the process of creating communities, it would be naive to think all would align and lead with empathy. This is why the onus must reside within the collective creative and empathic voice of Architects, Interior Designers, and Landscape Architects. It is our job. We are trade professionals trained to service the people. All people! Beauty, comfort, and solace must be included to yield design outcomes advantageous to the mental HSW of all people, regardless of project type or AMI of a community. We can begin with better collaboration among Interior Designers and Architects, by advocating and valuing the necessity for each other’s creative services on all projects.

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Archer Park Apartments, Determined by Design Photo Credit: Jennifer Hughes

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Archer Park Apartments, Determined by Design Photo Credit: Jennifer Hughes


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Momemtum at Shady Grove, Determined by Design Photo Credit: Jennifer Hughes

The language of change is free The absence of any creative service provider on a project team enables inequitable design outcomes. We have to value the presence of our individual expertise greater than the totality of diminishing one trade’s design fees. To advocate means ceasing the narrative surrounding Interior Designers and Landscape Architects as optional ‘soft’ costs for affordable housing developments.

requires acknowledging when a reflection of the community is lacking on project teams or amongst the creative service providers on a project. Diverse stakeholders who can identify with the communities being serviced will diminish the possibility for creating outcomes based on socioeconomic backgrounds. This representation also allows other team members the capacity to address bias language and enact accountability.

Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another. Advocacy

Using your craft and voice to speak up on behalf of those unheard and underrepresented costs nothing. All it takes is free will and empathy. Fear of losing

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a client should not be greater than one’s responsibility to create spaces that will exist for decades, continually oppressing entire generations of black and brown people. We must remove the labels that justify biases and inequity. Instead, we should ignite empathy within the creative process for the greater good of humanity.

We must remove the labels that justify biases and inequity. Instead, we should ignite empathy within the creative process for the greater good of humanity. 25

Momemtum at Shady Grove, Determined by Design Photo Credit: Jennifer Hughes


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Brookland Apartments, Determined by Design Photo Credit: Jennifer Hughes

Sources 1 2

https://www.google.com/search?q=label+definition&oq=label+d&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l5j69i60l2.2487j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/indoor-air-quality#note1.

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memorial as environmental justice: race and place by Glenn LaRue PUSH studio

The year has begun with tragedy, protest, insurrection, and political turmoil, which resulted in a renewed awareness of racial injustice and democratic instability. Implicit in these issues is an increased challenge for users and designers of public spaces in America. This cultural spasm has created contested public spaces — sites of killing, protest in the street, protest in the park, forgotten burial grounds — that suggests a new form of environmental justice. While environmental justice is most often viewed from the perspective of pollution-centered impacts on people, land, water and air, the spaces stained by the killing of black Americans and the spaces soiled by a history of slavery and white supremacy require new environmental justice perspectives, because they too disproportionately affect black and brown communities. Thus,


architects, landscape architects, urban designers, and planners are situated in the center of a shifting racial, political and spatial dialogue. Designers, like other Americans, are now called to examine their place in a country built on systemic racism and take charge of these new opportunities to defeat bias and work toward spatial equity as ‘designer citizens The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota changed the American and global discourse on race and justice. The international protests that followed this tragic event set in motion the removal of Confederate monuments, marches at the White House, multicultural marches against police brutality nationally, and extensive grassroots and academic discussions about racism in America. There are far

more Black victims of racism at the hands of police, but the brutal imagery of George Floyd’s murder sparked a collective empathy within the American and global public.

This cultural spasm has created contested public spaces — sites of killing, protest in the street, protest in the park, forgotten burial grounds — that suggests a new form of environmental justice. Due to the unnecessary death of yet another Black man, the veil of white supremacy and white entitlement has been yet again momentarily uncovered. The outpouring of support was swift and protest marches included people of all colors for the first time in decades. However, the ferocity of the government’s

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Protesters gather at Black Lives Plaza - intersection of I-Street and 16th Street Image Credit: Brian Hustvedt-Camacho

response in the form of more police brutality, protester arrests, and the labeling of the Black Lives Matters (BLM) organization as a negative, socialists, left-wing group were just as swift. During protests in Washington, DC the Mayor, Muriel Bowser, spatially fought this false narrative about BLM by designating the Black Lives Matter Plaza as a block-long street mural directly in the face of the White House. The plaza, in a sense, has become one of the first physically illustrative responses as public-art-place as protest. Mayor Bowser reflected on her

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reason for taking this public space action by stating that “we had the opportunity to send that message loud and clear on a very important street in our City. That message is to the American

rights, public space creation and appropriation, and most importantly, the disposition of existing Confederate monuments around the country. The Black Lives Matter Plaza and the

people that Black lives matter, Black humanity matters, and we as a City raise that up.”

Confederate monuments have become pivotal issues leading to a robust discussion within the architecture, landscape architecture and planning professions concerning race and place. How does one memorialize places of protest and also de-memorialize places of circumspect historical interpretation? While the physical manifestation of these issues will be fluid and constantly in design

The plaza, has become one of the first physically illustrative responses as publicart-place as protest. The dialogue generated because of George Floyd’s murder has encompassed public protest


Protest signs posted at Lafayette Park during BLM protest in June 2020 Image Credit: Brian Hustvedt-Camacho

evolution, the cultural rationale for public space as environmental justice is finite based on a true reading of history. In a Smithsonian Magazine article Peter Schwartzstein speaks of this fluid spatiality in terms of urban spatial order as a determinant of successful public protest. He suggest that “…what’s notable, perhaps, about the ongoing protests in the U.S. and many [countries] abroad is the extent to which differing urban designs can determine a movement’s success and sometimes even propel different outcomes for the same grievances.”(2) He further speaks of the role of designers and the


history of public space when he indicates that “…after decades of tightening constraints, in which public space has shrunk, shifted, or vanished, scholars suggest that urban design itself will only become even more of a protest influence in the coming years.”

Historians such as Carl Becker suggest “… that history is what the present chooses to remember about the past. Historical monuments are, among other things, an expression of power ...”

On the other hand, the honest recording of history cannot be subjected to such factual fluidity. Historians such as Carl Becker suggest “…that history is what the present chooses to remember about the past. Historical monuments are, among other things, an expression of power — an indication of who has the power to choose how — history is remembered in public places.” In this sense, designers can be advocates of history in the design of public spaces and the alterations of public spaces. In the case of Confederate Monuments, the authentic history is clear and not fluid. Karen

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“Black Lives Matter” is painted on the pavement of 16th Street near the White House.EPA Image Credit: Bryan McKenzie/AP

Above: Robert E Lee Statue at Market Street Plaza, Charlottesville VA Image Credit: Bryan McKenzie/AP Avenues, Volume 4


Tamir Rice Memorial Site: Aerial view at Frank E. Cudell Recreation Center and Park, Cleveland, Ohio Image Credit: Design Jones, LLC

Tamir Rice Memorial Site Plan Image Credit: Design Jones, LLC


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L. Fox clarifies this authentic argument in a New York Times opinion article when she states that “…The heyday of monument building, between 1890 and 1920, was also a time of extreme racial violence, as Southern whites pushed back against what little progress had been made by African-Americans in the decades after the Civil War. As monuments went up, so did the bodies of black men, women and children during a long rash of lynching.” Two projects reflect how environmental justice can be achieved for spaces and places that have experienced loss. The Tamir Rice Memorial in Cleveland, Ohio illustrates how a space can evoke memory. The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia illustrates how a space can evoke acknowledgement of slavery and servitude. These two contemporary projects are expressions of the challenges ahead for designers as America deals with police violence, protest, history of systemic racism, and other social issues.

Memorial of Protest and Pain Shifts in social, cultural and political injustice often provide opportunities for designers to activate their role as ‘citizens.’ The increased awareness of racial injustice by law enforcement officials in the U.S.

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has offered such an opportunity for designers to acknowledge this systemic problem that disproportionately affects black and brown communities. The deaths that occur from these police incidents leave not only broken families and communities, but also places and spaces of pain and conflict. The challenge for designers is how to create spaces that acknowledge the life of those killed, respect the context of the place, speak to racial injustice, and create a sense of resolution.

“…with the gun tucked away, he walked to the edge of the gazebo. He might have been wandering aimlessly, or he might have been attracted by the sight of a squad car barreling across the lawn. Seconds later, the boy lay dying from a police officer’s bullet…But the boy, Tamir Rice, was only 12…”

The challenge for designers is how to create spaces that acknowledge the life of those killed, respect the context of the place, speak to racial injustice, and create a sense of resolution.

Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, has since created the Tamir Rice Foundation to advance social justice and remember her son through a Memorial within the Frank E. Cudell Recreation Center and park area. The memorial will be located at the site of the gazebo where Tamir was killed. These memorials are becoming far too common, but they must provide the space to create a ‘place or remembrance’ within a new type of landscape. In 2020 the Tamir Rice Memorial project began moving quickly with the solicitation for designers and the hiring of the Black landscape architecture firm, Design Jones, LLC, to design the memorial. The Clevelandbased firm, Deru Landscape Architecture, is the team landscape architect of record. Samaria Rice and her daughter, Tajai, as well as community members, were fully engaged in

The November 22, 2014 death of Tamir Rice by police officers in Cleveland, Ohio is a questionable incident that did not result in charges against the police officers involved. A New York Times January 22, 2015 article by reporters Shaila Dewan and Richard A. Oppel, Jr. poignantly describe Tamir’s playful visit to the park with a friend (including the toy airsoft-style gun he carried). After a neighbor called police to report a child in the park with a gun, which the caller described as perhaps a toy gun, Dewan and Oppel indicate that

The death of this Black ‘child’ validates the protest that followed and justifies the memorial that his mother worked so hard to realize.


Tamir Rice Memorial Perspective view of the design selected by the Rice Family. Image Credit: Design Jones, LLC

the development of all memorial design concepts. As outlined by the design team, “…The Tamir Rice Memorial makes sacred a space of devastating injustice in the remembrance of a vibrant young Black child full of possibilities. It uses the forms of the butterfly and the box to signify what Tamir was, the flight of freedom, and what society assigned for him, the darkness of confinement.” The heart of the memorial is an Engraved Granite Stone with Tamir’s image and text that memorializes his life. The butterfly garden was originally built with the help of Tamir’s sister, Tajai, and her friends as a 2016


memorial to her brother. Funding for the garden was provided by the Cleveland City Council. The pathway leading to this ‘memorial stone’ embodies the evolution of Tamir’s life and incorporates and revitalizes the existing butterfly garden, which also becomes a creative beginning to the memorial space. The curvilinear pathway and dry creek establish a sustainable mitigation area for site rainwater runoff. As the years pass, there will be time to understand if and how this memorial heals a community and, in particular, a family that remains in pain. The original gazebo where

Tamir was killed was dismantled and moved to Chicago with the assistance of the Rebuild Foundation. The foundation CEO and Founder, artist and activist Theaster Gates, was instrumental in assisting Samaria Rice with this pivotal relocation and memorial. “The reconstructed gazebo with the original concrete picnic table now sits on the north lawn of 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., rededicated as “a platform, a stage, a prospect from which to reckon with, argue over and jointly heal…” said Adam Green, associate professor at the University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture.”A spokesman for the Rice family has indicated

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that the Chicago gazebo site will not be its final location and she envisions “…the gazebo going back to Cleveland and finding a permanent home…” Diane Jones Allen, the design Principal at Design Jones LLC and Professor/Director of Landscape Architecture at University of Texas–Arlington, states that “I was inspired and moved by Samaria Rice’s speaking to me of the beauty of her son and the horrific tragedy of this event. Her words clearly shaped my hand while designing the memorial.”

justice protest movement, but also reignited the decades long debate over how to address the removal of Confederate Monuments and symbols around the country. However, history is finite as it relates to why Confederate Monuments exists and why monument removals are necessary. Southern pride is most often used as the rationale for not removing Confederate monuments, however, Keisha Blain, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, suggest that these defenders “…fail to acknowledge

racist-version of history. In effect, these monuments and symbols already do the work of erasing history — the very thing their defenders now accuse protesters of doing by demanding their removal.”

