Strategies of Empowerment: A Survey of Emerging Urban Practices in Weak Market Cities

A symposium organized by Erkin Özay

Symposium speakers.

The symposium will feature talks by (left to right): Daniel D'Oca, Interboro Partners and Harvard Graduate School of Design; Marc Norman, Ideas and Action + University of Michigan, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Jennifer Goold, The Neighborhood Design Center, Baltimore; and Patty Heyda,Washington University in St. Louis, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018
2 pm - 6 pm
Hayes 403

In the absence of comprehensive policies designed to address the challenges of disadvantaged urban communities, many weak-market cities have embraced uniform redevelopment strategies as the primary tool of urban revitalization. From Baltimore and Cleveland to St. Louis and Buffalo, we hear stories of “renaissances” and “rebirths,” but the very interventions that elicit this optimism also exacerbate uneven development and grant marginal benefits to distressed neighborhoods. Resource-poor communities are urged not to shy away from pressures of development, but to face them head on. Is it really possible to leverage market forces to the benefit of urban communities, when the modes of development often clash with their own interests?

This symposium brings together scholars and practitioners of urban design and planning to address this question, and take stock of emerging alternative spatial practices. Conventional urban activist organizations (community development corporations, community land trusts, and local design centers, etc.) are gaining more visibility, while the practices rendered by a range of advocacy groups (resettlement agencies, artist collectives, LGBTQ and post-incarceration support programs, etc.) are becoming increasingly more spatial in nature. Strategies of Empowerment seeks to foster a debate on the viability of these provocations to provide the basis for an operational design theory, capable of exerting real and systemic change on the ground.  

Continuing education credits approved:

Daniel D'Oca, Interboro Partners and Harvard Graduate School of Design

"Refugees in the Rust Belt"


Daniel D'Oca's talk presents the work of "Refugees in the Rust Belt," an interdisciplinary studio that was held at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Fall, 2017. Working with both national and local refugee resettlement organizations headquartered in the rust belt cities of St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, and Akron, students made proposals at a range of scales aimed at helping refugees thrive. The premise of the studio was that architects, landscape architects, and urban planners and designers in the US can and should play a larger role in the refugee resettlement process, especially considering that, as Doug Saunders put it in his book Arrival City: “Around the world, it appears that a good part of the success or failure of an arrival city has to do with its physical form.”

Marc Norman, Ideas and Action + University of Michigan, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

"Underwriting Icicles, Leveraging Sidewalks and Demapping Automotive Landscapes"


Architects and urban planners are increasingly engaged in the problem of urban housing provision and the particularly intractable issue of affordability and neighborhood stability. The design of housing can have a profound impact, but the unavailability of traditional capital can thwart new construction and even rehabilitation contributing to a downward neighborhood spiral.

New thinking in design, policy and finance can unlock land readily available in our cities. Innovative projects and policies will be highlighted that leverage hidden and unconventional resources specifically in weaker market cities with limited access to conventional capital. The talk focuses on real world interventions in Syracuse and scholarly articles in Formerly Urban and Housing as Intervention: Architecture Towards Social Equity.

Jennifer Goold, The Neighborhood Design Center, Baltimore

"Design for Equity - Community Driven Design for Community Ownership and Equitable Public Investment"


In Baltimore, the history of segregational zoning and covenants, followed by redlining, lives on in deeply divided neighborhoods and vast inequity in outcomes that fall along racial lines. At the Neighborhood Design Center we believe that equitable community development results in community ownership and leadership and just investment in public infrastructure. Through our 50 year history of community engaged design, the NDC (Maryland’s nonprofit design center) has built a methodology that results in increased equity in community development projects in our places. 

As we approached our 50th anniversary, NDC paused for a moment to document our community engaged design process. Simultaneously, we have expanded our program offerings to focus on community capacity building for initiation and implementation of community owned projects, as well as those that focus on equitable investment in public space and transportation in our lowest-income communities.  In her talk, Jennifer will share NDC’s working methodology and present elements of four case studies that demonstrate its power to fuel community-driven projects: United Workers affiliated land trust projects, the Arch Social Club, Rebuild Johnston Square’s Ambrose Kennedy Park, and North Avenue Rising.

Patty Heyda,Washington University in St. Louis, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts

"St. Louis: Contradiction as Condition"


Finding a balance of economic development and basic social (and environmental) welfare is a challenge in all American cities today, and in St. Louis in particular. Why is this so hard to achieve? St. Louis is an intensely politically fragmented and starkly divided region. It’s a weak market city in a growing region. It has a high homicide rate amid a notable concentration of Fortune 500 companies. As St. Louis rebuilds, it un-builds. What are the dynamics of shaping a just city in such a contradictory context? This talk maps the multifaceted and durable ambitions, complexities and contradictions underlying contemporary urban redevelopment in a St. Louis neighborhood, through the designer’s lens.