About the NEA

The First Mayors' Institute on City Design Convenes


A man in shorts stands barefoot within the perimeter of a water fountain. He holds a child in his arms. In the background a green area with trees is visible and the water line beyond.

Charleston's Waterfront Park.

1986In January 1985, Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, South Carolina wrote a letter to Jaquelin Robertson, the University of Virginia's Chair of Architecture, suggesting that an Institute be created, in which mayors would meet with prominent designers to discuss design challenges facing their cities. Subsequently, the two men visited Adele Chatfield Taylor, Design Director at the NEA, and the NEA's Mayors' Instititute on City Design was born. On October 23, 1986, the first Mayors' Institute on City Design was hosted at the University of Virginia.

Mayor Riley speaks into a microphone.

Joseph Riley, Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Institute now hosts a series of two and one-half day-long symposia on city design organized around presentations and roundtable discussions. Participation is limited to fewer than twenty persons—half mayors and half a resource team made up of outstanding urban design and development professionals. At each meeting, participating mayors present design issues currently facing their cities as waterfront redevelopment, downtown revitalization, neighborhood revenue, new public buildings such as sports or arts facilities. Following each presentation, mayors and designers identify issues, offer suggestions, and discuss alternative paths toward a solution. Over the Institute's 19-year history, more than 600 mayors and 400 design professionals have participated. Mayors who have attended credit the experience as transforming the way they look at their cities. As one alumnus, Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr., of Rochester, NY, said, "In more than 33 years of professional experience, no program or learning experience has been more beneficial to me than this one." The Institute has also been recognized with a number of awards, including a Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 2000, a Progressive Architecture award from Architecture magazine in 1997, and an Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1992.