Memory of Acknowledgement

that Confederate monuments and symbols emerged in an effort to intimidate black Americans and uphold a revisionist-and

busy at work designing the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia Activated by UVA Community

The murder of George Floyd not only created a global racial

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Against the backdrop of a Unite the Right rally, August 11-12, 2017, by white supremacist protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, a team of designers and community members were



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Visitors at the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers (view approaching memorial). Image Credit: Alan Karchmer, Courtesy: Höweler + Yoon Architecture Previous page: Aerial view of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers and UVA Grounds

and Charlottesville Residents as Space of Gathering, Reflection, and Solidarity. The juxtaposition of these two activities, a revisionists protest for Confederacy and a historical acknowledgement of slavery’s damages to Black Americans, is striking. During this rally there were clashes between the protesters, which resulted in the tragic death of 32-year old woman, Heather D. Heyer, a Charlottesville resident, by an irate white supremacist driving through a crowd of protesters. Conversely, the enslaved laborers memorial team efforts resulted in the April 11, 2020 dedication of a


memorial that acknowledges the lives of enslaved laborers who were owned and rented by the University of Virginia. The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers stands in honor and recognition of a buried history that has been honestly brought to the surface and stands in stark contrast to the Emancipation Park General Robert E. Lee statue. The memorial was designed by Höweler + Yoon Architecture (Eric Höweler, professor at the Harvard GSD and Meejin Yoon, Dean at Cornell AAP) in collaboration with historian and designer Dr.

Mabel O. Wilson (professor at Columbia GSAPP and founder of Studio&), Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, community facilitator Dr. Frank Dukes, and artist Eto Otitigbe. “The Memorial responds to the fraught history of UVA with an open form, a sweeping gesture in stone that is welcoming and inclusive, as if waiting for the visitor to complete the Memorial. It is a form that is open in terms of meaning, alluding to the ‘ring shout’ and a space of shelter and gathering.

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The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers stands in honor and recognition of a buried history that has been honestly brought to the surface and stands in stark contrast to the Emancipation Park General Robert E. Lee statue. The Memorial is also open ended in that it is unfinished, with the list of names remaining conspicuously incomplete. The unfinished nature of the Memorial also alludes to the historic legacy of slavery and the ongoing work in the present that needs to be done to address questions of bias and anti-Black racism today,” said Eric Höweler…” This memorial reminds us that history may be reinterpreted based on biases. But the true reading of history guards against revisionist rhetoric and personal bias. The discussion of acknowledging systemic racism and the ownership and sale of slaves to sustain personal or institutional wealth was started within the academy. Brown University, Georgetown University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Virginia (UVA) and other universities have led this reconciliation with historical reviews and action plans, which is the beginning of a model for corporations, cities and other

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seats of power. In 2013 Dr. Marcus Martin, Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity, proposed the UVA Commission to further study the history of slave ownership by the university.

The Memorial is also open ended in that it is unfinished, with the list of names remaining conspicuously incomplete. The unfinished nature of the Memorial also alludes to the historic legacy of slavery and the ongoing work in the present that needs to be done to address questions of bias and anti-Black racism today,” The Commission’s core goal was to “…Explore and report on UVA’s historical relationship with slavery, highlighting opportunities for recognition and commemoration…” A physical design synopsis of the extensive Commission report permeates all elements of the Memorial and the design team described this history in this powerful statement — “… An estimated 4,000 enslaved persons worked on the Grounds of UVA between 1817 and 1865, when the Union Army liberated the enslaved of Albermarle County. Owned and rented by the University, they created and maintained its famous grounds,

pavilions, and Rotunda. The memorial’s commemorative forms and historical inscriptions acknowledge the dualities of enslavement — the pain of bondage and hope for the future. It celebrates the bonds of community that nurtured resistance and resilience to the dehumanizing violence that shaped the everyday experience of enslaved life at UVA. In doing so, the Memorial creates a vital public place to understand, learn, and remember their contribution to the University…”

The Future Only eight months after George Floyd’s murder on May 25th, the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol in Washington, DC became another shocking bookend to the May 25th incident, creating a cultural tsunami. Americans and the world have awakened to a reality that the authenticity of a democratic existence in the country is, in fact, a democratic conceit. An inauthenticity of citizenship that again forces Americans to acknowledge its past and present history of racial injustices. David Brooks, New York Times columnists, reflects on the January 6th event in terms of morality when he writes “…Human beings exist at moral dimensions both too lofty and more savage than the contemporary American mind normally considers. The mob that invaded that building [the Capitol]


Detail shot of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers inner wall, with names and memory marks Image Credit: Alan Karchmer, Courtesy: Höweler + Yoon Architecture 40

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Wednesday exposed the abyss. This week wasn’t just an atrocity, it was a glimpse into an atavistic nativism that always threatens to grip the American soul… The rampage reminded us that if Black people had done this, the hallways would be red with blood.” Brooks provides a nuanced argument that even when there is democratic protest by a mostly Black group as opposed to undemocratic insurrection by a mostly white group, there is inequality and obvious bias. The Capitol insurrection presents yet another spatial challenge — how to protect the Capitol and also provide a space of democratic movement for Americans. The Capitol Police Department has taken the position that the 7-foot fencing should stay in place. The Mayor of Washington, DC, Muriel

Bowser, and many Congressmen believe that the fences symbol of ‘defense’ is undemocratic. There will no doubt be a compromise that will call designers into creative action again to craft a spatial mediation.

Brooks provides a nuanced argument that even when there is democratic protest by a mostly Black group as opposed to undemocratic insurrection by a mostly white group, there is inequality and obvious bias. The Tamir Rice Memorial and the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at University of Virginia are linked by their resolution of issues of race and place specifically addressing the lives of black Americans. These places continue to bring attention and

a degree of reconciliation to contemporary issues of police violence and the buried history of slavery in America. As these projects exhibit, the alarm has been sounded for environmental justice solutions for spaces of racial injustice. Similar sites will only increase in number, requiring the need to sensitively provide creative solutions that uplift and educate the public. January 6th shows us that environmental justice related to race and space will be dominant for some time to come. This new environmental justice demand offers designers opportunities to illustrate their citizenship by honestly acknowledging the continuing racial and spatial disparities and ugly racial history of the United States. It is this pledge to accept historical authenticity as factually finite that will yield more democratic public spaces across America.

Sources 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Dwyer, Colin. “Black Lives Matter Plaza, Across from White House, is Christened by D.C. Leaders.” National Public Radio. June 5, 2020. 4:30 PM Schwartzstein, Peter. “Protest Space.” Smithsonian Magazine. June 29, 2020. Foner, Eric. “Confederate Statues and ‘Our’ History.” New York Times. August 20, 2017 Fox, Karen L. “Why Confederate Monuments Must Fall.” New York Times, Op Ed. August 15, 2017. Dewan, Shaila, Oppel, Richard A. “In Tamir Rice Case, Many Errors by Cleveland Police, Then a Fatal One.” The New York Times. January 22, 2015. Design Jones, Inc. Tamir Rice Memorial, Cleveland, Ohio, Design Statement Zoslov, Pamela. “Butterfly Project Helps A Community Heal.” Think - Case Western University. Spring 2016. (www.case.edu/think/ spring2016/butterfly-project) Rockett, Darcel. “Tamir Rice Gazebo Memorial reconstructed with help from Rebuild Foundation: ‘For Every Tamir that we know, there’s probably 20-30 that we don’t.” The Chicago Tribune. July 01, 2019. Quote: Diane Jones Allen, Principal-Design Jones, LLC, Designer of Tamir Rice Memorial, and Professor and Director of Landscape Architecture at University of Texas-Arlington.. Blain, Keisha N. “Destroying Confederate Monuments isn’t ‘erasing’ history. It’s learning from it.” Washington Post. June 19, 2020. Lord, Debbie. “What happened at Charlottesville: Looking back on the rally that ended in death.” Atlanta Journal Constitution (Cox Media Group National Content Desk). August 13, 2019.. Quote: University of Virginia, Presidents Commission on Slavery and the University (www.slavery.virginia.edu). Quotes: Höweler + Yoon Architecture Design Team, Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at University of Virginia, Design Statements, August 17, 2020.

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towards an authentic urban renewal by Omari Davis RRMM Lukmire Architects

The City of San Francisco] is engaged in something called urban renewal. Which means moving the Negroes out. It means Negro removal. That’s what it means. The Federal Government is an accomplice to this fact! — James Baldwin (1963) Urban renewal is often thought of in these terms as a raciallybiased, heavy-handed, and brutal appropriation of urban space for the specific benefit of the wealthy and powerful. Urban renewal was not one thing—It was broadly scoped comprising a host of laws and programs. Urban renewal projects occurred across the Country. But whatever the specific history of any project, urban renewal would never be described as an “authentic” expression

of urbanity. It operated in a top-down fashion. Projects were initially sponsored by the government and championed by influential business interests. The 1954 Housing Act altered this structure; wherein, governments offered these lucrative projects to profit-minded developers. Urban renewal’s legacy is many things: formative, innovative, racist, classist, wrong-headed, but never authentic. Despite this checkered history I would argue that some plans approached a level of authenticity. Ed Logue’s Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Washington Park project (1961-1975) had a measure of authenticity through crafted outreach and alliance building. Another authentic approach is through sensitive urban design aimed at preserving communities. This was the case

in Elbert Peets’ urban renewal plan for Southwest, Washington, DC. Unlike the executed Southwest renewal plan which erased 561 acres, replacing them with a High Modernist vision of urbanity, Peets’ plan sought to rehabilitate and preserve the existing nineteenth-century urban fabric. This would have been remarkably progressive both for maintaining the neighborhood and retaining its residents, the majority of whom were AfricanAmerican. African-Americans were often removed and otherwise victimized by urban renewal as alluded to by the Baldwin quote above. An option to remain would have appealed to many as their limited incomes would have hampered relocation; moreover, they possessed a deep bond to their neighbors and neighborhood. Despite its social benefits, Peets’ plan was not

Figure 1 (opposite): Southwest Redevelopment Area, Image Source: Southwest Urban Renewal Project Area C 1956


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Figure 2: Southwest, DC looking towards the Capitol, Image Source: Library of Congress

adopted, purportedly for its lack of economic viability.

Urban Renewal As noted above, urban renewal had a wide-ranging scope and was geographically diverse. It lacks precise definition, but for purposes of this article, it is the period between 1947 and 1974, beginning with the ratification of the Urban Renewal Act and ending at the demise of the Great Society programs and creation of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. Urban renewal in Southwest DC took place roughly from the mid1950s to 1970.


Why Southwest? Southwest, DC is the smallest quadrant stretching southwest from the Capitol to the Potomac River. For purposes of this article, references to Southwest are restricted to areas redeveloped by the District’s southwest development area as defined by planning authority, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), refer to Figure 1. The area we refer to as Southwest, DC has been inhabited for centuries. In precolonial times, Native Americans (First Nations) inhabited this low-lying area at the confluence

of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers1 Since the incorporation of Washington, DC, the area has been the scene of “the next big thing” in real estate. In the first years of the District, it was home to speculators like John Greenleaf. His Wheat Row development (1794) avoided demolition and was incorporated in the urban renewal development of Harbor Square (1964).2 Most recently, Southwest has seen massive redevelopment at the Wharf. Urban renewal’s genesis can be traced back to a time after the Greenleaf and his contemporaries. Southwest’s development was stunted by

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Figure 3: Alley dwelling Southwest, DC, Image Source: Library of Congress

geography—with Tiber Creek on the northeast and the silted waterfront to the southwest—it was isolated from the rest of the city. An uptick in growth began at the close of the Civil War when many newly Freedmen made the area home. Matching development patterns of other US cities, immigrants moved in alongside the burgeoning African-American neighborhood resulting in a diverse, multiethnic community. Other similar patterns followed, such as disinvestment, marginalization, poverty, and eventual governmental intervention with little regard for the community.

