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Community Design

Community design practices are effective tools for both rural areas and larger urban neighborhoods undertaking revitalization efforts.

Lessons Learned: 
Engagement and Communications: Essential to Design Projects

Community design projects are founded on the idea that community participation is essential for the design decision-making process.  Often this community input comes in the form of 'charrettes' – or community design workshops. 

In El Paso, project organizers also worked to supplement charrettes with open design studio session “where people could drop in and watch planners, artists and architects at work, share ideas, ask questions etc.”  These centralized community engagement exercises are often supported by further types of engagement such as one-on-one meetings with neighborhood, community, political, and business representatives; evening social events; and morning educational/networking events. 

As with most engagement exercises, it is important to be prepared for possible community resistance. As they learned in Ajo, AZ, “some of the design suggestions sparked a surprising degree of anger from some long term community residents -- this resulted in more engagement -- but it was a surprising way to get there”

Funding and Resources: Many Different Sources

Funding for community design is as varied as the projects.  Some Our Town projects have had the benefit of concurrent funding from foundations such as ArtPlace and the Ford Foundation; others were assisted by a combination of city and private funding (Sioux Falls). 

Most recognize the need for continued municipal support either in the form of hotel/motel occupancy fund or percent for art programs; and many are now looking to larger federal programs (such as US Department of Housing and Urban Development, US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Transportation) as well.  Also a series of organizations provide community design services, a summary of which can be found here.

Partnerships and Logistics: Working Strategically within Planning Efforts

Numerous types of partnership arrangements can also be found within community design projects.  In some Our Town projects, the municipality takes the lead (El Paso), sometimes it is an established community organization (Ajo), and sometimes the project is jointly lead by collaborative partnership (Boston – Design Museum Boston and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design) and Hartford (iQuilt Partnership and the City of Hartford).


Given the fact that many community design projects emerged from within the context of larger, ongoing planning efforts, existing (or emerging) regulations and policies could actually be used strategically to bolster the aims of the project.  In El Paso for example, project managers made sure that the project’s goals fit in closely with the city’s Smart Growth Plan, thus making sure its goals were supported by the larger regulatory environment.  

Goals and Evaluation: Creating Community Sparks

Many project managers say that collecting evaluation data for their community design projects was difficult.  Whereas the projects were all different in their size and scope one uniform theme emerged.  All projects spoke of the goal of their work in terms of creating community connection: “greater connectivity and partnerships” (El Paso); “to bring multiple communities together” (Boston); “increase neighborhood engagement, build empathy among community members, and increase the trust and acceptance amongst the families and youths of this neighborhood."

Many spoke of a desire to collect more data on the number of attendees at events - some tried innovative methods such as counting the number of visitors to the mobile app that the integrated into some of the design exhibits (Boston); and in Sioux Falls a video was produced that helped both summarize and reflect upon the project.

Many project managers also talk about some qualitive effects incuding the fact that projects have now created a much larger role for the arts and design in community development forums, and about the attitude change of the community itself.

“This notion that the arts play a role in community development has garnered attention.” (Sioux Falls)

“The project has placed the Museums and Cultural Affairs Department at the center of ongoing discussions about pedestrian amenities in downtown.” (El Paso)

“A new attitude that Hartford CAN do… The negative attitude of the past has been supplanted by a belief that in working together we can make this city's future as brilliant as it's remarkable past.” (Hartford)

“We have a physical plan and an engaged community--the whole process sparked the creation of a Friends of the Plaza group of volunteers who are doing a huge amount of volunteer work to move the project along.” (Ajo)

More information about evaulation is available on the "Project Process - Measuring Project Results" page.