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By the close of the nineteenthcentury, Southwest was densely populated (Figure 2). Much of the neighborhood was mired in poverty, and it was characterized as a slum. Of particular concern were the alley dwellings (Figure 3). Alley dwellings were secondary structures built behind row houses in the alleys. Many of these shacks were built after the Civil War by Freedmen. Alley dwellers were looked down upon by all; they were the poorest of the poor, “The people who faced the street, both black and white, did not welcome the alley dwellers whom they believed had no vested interest in the area.

The alley dwellers spoke with thick accents and had contrary ways. They were generally poor and less educated”.3/4 This grinding poverty began to define the entire neighborhood, especially for reformers and federal overseers.5 Progressive Era urban slum reformers, Charles and Eugenia Weller, documented the neighborhood’s social ills and went onto establish social programs aimed at uplift. Their work inspired the Washington Sanitary Housing Company which built housing targeted for the working poor in the 1910s.


Figure 4: Carrollsburg Place, SW contemporary view, Image Source: Google Earth

Some of these homes still exist today on Carrollsburg Place, SW between M and P Streets (Figure 4). Federal reform efforts began during World War II as planners sought locations for war effort housing. Goodwillie’s The Rehabilitation of Southwest Washington as a War Housing Measure was a product of this campaign. Despite its wartime impetus it makes a point alerting its federal audience of the area’s woeful conditions and placing them in vivid context, “…within three blocks of the Capitol of the United States, structural, economic and social conditions in the Area [Southwest, DC] are shameful”.6 Social and physical reform efforts gained momentum


in the mid-1940s. The 1945 District of Columbia Redevelopment Act was enacted with the understanding that, “’substandard and blighted areas’ such as [Southwest], were ‘injurious to public health, safety, morals, and welfare’.” 7 It created the Redevelopment Land Authority (RLA) and granted planning powers to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and its predecessor (the National Capital Park and Planning Commission).8 NCPC involvement, beginning around 1950, initiated the planning process resultant in the Southwest we know today. These early efforts defined the planning boundaries as well as the plans’ guiding principles. This

genesis created an opportunity for an authentic urban design plan. Indeed, previous planning efforts both by reformers and the federal government presented paths at what this article defines as authentic urban renewal—the Washington Sanitary Housing Company effort targeting modern sanitary housing at the needy and Goodwillie’s plan for rehabilitation. This is not to champion either plan as perfect or precisely what was needed or desired to reform the Southwest “slum”. Instead, I would argue their fundamental premise of improving existing conditions for the existing community is an authentic version of urban renewal. Providing fundamental

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conveniences such as plumbing and electricity would have given the plans authenticity. This modest approach would have certainly been more authentic than the resultant High Modernist cityscape. The Modernist cityscape was not an inevitable consequence of the era’s dominant strain of Modernist urban planning and design. Around 1952 two competing visions of Southwest were presented to the NCPC. I argue that one, Elbert Peets’ plan, the Preliminary Generalized Neighborhood Plan for Progressive Development, is an authentic vision of urban renewal borne of the observable lack of infrastructure and a paucity of services in the neighborhood. This plan sought to conserve the urban fabric and character by rehabilitating dilapidated buildings and rehousing residents. The opposing plan authored by well-known DC architects Louis Justement and Chloethiel Woodard Smith took a modern, formalist approach. Their plan proposed demolishing the entire planning area in order to create a blank slate upon which to construct a novel, modern, urban neighborhood. In this plan the existing residents and their urbanity was all but ignored and swept aside. Neither plan was developed in a vacuum, and in order to gain a greater appreciation and understanding

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of their levels of authenticity, context is important.

A Brief History Elbert Peets (1886 – 1968) was a landscape architect and urban designer born in Hudson, Ohio. He attended Case Western Reserve University, and completed his studies with a Masters of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University in 1915. As a landscape architect he traveled across the United States and the world. He collaborated on Werner Hegemann’s celebrated Civic Art, the American Vitruvius (1922). Peets began a public service consultancy in 1933 notably working for the U.S. Farm Resettlement Administration, the Federal Planning and Housing Authority, the Public Housing Authority, and the Municipal Housing Authority of San Juan, Puerto Rico among others.9 He also served on the US Commission of Fine Arts from 1950 – 1954; this period overlapped development of his Preliminary Generalized Neighborhood Plan for Progressive Development plan for Southwest. This article argues, Peets’ vision for authentic urbanism in Southwest was based on two themes from his work: An academic reverence of L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, DC and professional work on

low-income housing. His plan for Southwest was a synthesis of these two strains of thought. He was an ardent student and defender of the L’Enfant’s Plan for Washington. He authored numerous articles about its history and design intent. He further offered essays critiquing development plans for the District’s monumental core. This opus is captured in Paul D. Spreiregen’s, On the Art of Designing Cities: Selected Essays of Elbert Peets. It is likely, Peets’ academic understanding of the L’Enfant Plan influenced his formal approach to Southwest DC. An appreciation of the intact, original, human scaled grid of Southwest, meant preservation not destruction. The neighborhood, blighted or not, was a key formal component of L’Enfant’s plan and Peets’ plan. Peets’ federal and municipal client list is notable. Many of these organizations were legacies of the Reform Era firmly situated at the intersection of government sponsored social reform and the built environment. With this work he likely witnessed how the government serviced the less fortunate. Further, how they were impacted—for better or worse—by government interventions. Potentially, he foresaw the difficulty and trauma of resettling the neighborhood’s



23,000 residents. Through work with these clients, he would have also gained an understanding of the comparative values of building new versus preservation and incrementalism. He worked on the new town of Greenbelt, Maryland and extension plans for Greendale, Wisconsin. He also worked with an incremental focus coauthoring An Interim Program of Planning Studies for the Physical Development of Puerto Rico.10 Finally, Peets would most likely have been aware of the aforementioned Goodwillie plan published in 1942 (Figure 5). This report, prepared for the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation, touts the viability of housing stock in

Southwest, DC. It notes that while much of the area’s wooden structures and alley dwellings were undesirable, the brick row houses were worthy candidates for rehabilitation (Figure 6).11 He would have also been aware of similar private sector rehabilitation in Georgetown, “It gradually became apparent to speculators that money was to be made in fixing up old houses and the boom was on”.12 It is likely all of these factors: conservation of L’Enfant’s plan, operational knowledge of resettlement and public housing agencies, nascent preservation efforts in Georgetown, and a viable precedent plan from Goodwillie

inspired Peets’ Preliminary Generalized Neighborhood Plan for Progressive Development. This conservative plan sought to rid Southwest of its blight with precision without removing its residents. It sought to use government funds to provide modern, safe, and sanitary housing. It also would have maintained neighborhood cohesion and could have created a space for social services to meet those in need where they were. Finally, it would have maintained the multitude of small businesses that lined Fourth Street. Regardless of its motivations, Peets’ plan presented an authentic vision of urban renewal in stark contrast to the Justement and Smith plan.

Figure 6: Brick rowhouses, Southwest, DC, Image Source: Library of Congress Figure 5 (opposite): Goodwillie’s Plan (1941), Image Source: Home Owners Loan Corp Avenues, Volume 4


Louis Justement and Chloethiel Woodard Smith were architects practiced in the Modern idiom, with its ethos of transparency and independence from historicism. The plan they presented to the NCPC comported to this ethos. Their plan’s influences varied greatly from Peets’. Justement’s, New Cities for Old, was published just six years before their plan for Southwest. In this futurist manifesto with Washington as a case study—he rejects L’Enfant’s Plan for a radical modernization. The seed for their vision of Southwest, DC was planted in 1946 as he, “… laments the ‘the disorder caused by the crazy-quilt pattern of land ownership and the haphazard fashion’.” 13 New Cities for Old is the precursor of the 1952 plan (Figure 7). Justement and Smith were Modernists, not conservationists. They were not troubled by erasing L’Enfant’s southwest grid and possessed no motivation to accommodate modest seventy-year-old rowhouses. In fact, those elements were the antithesis of their ethos. Their plan sought to raze 427 acres displacing tens of thousands of low-income residents. And in their place constructing about 5,000 residential units.14 Professor Jeffery Schrag aptly sums up the consequences of the Justement-Smith plan


for the neighborhood, “In their place they would build, ‘a new fashionable district,’ better suited to federal civil servants than laborers and domestics then in residence”.15 This Modern vision of urban renewal was somewhat innovative—but it was never authentic. Ironically, the plan also introduced the idea of the 10th Street Esplanade, upon which L’Enfant Plaza would be located, despite the plan’s total disregard of L’Enfant’s vision for Southwest. It was a plan for, but not of, the neighborhood. The NCPC was faced with the decision of which plan to select. Purportedly, there was uncertainty about the ability to finance the Peets’ plan, and the Justement and Smith plan was deemed too radical a break from the existing urban fabric. Given these two opposed visions, a third way was selected, a “Compromise Plan” which sought to create a greenfield condition by clearing the neighborhood and building back a typology similar to the existing, one of townhouses, alongside residential towers as well as office and commercial development16 (Figures 8 & 9).

clearing the neighborhood of the ‘laborers and domestics’, and making way for ‘federal civil servants’ and the middle class. The implemented plan razed 561 acres eliminating all but a smattering of the most historically significant structures which are interspersed through the modernist cityscape. This massive demolition was a fundamental rejection of Peets’ plan with its guiding principles of preservation and rehabilitation. Peets also sought to maintain the neighborhood residents. Instead, 23,000 residents were relocated; African-Americans made up nearly seventy-seven percent of this number—roughly 17,710 residents. Moreover, this population was poor and could not afford to move back to their old neighborhood after the renewal efforts. Sixty-four percent of the residents made under $3,600 per year, and a mere 203 units in the new developments were priced for moderate to low-income households.17 Before urban renewal the areas were eighty percent African-American and by 1965, as an outcome of urban renew, the area had become eighty-five percent White.18

While building form may have offered some degree of compromise, the realized plans mirrored those of the Justement and Smith approach. Demolition was the basis of their plan—

This massive change in neighborhood population and demographics coupled with the near total erasure of precedent urban fabric was quintessentially inauthentic.

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Figure 7: Aerial perspective of Southwest DC inspired Justement and Woodard Smith’s Plan (1952), Image Source: Redevelopment Plan Southwest Redevelopment Area B, 1952

Figure 8: NCPC “Compromise Plan”, Image Source: Urban Renewal Plan: Southwest Urban Renewal Project Area C, 1956

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Figure 9: NCPC “Compromise Plan”, Illustrative Site Plan, Image Source: Urban Renewal Plan: Southwest Urban Renewal Project Area C 1956


Figure 10: The Wharf, Washington, DC, Image Credit: Omari Davis

Moreover, it reinforced the stark spatial inequities in DC. In contrast Peets offered a different path for the neighborhood, one fundamentally rooted in improvement of physical conditions for the residents—a quintessentially authentic approach and vision.


Over time Southwest DC changed. It’s modernist towers and townhomes have aged well and still define the area. Most African-Americans displaced by urban renewal never came back. However, urban renewal’s River Park (1963) was one of the District’s first integrated

developments.19 The area is now racially and ethnically diverse, mirroring the District. And the neighborhood is currently experiencing another round of urban renewal which began in the mid-2000s. Developers and the District have made a concerted effort to create

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another “fashionable district” with a complete redevelopment of the Wharf, a new soccer stadium nearby, and a myriad of new residential construction and renovation (Figure 10).

What is the legacy of these Southwest, DC plans? The legacy of the Peets’ plan is one of authentic urban renewal and urbanism—an urbanism not trapped in the logic of an aesthetic or even “highest and best” use. It is of an urbanism rooted in context and advocacy. The plan approaches, but does not fully embody, advocacy

planning in the classic mode of Paul Davidoff, wherein, “… city planners represent and plead the plans of many interest groups…founded upon the need to establish an effective urban democracy…”20 This plan offers a counter narrative to the High Modernism approach of Justement and Smith. The plan served as a surrogate for probable community concerns despite a lack of demonstrable collaboration in plan formation. This authentic version of urban renewal serves as an example of the power of plans (and their alternatives) as catalysts of

representation. Peets’ thoughtful, sensitive, authentic plan was able to provide a voice for the voiceless. However, the act of design and planning, no matter how well intentioned, should never displace the collaborative process of consensus building around urban design, planning, or policy. But, an authentic plan—in the style of Peets’ conservation and preservation plan for Southwest, DC—can offer critical contributions to this process and ultimately foster an authentic urban renewal.

Sources & Notes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Williams, Paul K., Southwest Washington, DC (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005), 9. Moeller, Jr., Martin G., AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, DC, 4th Ed. (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006), 58. Banks, James G. and Banks, Peter S., The Unintended Consequences (Dallas: The University of America Press, Inc., 2004), 18. Alley dwellings were not unique to Southwest. They are a common feature of Washington’s street grid. They were commonly regarded as places of poverty and pestilence—However, with time they have become fashionable places to live in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Georgetown. Despite this characterization, there were always a mix of incomes in community. In the landmark Supreme Court case Berman v Parker (1954), the appellant, Mr. Berman rejected the notion his store was blighted and rejected its taking for beautification. With this decision demolition for urban renewal began the same year. Goodwillie, Arthur, The Rehabilitation of Southwest Washington as a War Housing Measure. (Washington: Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, 1942), 10. Garvin, Alexander. The American City: What Works What Doesn’t. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 249. https://www.ncpc.gov/news/item/102/ Spreiregen, Paul D. On the Art of Designing Cities (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006), 58. Spreiregen, 227. Goodwillie, 12. Peter, Walter G., “Georgetown”, AIA Journal, January, 1963, 108. Schrag, Zachary M., The Great Society Subway. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 21 Pei, I.M., “Urban Renewal in Southwest Washington”, AIA Journal, January, 1963, 66. Schrag, 22 Luebke, Thomas E., ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Fine Arts Commission. (Washington, DC: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013) 214-215. Steven J. and Young, Helen, eds., Housing Washington’s People: Public Policy in Retrospect. (Washington, DC: University of the District of Columbia, Department of Urban Studies, 1983) 90-1. Schrag, 22-23 Zafar, Nina, “History and Glitz in a Riverside Makeover” Washington Post, 13 March 2021, Section EZ 5 Davidoff, Paul, “Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning”, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 31 (4) 1965, 544-555.

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an authentic process by Anna McCorvey cox graae + spack architects

For the past 5 years I’ve been a proud Anacostia resident, a neighborhood in the southeast quadrant of DC. I love it. I love the people, the neighborhood, which is conveniently located, and the view from the top of the hill I live on is amazing. Knowing some of the history and demographic information about the area before I moved here, I made certain assumptions on what my neighbors would want in terms of housing and development. A few Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and neighborhood association meetings showed me some of those assumptions were correct and some weren’t. I also learned there are other concerns I had no idea about. The neighborhood is diverse and people want different things for them and their families. I cannot say this was a groundbreaking revelation for me, but I wondered how these different perspectives


and desires would affect the growth of an area that had been historically neglected. How can growth continue in a way that is authentic to this place?

Authentic Growth Authenticity implies agreement or consensus. One way this concept is manifested in our physical environment is through regulatory mechanisms such as historic districts. An authentic historic Anacostia home has a certain look to it. I propose authenticity also has a social manifestation that is seen through ideas of ownership and a sense of belonging. Residents in Adams Morgan are currently fighting to keep a condominium building from replacing the plaza the community has been utilizing for almost half a century. This gathering space is part of the identity of the community and they feel ownership over it. Some might say that losing this plaza

is a threat to the authenticity of Adams Morgan. We see change challenging previously held ideas of ownership and belonging all over DC. An example of this is the “The Don’t Mute DC” movement began in response to complaints about the gogo music being played from a Metro PCS store in the Shaw neighborhood. Supporters of the movement viewed the store and the music it played as an integral part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Silencing it was like saying the store and its patrons no longer belonged. Agreeing on what a historic Anacostia home should look like is easy. There’s a handbook with pictures you can refer to for guidance. But what can building and design professionals do when there are varying ideas on what is authentic to a place? I recently participated in a community meeting to discuss a

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Anacostia Heritage Trail Street Sign; Image Credit: Anna McCorvey

new project in my neighborhood. I love these meetings because I learn something new about my community every time. We were discussing a new project in the area and as to be expected, there were varying views. One view was that the development is exactly what the community needs. The opposing view, surprise surprise, was in opposition. In cases like

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this, the process may be more important than the final product. Growth and development don’t have to stop because there are disagreements or opposing views. These disagreements will more likely affect our work if we haven’t done our part to engage communities. Architects and other building professionals have to craft engagement processes that make an honest attempt to

reach all stakeholders. We should continually ask ourselves “who’s not at the table and why?” When our process becomes more inclusive, the likelihood of producing projects authentic to a community becomes greater.

Why is Process Important? Process is important because authenticity (agreement, consensus, ownership,



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belonging) can be a moving target. Communities evolve. They evolve physically, socially and economically and sometimes end up bearing little resemblance to their previous life. This isn’t always an issue, but becomes problematic when the culture of a place is being marketed while simultaneously displacing the residents responsible for that culture. U Street was formerly known as Black Broadway. I’m not sure you’d get that

Because of systematic racism and implicit bias, this balance is mostly nonexistent. Our society has attempted to rectify this with affirmative action measures, but current demographic data on income and wealth, health outcomes, educational attainment, etc. show we’ve made limited progress. However, there are some similarities to policy making. Like laws and policies, what we create will likely be around for a while. Our

time residents on bringing more amenities, particularly grocery stores, east of the river. While understanding the history of a place should be step one in our proces, understanding the desires of residents (new and old) is the next. It’s also easy to assume that the individuals who show up faithfully to community meetings to voice their opinions represent the voice of the community as a whole. If you’re on the receiving end of one of

vibe walking along U Street today. You will, however, find buildings named after famous black musicians who frequently played at venues in the area. As one lifelong resident of DC pointed out to me, developers successfully marketed the authenticity of U Street, while those who cultivated that authenticity were being priced out. Author David Hyra describes this as “black branding” in his book Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City. If designers aren’t careful, we’ll fall prey to this by failing to do a deep dive into the history and culture of a place and failing to elevate marginalized voices. Our process has to be different from the policy making processes that aim to strike a balance by serving the majority of people.

projects will probably outlive us in many cases. Let’s be sure we’re leaving behind a legacy that encourages an inclusive design process.

these meetings (as a presenter) you may think “I’ve done my part to engage with the community.” For our understanding of authenticity (and thus belonging and ownership) to evolve we have to see beyond squeaky wheels. That’s not a stab at the community meeting faithfuls. It means we have to understand that those meetings don’t necessarily represent the full breath of the community. Again, we have to continually ask ourselves who isn’t represented and why. Ultimately, what a community views as authentic may change. In order to keep up, designers have to be sure our process is inclusive. This involves understanding histories, acknowledging change and elevating marginalized voices.

Does our understanding of belonging and ownership need to evolve? As designers, we have to fill in the blanks of our knowledge when we approach challenging projects. I was able to speak with a few new residents in my area while I was writing this to get their ideas of what they consider to be authentic Anacostia. A common response was the friendliness and openness of the long time residents. New residents also notice the lack of amenities compared to other neighborhoods in the city and are closely aligned with long

Sources 1

Currier, Erin; Elmi, Sheida. “The Racial Wealth Gap and Today’s American Dream”, The Pew Charitable Trust, February 16, 2018, http:// pew.org/2GlnMjs. For example, the Pew article notes that schools in the south are just as segregated as they were 50 years ago and links segregation to adverse effects on economic mobility.

Image (opposite): The Big Chair, Image Credit: Anna McCorvey

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authentic placemaking through imposition by Aristotle Theresa Stoop Law

We often think of authenticity as a character trait. “Something that one possesses or something that one does not”. If a person is authentic, we perceive them as genuine, trustworthy, and closer in proximity to some sought-after and established personal value. If a person is inauthentic, we perceive them as duplicitous, untrustworthy, and as having some distance between themselves and the personal value. With so much at stake, planners and designers take pains to portray authenticity. Often, and not without some irony, the more visible effort that goes into establishing authenticity, the more one is in danger of being perceived as inauthentic. So there is some natural quality to authenticity, that it should exude easily. Yet, authenticity is impossible without effort.


Authenticity requires diligence and self-evaluation. Partly because opportunity comes to both the authentic and the inauthentic. Sometimes being inauthentic is prerequisite to opportunity. When we recognize such a dynamic, in that moment, we are challenged. If not by the temptation of the opportunity, then by internal dialogue that convinces us of our authenticity when we are not being authentic, but self-serving instead. We have to truly know ourselves and the dynamic we find ourselves in to avoid such a trap. Everyone has heard a neighborhood being referred to as authentic. It is a strange way to refer to a neighborhood given that all neighborhoods are earnest in fulfilling their purpose of providing a place for people to live. Still, we assign authenticity to neighborhoods. Undoubtedly

because neighborhoods are more than just places to live. Most of us have seen the ads enticing new residents to new neighborhoods. The words splay across a vinyl canvass: Vibrant, Live Brilliantly, Community, Luxurious, Friends, Connected, Eclectic, Authentic. Placemaking attempts to attach meaning to places. Doing this effectively is a tall task to ask anyone. To do so without triggering disbelief might require a radical kind of authenticity that could take the tone of satire: “Box Living at The Density Mill” or “Increased Tax Base Square”. That would require potential residents not to take themselves too seriously. It would call on residents to be in possession of a sense of humor that could be applied to working oneself to the bone while paying through the nose for accommodations that are not

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actually “eclectic” but produced for the masses. That would be authentic, and attract a certain kind of resident: one that does not like to be told sweet nothings. In this example we see how placemaking can influence a neighborhood’s personality. Yet being authentic only in our cynicisms presents its own problems. Maybe that is why there are so many among us willing to convince themselves that something is authentic, both when promulgating inauthenticity and when consuming inauthenticity. Modern placemaking theorist Dr. Brandi Thompson Summers has written

extensively about placemaking in Washington DC. She notes the role of illusion in placemaking. Summers explains how a park nearby H St., in a historically Irish immigrant neighborhood, was overwhelmingly voted to be named Swampoodle, due to its more recent African American history involving riots and racial discord would be uncomfortable for new residents. Summers further critiques a glib “Chocolate City” display at Whole Foods, which pokes fun at Washington D.C.’s not so distant history of being a Black Mecca for Black culture and Black political power. This imagery implicates more than subjective takes about

a neighborhood’s “vibe”, they implicate equity. Almost always a prerequisite to equity is identifying deficits that require equitable relief. Indeed, in the neighborhood context, lack of authenticity often precludes equity and if a city is to be sustainable there must be equity. It is common for placemaking to use design elements, uses, transportation, traffic patterns, and art and culture to make quality spaces that attract people. People are drawn to those places by the droves. However, by and large, many still do not see these kinds of neighborhoods as “authentic” places. For many long-time

Ad enticing new residents to new neighborhoods, Image Credit: Monica Deo

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Street art; Image Credit: Monica Deo

residents, there is too much room between the people friendly atmosphere and the disregard for who and what -at a prior point in time- determined place. The imagery of the placemaking becomes a chimera with a daydream quality, without authenticity. Urban Policy Scholar Derek Hyra wrote an ethnography of D.C.s Shaw neighborhood and noted how throughout the oughts and teens a new professional class of resident yearned for the desire to live in “authentic” neighborhoods in Washington D.C., authenticity


as determined by blackness or ethnicity, without actually experiencing the danger that often comes with living in such a neighborhood. Hyra explains how placemaking uses cultural symbolism to achieve the “look” of an authentic neighborhood even if it does not “feel” (dangerous) like an authentic neighborhood. The illusions propagated by this brand of placemaking are not random, but rather operate to delude newer residents about the conflict inherent in being a newer resident. This placemaking

makes new residents more comfortable, through humor or misdirection, with coming into a space, and being the re-arrangers of that space. However, to many long time residents often the placemaking may as well communicate: “Let them eat cake”. The problem with much of modern placemaking is too often it begins with this kind of detached fantasy rather than as a functional response to existing challenges. An alternative approach to achieving authenticity, besides modeling after something

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Image Credit: Monica Deo

Image Credit: Monica Deo

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Image Credit: Monica Deo

Cranes at a distance, Image Credit: Monica Deo


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authentic, is to incorporate imposition into the placemaking. For example, a several hundredunit multifamily development with some off-street parking located in Shaw that models after Shaw’s local culture while concomitantly seeking zoning relief for the amount of parking the development must provide. Part of Shaw’s local culture is the prominence of African American churches, that are in dire need of parking most Sunday mornings. Touting local culture while contributing to its destruction by seeking to provide less parking than otherwise would be allowed is inauthentic. A solution would be to respond to the existing challenge by explaining to new residents why they cannot use off-street parking in the complex on Sunday mornings: because local churches have contracted to use it during that time. In this case the challenge for placemakers then becomes how can placemaking inspire residents to be more amenable to living in a complex where they must give up their off-street parking for a few hours on Sunday?

Certainly, as is presently commonplace with escapist placemaking, the placemaking should not put the resident in a mindset to where sacrificing for the good of maintaining a neighborhood’s real culture is less likely. Near million dollar condos with gaudy facades and partations to live lavishly set down amidst sidewalks that concurrently serve as homes to extreme poverty sets the stage for strained relationships between neighbors, making it that much harder to have an authentic neighborhood. To achieve authentic new neighborhoods requires honest reconciliation of form and function between old and new, and then the new residents or neighbors must be imposed upon. Placemaking that does not incorporate imposition into its schema will rarely be seen as authentic, much less be authentic. Good placemaking manipulates environs to guide human behavior. Thus we should distance ourselves from placemaking that tickles the imagination but does not evoke

accountability. We should move away from placemaking that generates social experiences but does not acknowledge them in any non-self-serving way. We have seen how placemaking can select for the cynical and the deluded, but as people involved with planning cities and designing spaces, we must accept the challenge of selecting for the accountable and the neighborly. With the increased attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the rise of mutual aid in cities, it could be that residents that move into the cities of tomorrow legitimately want to be a part of a community and not be sold on sanitized versions of one. It is easy to have authentic neighborhoods if we utilize imposition. This requires authenticity in our assessments of the challenges of a place, and it requires authenticity in our placemaking; only then can we make our peace with and equitably square ourselves with history as we move into the future. Equity and sustainable cities demand nothing less.

Sources 1 2 3 4 5

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/authentic - : true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character… not false or imitation : REAL, ACTUAL… : made or done the same way as an original. Black in Place: The Racialized Aesthetics of Place, Brandy Thompson Summers, University of North Carolina Press, 2021. Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City, Derek Hyra, The University of Chicago Press, 2017. Convention Center Area Strategic Development Plan, p. 11, 15. 11-C DCMR §702.1 | One half mile of metro parking District of Columbia Citywide parking exception.

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beyond authenticity in architecture by Bz (Brenda) Zhang Space Industries, California College of the Arts, Elsewhere Atlas

In built environment disciplines, every decision changes boundaries, excluding some while including others. Regardless of intention, we always take a side when we change physical space into place. When we start with authenticity as an end in itself, we risk missing the embedded contexts in which we build. In this provocation, I argue against authenticity as an end in itself, particularly insofar as architecture as a discipline hopes to reckon with its complicity in systems of oppression. We begin with two familiar definitions of authenticity— that is, the quality of being of undisputed or genuine origin, and the quality of being true to one’s own spirit or character. Both emerge from the Latin word, authenticus, for “that which comes from the author.” It


is worth noting that the word and its usage are intimately rooted in Western ideas of authorship, origin, and even personhood, which are not universal to human creativity. In examining these common definitions, we can at once encounter examples within our fields that defamiliarize what it is that we mean when we call something authentic. In DC and across the United States, from the US colonial era through to today, white supremacist cultures and movements have implemented Greco-Roman architectural elements—columns, pediments, monuments—to directly or indirectly signify an imagined American heritage. As architectural historians (Mabel O. Wilson, Lyra D. Monteiro, and others) have examined, these master plans, buildings, and building elements were informed

by and in turn informed the dominant belief systems of their time, often by enslavers and slave traders (most famously, Thomas Jefferson). They were not the result of any vernacular in the Americas developed by communities over time, but an intentional set of design decisions to write statements of white power in stone, brick, and plaster. In these architectural expressions, we see both an unquestioningly inauthentic use of neoclassicism to reify white power—the European colonial settlers and their descendants literally did not originate in Greece or Rome. Yet, at the same time, we can interpret this work as an entirely authentic architectural expression in service of racist ideology—true to the white supremacist character of their authors.

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Image Credit: Bz Zhang

In a more contemporary example, should we laud Philip Johnson, a known white supremacist, for being authentic in his genuine support of Nazi Germany and US racial fascism, or should we, ourselves, choose to remain inauthentic in the institutional and cultural preservation of his name on buildings and titles (at the Museum of Modern Art, for example), thus burying their origins? In response to the November 2020 statement

name from a university-owned building, whereas the MoMA has made no response. Insofar as the Western architectural canon is itself a culturally constructed curation, corrections must be made to account for both the authentic and inauthentic. Pushing the exercise further, what does it mean for architecture to be authentic, to be “that which comes from the author,” in the #MeToo age? What would it mean, for

Ultimately, we must understand authenticity as entirely based in culturally constructed Western ideas of authorship, origin, and value. This isn’t a case for dismissal, but more intentional engagement with the concept. Not only has

by the Johnson Study Group, Harvard Graduate School of Design dean Sarah Whiting chose to remove Johnson’s

instance, for the Getty Museum to be authentic about, or true to the character of known abusers like Richard Meier? There are

authenticity been weaponized by neocolonial, capitalist, imperialist, cisheteronormative white supremacy to manifest

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many conversations to be had in response, and, while they are relevant and important, other qualities, beyond authenticity, emerge as more productive goals for designers to strive for.


Image Credit: Bz Zhang

white power while masking structural origins of oppression in architecture and beyond, but also to discredit, shame, and divide Black, Indigenous, brown, Asian, queer, Trans, women and non-binary, Disabled, immigrant, and other marginalized designers and communities, who are forced to devote untold time and energy in constantly proving our own “authenticity” as Othered. As Toni Morrison observed about the insidious nature of racism in forcing non-white people to continuously explain our existences, “None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”


It turns out that it isn’t about whether we are being authentic or inauthentic, but how (authentic to what beliefs?), when (authentic at which critical moments?), and why (authentic in what contexts?). It is certainly meaningful on an individual level to be true to oneself and genuine to one’s origins, but when the question is asked in the Western context of individualism, it ignores systemic values and conditions. Instead of playing into a slippery Western construct by valorizing authenticity in and of itself, we can look instead to contemporary, ongoing movement work that seek to

recover erased architectural histories and propose future architectural visions—with understandings of how authenticity and inauthenticity are but a few of the many cultural constructions that shape and reflect the built environment. Following our many legacies of radical collective organizing, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian designers, planners, policymakers, and artists have been and continue to collaborate inside and outside of institutional spaces toward practices of cultural production that uplift our communities and histories.

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Image Credit: Bz Zhang

Black-led collectives like BlackSpace directly counter and provide alternatives to historically discriminatory planning practices. As well, the Black Reconstruction Collective’s recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (in the gallery named for Johnson), on intersections of architecture, Blackness and anti–Black racism in the American context, redresses egregious acts of erasure by that institution as well as propelling Black imaginaries and futurities of resistance and reparation. UK-based Black Females in Architecture creates crucial spaces of communal care and professional development for

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designers facing intersections of multiple systems of oppression. Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian practitioners in the Design As Protest Collective are using direct action, research and data, youth, field, and academic organizing to challenge and disrupt power structures in practices, organizations, academic institutions, and local governments. Members of Dark Matter University, another Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian collective, have formed an anti-racist design justice school, working toward radical transformation of design

education & practice. Design students in particular are connecting with one another across the country and beyond, organizing through NOMAS chapters, larger grassroots networks, such as Design As Protest’s academic organizing group and Emergent Grounds for Design Education, and decentralized anonymous social media platforms. The Critical Design Lab interrogates questions of accessibility and design, through methods of disability justice, critical and interrogative design, intersectional feminist design


Image Credit: Bz Zhang

Image Credit: Bz Zhang


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theory, and crip technoscience. The Architecture Lobby has been organizing architectural workers through a labor lens in a decentralized network of chapters throughout the US and abroad. More recently, the United Voices of the World – Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW), formed in the UK as a grassroots trade union for architectural workers. A large global umbrella, CONSTRUCTION DECLARES, unites different construction and built practitioners to publicly declare the crisis of climate

justice and the commitment to address it through practice. US Architects Declare is the US petition, with nearly 400 signatories since launching in January 2020. This snapshot is non-exhaustive and only begins to scratch the surface of collective actions and solidarities in our disciplines. What these efforts have in common is that they choose to uphold and be true to values that dismantle historically rooted systems of oppression and to connect our experiences and

responsibilities as architectural workers to liberation movements across the planet. We need all of us to keep us safe, to undo and repair structural violence, to protect and nourish people and planet over profit, and to imagine and build futures beyond settler colonialism, racial capitalism, imperialism, and cisheteropatriarchy. Ultimately, the provocation here is not whether your work is authentic or not, but how it is accountable and in service to communities and movements fighting for justice and liberation everywhere.

References https://www.blackspace.org/ https://www.blackreconstructioncollective.org/ https://www.blackfemarc.com/ https://www.dapcollective.com/ https://darkmatteruniversity.org/ https://www.dapcollective.com/ https://emergentgrounds.substack.com/ https://www.mapping-access.com/lab http://architecture-lobby.org/ https://uvw-saw.org.uk/ https://constructiondeclares.com/ https://us.architectsdeclare.com/

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from finding my place to co-creating space: developing new possibilities in planning and design by Nupur Chaudhury Dark Matter University, NupurSpectives Consulting, Urbanist in Residence All Illustrations by Ayako Maruyama

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” - Arundhati Roy The moment was 2011, in the fall, I believe. It happened so long ago and was so traumatic, that my inability to place the exact moment may be a case of trying to block out something that cut deep into my soul. I was in a nondescript hotel in upstate New York. There was no charm to this hotel—one of the chains that had a free continental breakfast in the morning served on styrofoam plates. I walked into the ballroom, which overlooked fields of some sort. There were floor to ceiling windows to take advantage of the natural light and cut fruit on a table, the kind with large


blocks of melon too big to fit in your mouth, impossible to cut into smaller pieces. Yogurt, large coffee dispensers, hockey-pucksized bagels with dime-sized cream cheese packets. White everywhere. Everything was white—white table cloths, white walls, white men. White men wearing white checkered shirts eating white yogurt, bagels with white cream cheese, and coffee with white cream. The only nonwhite things in the room were the black coffee, the beige bagels, and the brown me. It was my first conference after graduating from planning school, and I was working with communities to build out safer streets in the neighborhood. In my work as a newbie planner and urbanist, I was surrounded by everything BUT white. I

was working in Brownsville, Brooklyn—a Black and Brown neighborhood. Other than one Bangladeshi family that I befriended, it was all Black and Brown. The housing developments that I worked in were brick, a reddish brown. The signage for the dollar store was a cacophony of colors, green, yellow, orange. The fabric store featured colors from their African print fabrics: vibrant blues and reds with yellows and oranges. The health center was a deep turquoise. I worked out of a bookshelf in the corner of a green room, at a non-profit that didn’t (yet) have the money to paint with a shade of white. In the conference ballroom, I fiddled with my pants, more formal than I was used to. I put my messenger bag to the side

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and picked up a cup of coffee before finding a table with an empty seat. I was about to put my cup of coffee on the table when the man next to me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Miss, could I have a cup of coffee with no cream and two sugars?” Ever the good Indian girl, I didn’t skip a beat. “Sure!” I put my coffee cup down and scurried over to the table to prepare the cup of coffee for the man sitting next to me. He looked to be the age of my dad, who I grew up making tea for when he got home from work. I hurriedly returned to the table, put the coffee down in front of the man, saying “here you go”, before sitting down myself and taking a sip of the coffee. It was when I sat down next to him that I could see the look of confusion on his face, and it was when I saw that look of confusion

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that I realized who he thought I was. He thought I was a member of the hotel wait staff. I looked at my pants—they were black. I looked at my shirt—white. And I touched my skin—Brown. I felt my face get hot and my palms sweaty. I had so much to share, so many questions to pose. I was hungry for a community of practitioners working shoulder to shoulder with communities. I was invited to present my work thus far because it highlighted a strong partnership with residents, and I was thrilled to bring this example to my peers. I wanted to push and be pushed by the field, and I thought that this was the place. I was wrong. Over the course of the day-long conference, I proceeded to be talked down to, not because others thought that I was the wait staff, but because they thought that I was an intern. They failed to give me the respect that I

deserved and earned. That, in combination with my morning experience, left me feeling hollow and empty. I rarely think about this singular day in upstate New York, over ten years ago. And yet, it has influenced how I showed up in spaces to this day. It led me on a journey over the next 10 years, fueled by a need and hunger to be credentialed over and over again, almost as a way to say “Yes, I DO belong here. See me. Hear me. Validate my existence. Validate my view. Affirm my approach.” Two weeks into the lockdown, Arundhati Roy, known for her novels and political essays, shared her thoughts in what became a guiding text for me in 2020, an article in the Financial Times, titled: The Pandemic is Portal. A trained architect, Roy posits that this pandemic is a portal to a new reality. She writes, “And in the midst


of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” Prior to the pandemic, I felt that I had “made it” as a Program Officer for a foundation in New York. A coveted job, where I could direct millions of dollars to communities that needed it most— communities that matter. Communities that for years I was working shoulderto-shoulder with prior to this role. I felt that I was using my expertise and credentials for good, pushing existing systems to center communities in their neighborhood investments. I was speaking truth to power, and I had a platform to share my experiences and amplify successes on the ground.

I read Roy’s words as my world, both professionally and personally, was upended. Personally, the threat of poisoned air and breath, two things that maintain our current existence, was suffocating. Professionally, working as a funder in the current philanthropic system, in the then epicenter of the pandemic, was exhausting. I was living and breathing the pandemic at all hours. For some people, work was an escape from all that was happening. For me, work only amplified all that was going on. At all hours of the day, I was Zooming, Facetiming, calling, texting, and emailing people throughout the state to understand their situations, on a moment-by-moment basis. At all hours of the day, my family unit was calling, texting, and emailing as we struggled to keep up with the multiple loved ones in hospitals with COVID. For me, not only did the “rupture” exist, but I was experiencing the pain daily, with each tear and split of the ground beneath my feet.

By the time June of 2020 rolled around, and I, along with the rest of America, watched


in horror as the hands in the pockets and the knee on the neck snatched the life of George Floyd. The ground beneath my feet no longer existed. I could see the “doomsday machine” in full technicolor. I had no choice but to challenge my role in the existing systems that brought us to this moment, where a video of a death went viral, where a white man in uniform could—and get paid to—kill in broad daylight, and where capitalist systems continued to profit from it all. I began a process of internal reflection and contemplation, in combination with outward rage and anger. The rupture gave way for a moment of authentic examination of the existing systems at play in my own life as a planner and urbanist, as a funder, and as a South Asian woman. How have I, by actively working within these existing systems, been perpetuating inequitable realities? What did it mean to be a South Asian woman in this conversation? What did it mean to be a South Asian woman in the world of planning, working through philanthropic systems, at a moment of racial reckoning in this country? As a kid of immigrants, as someone who is trained in multiple disciplines, I have spent my childhood as a translator and a code switcher. I have always

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seen situations, moments, spaces, and places through multiple lenses, holding multiple realities. And I have worked to be a bridge builder. This moment was no different. I began to work on developing new systems and building the bridge to create these new realities. One such project has been developing Dark Matter University (DMU), a collective founded to work inside and outside of existing systems to challenge, inform, and reshape the present world toward a better future. As a core organizer, I’ve worked to build this collective of individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC) in the planning, architecture, and design systems into a network that works to create new forms of institutions, new forms of collectivity and practice, and new forms of community and culture, all with the overall goal of creating new forms of design. As a collective, we acknowledge that we cannot survive and thrive without an immediate change toward an anti-racist model of design education and practice. We must collectively affirm that existing systems have not been able to transform away from centering and advancing whiteness. This failure can be seen through the reliance on an implied dominant and racialized

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subject and audience. DMU believes that the impacts of that centering are widespread and can be felt in the inequities that global extraction, racial capitalism, and colonialism have created. As we work to develop new forms of knowledge and knowledge production, DMU does so through radical antiracist forms of communal knowledge and spatial practice that are grounded in lived experience. DMU works to challenge hegemonic pedagogies, canons, and epistemologies drawn from paradigms of white domination while elevating ancestral and local knowledge. An example of developing new forms of knowledge


and knowledge production is my work in developing NupurSpectives, a video series highlighting the work of city builders worldwide. Too often, the work of deep organizers, network activators, relationship weavers, and visionaries in neighborhoods are overlooked. Too often, the people with credentials after their names are the ones who featured on panels and interviews. NupurSpectives works to change that. By recording stories of folks across the ecosystem, my hope is that these interviews will be used as seminal sources of knowledge. As DMU works to develop new forms of institutions, we do so along a networked resource distribution model between institutions. We work to extract from those who have extracted

resources, in order to collate resources and lift up marginalized voices. An example of this is demanding that larger institutions pay more for DMU to educate their students, in order to support schools of architecture and planning embedded within Historically Black Colleges and Universities participating in our curriculum. As we develop new forms of collectivity and practice, we work to democratize models of practice, education, and labor at all phases of production. We operate with deep consideration of ethics and a duty of care, moving from hard to soft power. An example of this is our process in building out our Foundations of Design Justice Course, DMU’s first offering. Our process was one that was

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open to all members of the collective, and facilitated experts and practitioners in the fields of housing, climate justice, design, and historic preservation, to name a few, to gather over the course of multiple days to think through what should be taught in that section, what readings and materials should be shared, and who should be teaching that section. The who, what, why, and how of this course, at every level, worked to center BIPOC voices. For example, for every material that we shared, we worked to ensure that the majority, if not all, were written/created by BIPOC individuals. The speakers were all BIPOC speakers, and we figured out how to guarantee compensation for their time. Since the summer of 2020, we at DMU have worked to develop new forms of community and culture, forms that expand the circle of those contributing to anti-racist design pedagogy and practice. We actively build power and share knowledge to build capacity and resilience

in communities beyond the preconceived boundaries of our fields. Our hope is that this way of working will unlock new and different forms of design and also uncover open, new, different, and equitable possibilities and methodologies for designing the built environment. We aim to co-create new formal and spatial imaginaries that serve broader, often overlooked, constituencies, and consider multiple subjectivities. Being a core organizer for the Dark Matter University collective has felt like a homegoing. It has felt like comfort, support, and warmth. For me, it is the portal that I have been looking for. Dark Matter University is not THE answer. But it is A way forward. My hope is that Collectives like Dark Matter University continue to be built, and that BIPOC planners, architects, and designers like myself continue to see themselves in these collectives, and join forces in building a new reality. Some other organizations that I have

participated in and that continue to provide comfort and succor are the APA Diversity Committee in New York and the Design as Protest Collective. Together, these groups have worked to build the portal from one world to the next, where planners of color can and will lead. Unless that happens, we will continue to find ourselves deep within the next 400 years of inequalities, failing to build new and different forms of design, knowledge, institutions, and practice—failing to move towards collective liberation.

Sources To Read Arundhati Roy article, please visit https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca To learn more about Dark Matter University, please visit https://darkmatteruniversity.org/ To learn more about the NupurSpectives video series, please visit https://www.nupurspectives.org/episodes

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a recipe for inclusion by Shalini Agrawal Public Design for Equity, Association for Community Design, Open Architecture Collaborative, California College of the Arts, LeaderSpring Center, Pathways to Equity, FIELD Design Network, Center for Art and Public Life at CCA

My studio workspace is a counter, and my tools take the shape of sharp knives, well-worn wooden cutting boards and a drawer of aromatic spices. I build foundations of resilient textures, blend flavors in layers, and balance color with visual symmetry. It is a place of creative freedom where I construct ephemeral creations with the intent to consume. I find comfort in a multi-sensory practice, and bring these developed skills in service of artistry, generosity, and nourishment. And yet, it has been a prolonged learning journey through step by step processes of listening through making. I am a self-taught cook with years of practice, I create both successes and messes. My desire to nourish through


creativity manifests in a diversity of culinary creations. Yet many well-planned meals have gone awry due to undeveloped skills, lack of confidence, and trying too hard to replicate a perfect outcome. The authenticity of my interest is not enough in cooking, or with community engagement. I have sought out community engagement, a practice that is positioned outside of traditional architectural practice. In this cocreation process, the community shares the role of expertise. Their insights and lived experiences bring invaluable knowledge towards identifying, approaching and solving problems. Co-creation methods ask that we set aside the traditional ways of showing up as an expert and instead lead with listening and connection.

It moves from transactional to relational and offers opportunities to connect with others in ways that are more meaningful.

In this co-creation process, the community shares the role of expertise, their insights and lived experiences bringing invaluable knowledge for problem-solving. Though I was eager to include the community in the design process, I never received any formal training on how to do so. When eliciting community input, I noticed missed opportunities due to an expectation of outcome, or an approach that was professional but not inclusive. The only way to learn how to do better was to listen. Some graciously had the patience

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Author serving a meal at a Pathways to Equity community building gathering Photo credit: Open Architecture Collaborative

to share their knowledge, sometimes out of an interest to make their voice heard, and sometimes out of sympathy for my efforts. And while the mistakes were bitter experiences, they served as a reminder to persevere with patience and humility. There are no “industry standards” for how to engage with the community. We rely on or struggle against what we have learned through the lens of professionalism. This positions the architect at a distance as the lead in the design process, and risks the opportunity to consider

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others’ the lived experiences. It is expected that values do not interfere with a finished product. Sharing a homemade meal is a means to connect with new communities with honesty and generosity, without hiding behind professional language and practice. I started bringing vegetarian chili to communitybuilding meetings, making enough for over twenty people. I would multiply a basic recipe, balancing the flavors through sensory measures. I would spend the day surrounded by mounds of chopped onions, carrots, mushrooms, and red

bell peppers. While multiple pots of chili would slow-cook, I’d prepare a rainbow of toppings to personalize each bountiful serving. At a gathering, people who might have been meeting for the first time would ease into introductions and conversation. Further into a collaboration, someone might recall a memory of a story or experience associated with the meal. The abundance of nourishment translated to an abundance of care, and set the tone for the start of a relationship. We have an opportunity to connect with others to create


Ingredients and cooking in process Photo credit: author

inclusive environments, where services rendered are offerings without an expectation of return. We open up possibilities of being welcomed, how we show up as guests inform how we are received. Sharing my creativity through nourishment is a way to offer an authentic gift of self as I would to family. Sharing a homemade meal builds community and is the embodiment of care. If something as simple as a warm bowl of chili can make people feel included, then you’ll find me in my studio.


Vegetarian Black Bean Chili for Family


I began making vegetarian chili when my daughters were young. It was a fast, easy and healthy option. I have adjusted the types of ingredients, but the base remains the same: a tablespoon of oil, half an onion chopped, a can of black beans, a can of diced tomatoes, and salt. I add other complementary textures based on what I have on hand. Over the years the dish has grown with me like an old friend, aging with depth and complexity but with familiarity and comfort that builds trust.

• • • • • • • • • •

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil ½ medium red or white onion, diced 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes, with juices 1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained ½ large red bell pepper, diced 1 medium carrot, grated 1 cup diced mushrooms ½ cup frozen corn, thawed 1-2 cloves garlic minced 1 tablespoon mild chili seasoning powder (or 1 t. cumin powder + ½ t. smoked paprika, or just salt) ½ teaspoon salt or to taste

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Individualized chili serving Photo credit: author


1 cup tomato juice or water (add more for soupy chili) 2 teaspoons lime or lemon juice, or to taste Any variations of toppings: chopped fresh cilantro, sliced avocado, tortilla chips, sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, Mexican cotija cheese, chopped jalapenos, chopped scallions, lime wedges.

1. Over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add onion, cook until translucent. 2. Add diced tomatoes and their juices and cook until they soften about 3 minutes. 3. Add the garlic, chili powder. Cook for about 1 minute. 4. Add bell pepper, carrot, mushrooms. Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and mushrooms are cooked, about 7 to 10 minutes. 5. Add the drained black beans. Stir to combine and let the mixture come to a simmer. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally and reducing heat

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as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer, for 15 minutes. Add lime or lemon juice, and 1 c. tomato juice or water. Add corn until heated. Salt to taste. 6. Slow cook on low heat for 1520 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sauce should thicken slightly. 7. Serve hot with lots of toppings and warmed corn tortillas.

Servings: 3-4 bowls of chili For a community gathering: For 6-8, multiply portions by 2 For 10-12, multiply portions by 3 For 16-18, multiply portions by 4


the authencity of adaptive futures by Dan Kinkead, AIA SmithGroup

As I looked across the former metal smelting facility in Dnipro, Ukraine a team of local business and government leaders was engaging representatives of the media to discuss the potential adaptive reuse of the facility. Their voices echoed into the cavernous structure the way many other voices had in places I had seen across industrialized Europe and North America, including my hometown of Detroit. I was abroad in 2019 as part of a US State Department effort to support knowledge transfer regarding reinvestment and adaptation in previously industrialized areas. As I looked around the facility my mind was taken back to a previous initiative participating in a research effort to learn how former industrialized areas in Germany’s Ruhr region had been brought back to life through progressive policy


that sought to drive ‘structural change’ to Germany’s economy, while retaining and reusing its industrial infrastructure. In that moment, my mind was back in Essen, Germany in 2015 speaking with the executive director of an innovative industrial technology incubator on the grounds of a former coal mining operation. I was there as part of a German Marshall Fund TransAtlantic mission, and the director was explaining that one of their incubated businesses had just won a national contract with the Deutsche Bahn, and it was a transformative moment as his enterprise redefined economic opportunity for the region. At the same time I recalled the former settling pond at the Zollverein mining facility nearby. I could see images of winter visitors ice skating along the surface

of a remarkable destination for recreation, transforming a liability into a compelling asset. I realized I was standing at an inflection point between two countries’ efforts to define a new future for themselves from their past. In one case the IBA Emscher process in the Rhine region and North Westphalia in Germany had defined a new way to move forward by adapting and celebrating the physical elements of the past. And in another, industrial centers in Ukraine were seeking to retool themselves for a post-Soviet Union economy in which they had been one part of a much larger vertically integrated industrial system that had now collapsed. I was left with these questions: Weren’t these old and dirty places meant to be removed

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Vacant Factory Interior – Dnipro, Ukraine | 2019 Photo Credit: Dan Kinkead, SmithGroup

and discarded to make way for – and attract – new investment? Or, were they part of a larger and longer narrative outlining how our past could be part of our future? And what about the embodied carbon in each of these structures? Is everything in them meant to be demolished, and if so, what are the consequences of this? And what about the impacts of new construction, as an extractive process that impacts our climate while globally posing serious concerns regarding potentially inhumane labor practices

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woven within the supply chain? At a time in which we are experiencing vital awakenings to the economic, ecological and social impacts of development, can we begin to recognize how our ability to adapt our past into our future also relates to growing recognition of the innumerable injustices of our past in the United States? Might we also find a way to leverage existing structures and places to celebrate our diversity, with shared - diverse - authors and identities, while reckoning with our past?

Making the Case Perceptions of progress have long been tied to some notion that the past should be set away, and the future should unfold anew. Or, if anything, to be ‘authentic’, the past should be clinically documented and displayed as an historic artifact, not necessarily as a contributing part of a functioning future. My professional and personal assertion is that authenticity may also be gained through the very practice of adapting physical facets of the past for future use because of the resulting


Triple Z Zollverein Incubator Facility with Deutsche Bahn contracted wheel – Essen, Germany Photo Credit: Dan Kinkead, SmithGroup

social, economic and ecological impacts. By projecting away from the objects we so dearly covet or despise, and recognizing that their identity and value are better considered within their current context of time and place, we can see the amplified ways in which our work as architects has lasting results, and how that work is imbued with meaning, identity and utility by myriad perspectives. Understanding why we must foster adaptive futures is, in many cases, as important as the task itself. This is not an augmented nostalgia-driven process


looking to rationalize the careful collection of past structures as a way to satisfy individual proclivities. Instead, the case being made here is fundamentally about our future. What follows is a triple-bottom-line reflection on why adaptation in the built environment is important, and what benefits it can yield.

Economic By 2050 the total global population will be 9.9b, and seven out of ten people will live in cities, reflecting substantially greater growth in urban areas than in rural areas. It’s noteworthy that such

concentrations of population, employment and reinvestment will continue to focus on cities, where 80% of the current global GDP (gross domestic product) is concentrated, and where 75 percent of 750 global cities evaluated by the World Bank are growing faster than their national economies since the early 2000s. At the same time, “the expansion of land consumption outpaces population by as much as 50 percent, which is expected to add 1.2m square kilometers of new urban built up area to the world in the next three decades.” This matters because we will be confronted by the need to

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Landschaftspark Dusiburg-Nord with visitors rock climbing in former coal bunkers – Duisburg,Germany Photo Credit: Dan Kinkead, SmithGroup

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Incremental Renewal vs. Decay and Replacement Photo Credit: The Council on Open Building

Demolition Waste Photo Credit: Dan Kinkead, SmithGroup


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increase density and intensity of use in existing cities to reduce broader impacts of sprawl. While, at many levels, denser urban development represents more limited impact than expansive sprawl, it will also require reinvestment to ensure sufficient housing, affordability and infrastructure can be provided while moving beyond an unsustainable cycle of demolition and new construction to an increasingly adaptable framework. In anticipation of this, new initiatives such as the Council on Open Building are outlining “a mode of design and decision-making rooted in the historical traditions of a sustainable built environment, constantly undergoing incremental renewal.” This is in stark contrast to a constant decay and replacement cycle that requires wholesale reinvestment and reconstruction which, as the Council itself notes, creates a fundamental gap of “authenticity”. Organized around clearly defined design and development guidelines, and driven not simply to adapt old buildings into something new, the Council is defining ways in which architects and developers can incorporate flexible or ‘open’ systems that anticipate and accommodate change. To support their efforts the Council (a group of which

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I am a participating member) outlines a range of resources to support developers, architects and planners, while also defining an open building methodology that performs at several scales (for instance building shell, neighborhood design, and urban planning) to ensure a broad impact. It’s also noteworthy that within the context of Covid-19, and the likelihood of years and even decades of repercussions regarding how and where people work and live, the ability to develop and maintain adaptive processes for design, development and construction will be essential to building flexibility, reducing risk and increasing predictability in the market.

Ecological In the United States alone, 40% of the consumed raw materials are associated with the building industry. Cement alone - a core ingredient in concrete contributes to about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions each year. And in 2018, just under 145m tons of construction and demolition debris were sent to landfills, and demolition represents more than 90 percent of the debris generation. With everything we know about the impacts affecting global climate change, and the relationship between these impacts and the

building industry, the need for more resilient development and construction strategies is clear. As we proceed, an array of new and informative tools such as the Quartz Project provide databases to support learning, exploration and understanding regarding the “composition, health hazard and environmental impact data for building products.” At the same time, important insights regarding the embodied carbon of certain materials in the building industry are becoming more known. According to the AIA, “renovation and reuse projects typically save between 50% and 75% of the embodied carbon emissions compared to constructing a new building.” At a time when many are enamored with the shiny array of active tools and systems to support energy efficiency in new construction, we should also recognize the greatest impact may start with the buildings we already have.

Social As critical as the economic and ecological facets of an adaptive development process may be, it is the social dimension of adaptive building practices that reflect the critical relationship and consequences forged between our built environment and human life. One only needs to consider the relationship between human slavery in the supply chain of contemporary construction


Brick Masonry & Timber Photo Credit: Dan Kinkead, SmithGroup

materials to see the devastating impacts our work can have, and at the very same moment realize the remarkably empowering impacts socially driven adaptive reuse and enterprising support can have in individual lives. With over $14t (USD) in global construction projected GDP by 2025, and $977b in US construction spending in 2020, the building and construction industry is one of the most powerful parts of our economy. From fabricated components such as rubber, glass and steel, to raw materials and minerals, the global supply chain is rife


with forced labor and human trafficking. “Brick is one of the most used at-risk materials. Children and adults are often held in debt bondage and breathe hazardous dust all day.” Here, even the most ecological materials, such as mass timber, are not immune. Given that “18% of all victims of forced labor work in the construction sector,” finding ways to adapt and reuse the structures and materials we have today, may not only be ecologically superior, they may also help to reduce the growing pernicious labor practices, and compel skilled labor training and

development. As many cities have foisted remarkable recoveries over the last decade, each has made important decisions regarding which facets of their built history may remain. In Detroit, substantial efforts to adapt and reutilize important parts of the city’s former industrial apparatus have contributed to the city’s recovery. These include catalytic reuse and reinvestment initiatives such as Pony Ride, for which a former lightscale manufacturing facility in the city’s Corktown neighborhood became a platform for a range of burgeoning

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light industrial fabrication enterprises, each remaining true to the city’s entrepreneurial and manufacturing heritage. One of these businesses included Veronika Scott’s Empowerment Plan, driven to provide coats that could be adapted into sleeping bags for homeless citizens. “It wasn’t until a homeless woman approached Veronika that she realized the true potential of her project. This woman did not want a coat; she wanted a job. It was at that moment Veronika committed to hiring parents from shelters across Detroit to manufacture the coats in an effort to help families break that vicious cycle of poverty and become financially secure.” Today as Pony Ride’s model adapts and expands from its first location to three locations city-

wide, it is expanding the social impact its initial adaptive reuse project made possible. And the Empowerment Plan has moved forward with the adaptive reuse of vacant storefronts on Detroit’s east side. Each step of the way, the adaptive process provides a powerful reflection on how projects are not simply about a building, but instead the impact they can have in supporting individual opportunities to adapt and realize a better quality of life.

Conclusion Few things are more authentic than the long term social, ecological and economic resilience afforded through thoughtful adaptive strategies in our built environment. In many ways, the adaptive process itself instills a critical degree of shared

authorship in each step and in each iteration. The adaptive process effectively puts in crisis the notion of a singular author and describes the acreted voice of many. As architects our role has been institutionally defined as a noble sage, driven to help our client realize their goals. What I’ve found is that our role – and our responsibility – is much greater. As we move further afield of iconic images of individualism, and the presupposition of power, as outlined by many of our predecessors, we have the opportunity as architects to embrace the myriad voices that shape our work, and by extension the built environment around us. If an iconic image of singularity was our past, let plurality and inclusion be our future.

Sources 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

US State Department sponsored engagement, Kyiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, June, 2018 German Marshall Fund sponsored engagement, Ruhr Region, North Westphalia, Germany, October, 2015 IBA Emscher 1989 – 1999 IBA Emscher Park // A Future for an Industrial Region | IBA (internationale-bauausstellungen.de) IISD SDG Knowledge Hub. “World Population to Reach 9.9 Billion by 2050” World Population to Reach 9.9 Billion by 2050 | News | SDG Knowledge Hub | IISD World Bank. “Urban Development Overview” Urban Development Overview (worldbank.org) World Bank. “Urban Development Overview” Urban Development Overview (worldbank.org) World Bank, “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth: What, Who and How” Competitive cities for jobs and growth : what, who, and how (worldbank.org) World Bank, “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth: What, Who and How” Competitive cities for jobs and growth : what, who, and how (worldbank.org) Council on Open Building, https://councilonopenbuilding.org/ USGBC. “Building Momentum: National Trends and Prospects for High-Performance Green Buildings.” Report prepared for the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, 2002 BBC News. “Climate change: The massive CO2 emitter you may not know about.” December 17, 2018 Climate change: The massive CO2 emitter you may not know about - BBC News United States Environmental Protection Agency. “C&D Materials in America.” Fact Sheet, 2018 Sustainable Management of Construction and Demolition Materials | Sustainable Materials Management | US EPA The Quartz Project Quartz - Open data for a healthier, more sustainable future. (quartzproject.org) American Institute of Architects (AIA) 10 steps to reducing embodied carbon - AIA Grace Farms, “Design for Freedom Presentation: The new movement to remove slavery in the building materials supply chain.” February 19, 2021 Grace Farms, “Design for Freedom Presentation: The new movement to remove slavery in the building materials supply chain.” February 19, 2021 Know the Chain Investor Snapshot KTC_Construction_brief.pdf (wpengine.com) Pony Ride Ponyride | Social Entrepreneurs Empowerment Plan About (Mobile) — EMPOWERMENT PLAN

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happenings this section exhibits the committee’s milestone events that have convened thought leaders throughout 2020

All image courtesy of the Urban Design Committee, 2020

Daily city nature challenge 2020 AIA|DC Urban Design Committee in collaboration with ASLA Potomac Chapter, and Capital Nature hosted an event for DC’s City Nature Challenge 2020. The City Nature Challenge brings together cities around the globe in a friendly competition to observe and identify the most biodiversity in their communities while tapping the greatest network of local volunteers. Even with our movement limited to minimize the spread of COVID-19, there is plenty of nature to observe at our windows, gardens, and in neighborhoods.


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view from the window challenge The Urban Design Committee annually organized a fun stay-athome challenge for everyone. In this challenge, we looked at what is happening outside through the lens of a camera. Participants were encouraged to to take pictures of what they observed outside their windows.


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politics, protest and place a call for an inclusive urban realm This year the Urban Design Committee colaborated with the AIA|DC Equity Committee WIELD to host an international deisgn compition. As architects and urban designers, we are stewards of public space, and it is our professional and civic responsibility to influence change (and our elected officials) toward a more equitable built environment for all. The challenge was to use the public realm of the District of Columbia as a canvas for provocative conceptualization to facilitate social activism in our public realm in new and novel ways.


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ideas this section exhibits the committee’s 2020 competition winner and runners-up

the mirror wall by Zhu Wenyi, Jiang Yaobeilong, Lee Minhui, and Huai Zeyu - Tsinghua University.

A public procession is an activity that takes place in urban public space. When it occurs, the urban public space is often transformed into a unique state, which can be known as a parade space. As along the ever-growing richness in urban life, and more events and activities needed to be considered and accommodated in urban public spaces. How to create an inclusive urban


realm? How can urban space accommodate public procession events? Looking from the urban design perspective, the research on this aspect as yet relatively scarce. Thus, it can be seen as a brand-new challenge. This is the purpose of the “ Politics, Protest, And Place – A Call for an inclusive Urban Realm competition “ organized by the Urban Design Committee

(UDC) and Equity Committee by WIELD of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA | DC). The proposal “The Mirror-Wall” submitted by ZHUWENYI Atelier at Tsinghua University explored the parade space from three aspects: “Half & Half”, “Half-Size, Same Ambience”, and “Marching Artifact”.

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1. HALF & HALF Urban design mainly considers the demand for urban space from daily activities. When activities like public procession happening in cities, there will be an embarrassing situation that disrupts urban public space, as the nature of public processions is sporadic and unexpected, especially the time and scale of their occurrence are unregulated. The first design concept of The Mirror-Wall proposal is “Half & Half” strategy. It means that when the procession happens, space is divided into two parts by temporary installations which placed in the urban public space: half as the parade space, and the other half as the daily life space. The specific separation can be set by adapting to the situation. If the procession is large, most of the space can be determined as the parade space; otherwise, a small part of the space can be occupied for the parade. Therefore, The MirrorWall proposal is desired to be in high mobility and impermanent. It can be moved and dismantled at any times, and ease to expand and scale down. The Mirror-Wall proposal consists of a unit box with a length of 20’, the width of 3’, and a height of 10’. The unit box is sturdy and has wheels that


can be moved and linked easily; it can also be loaded in largescale transportation containers. This is a way to achieve an inclusive urban realm.

2. HALF-SIZE · SAME AMBIENCE The second design concept of The Mirror-Wall proposal is to use the mirror reflection to maintain the atmosphere required by the procession space. This can make up for the weakening of the parade atmosphere due to the reduction of space. When a 10’ high mirror wall stands in the center of the urban public space, it does not only bring out the procession’s ambience. But may also trigger more immense astonishment: peoples feel surprised when they see their actions and chanting in the reflection. The mirror surface comprises a total reflection material, strong and bulletproof, such as Polycarbonate glass. Each unit box can be assembled with 3 pieces of vertical mirrors. Of course, a partially distorted mirror can also reflect the parade crowd like a “HaHa” mirror, creating a fantasy parade effect.

3. MARCHING ARTIFACT The Mirror-Wall proposal can be called a “Marching artifact”. Its

third design concept is to adapt to long-duration marchings, such as weeks or longer. When an urban public space encounters a long procession like sit-in protest demonstration, urban daily life will be severely affected. In this situation, The Mirror-Wall proposal can play a better role. For example, a mirror wall can be used to divide a city street into daily life parts such as a sit-in part and a motorway; a mirror wall can also divide the square to form a part of the sit-in state and another part for daily use. Its inclusiveness is reflected in both space and time. When privately-owned public spaces in cities encounter parades such as sit-ins, is the mirror wall a solution? This is another topic worth exploring. This call attention to the public that The Mirror-Wall proposal not only explores a way to create an inclusive urban area, but its unit box also recyclable and sustainable. As the public procession is uncertain, the inclusive urban realm’s related issues are becoming more complicated. The exploration of The Mirror-Wall proposal in this article is still in a preliminary stage.

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a forum for civic change by Scott McGhee, RA

By its nature protest does not want to be strictly contained or to be told how or when it should take place. Protest to some degree at its core, is always transgressive. As a society in the U.S. we recognize the right to protest, although we still put limits on how and when it can happen, at least in the context of lawful actions. But how can architecture and design cooperate with protest, when protest by its nature does not want to be cooperative? How can design help? Can it? It seems to me that architecture and the built environment will inevitably vibrate with the feelings and beliefs of its creators. The vibration is not physical of course but psychic and therefore is a result of an interaction between the person experiencing a space and the residue of the


space’s creator’s psyche. As architects and designers we should strive to make spaces that reflect our deeper values and continue to resist the pressures of: stinginess, expediency, and outmoded thinking, so that positive values such as: equity, inclusivity, democracy, and even joy can be imbued in the buildings and places we create. But it seems that the direct role which day-to-day architecture (the urban fabric) can play in protest may be rather limited, or at least not so direct. This competition entry called The Forum answers the question posed here not by creating a piece of day-to-day architecture, but by making the design itself into a spectacle. A strong precedent of this is the project ‘The Floating Piers’ by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude,

constructed in 2016 near Brescia Italy. There Christo and Jeanne-Claude used spectacle for the sake of pure art and its phenomenological impact. The Forum however will redirect the spectacle and put it in the service of the people’s message, highlighting the speeches, concerts, performances and works of protest that they choose to make there. It is also critical to note that The Forum, unlike its Roman progenitor, is not a permanent structure, but planned for a limited lifespan. This forces The Forum to become something novel, something of the now. And this is also why it is designed to be mutable and essentially formless. It is a bullhorn that takes its cue from its users. The first version of The Forum is a floating civic plaza that is one-third mile long and one-

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quarter mile wide covering almost two million square feet of the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C., making it easily visible to airplanes arriving and departing DCA airport. The Forum is connected to the shores of the Tidal Basin in several key locations putting it in dialogue with some of the most iconic places in D.C. and it is roughly on axis with the Washington Monument and The White House. It will be installed for a duration of three months and then will be disassembled and divided up to be sent to other places around the United States where smaller ‘seed’ versions


of the plaza can be installed with the hope that they may be grown and shaped by their respective locations to serve the people’s needs. The structure of the plaza is made up of numerous identical high-density polyethylene airtight modules which interlock with each other and provide buoyancy. The surface of the plaza is made up of foamed rubber square pavers that are brightly colored on one side and black on the other side. The pavers can be installed with either side up and arranged so that the message of the people can be spelled out and seen on an enormous scale. When The

Forum is divided and moves to a new place the message can be re-imagined again by its next users. And at last, when The Forum has served its purpose or simply outlived its novelty, it will be disassembled and its components will be re-cycled. Then after it is gone, it will be left up to the day-to-day buildings and the urban-fabric to carry the hopes and aspirations of our society and its values. And if they can’t live up to that charge, they may find themselves at the receiving end of the next call for change.

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a view from the window


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contributions Urban Design Committee AIA|DC managing editors Mary A. Eveleigh Saakshi Terway, Assoc. AIA Scott Archer, AIA

editorial review

contributing authors

Caroline Njeri Mwangi Hinali Shah Kumi Wickramanayaka, AIA Radwa Wahba Tannaz Alavi, Assoc. AIA

Shalini Aggrawal Nupur Chaudhury Omari Davis Ana Kaahanui Dan Kinkead, AIA Glenn LaRue Smith Anna McCorvey Ari Theresa Kia Weatherspoon Bz Zhang

graphic review chair Saakshi Terway, Assoc. AIA

past co-chair Michiel De Houwer Saakshi Terway, Assoc. AIA

2021 Committee Sponsorers

Ana Gabriela Mendoza Flores Ana Maria Nicolich, Assoc. AIA Hinali Shah Kumi Wickramanayaka, AIA

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