For too many years, low-income communities and communities of color have been excluded from discussions about the future of their own neighborhoods. More often than not, decisions about the shaping of their physical surroundings, and social and economic realities, are made without their participation. Planning and development happen to them, not with them.
Surdna is challenging these top-down methods through its support of planning, design, and architectural processes that are guided by democratic decision making, empowerment, and engagement.
Artists and designers leading Surdna-funded community engagement projects center their practices on achieving more equitable, economically sustainable, and connected neighborhoods and cities. Their work often includes community dialogues touching on complex issues ranging from cultural preservation and jobs to infrastructure and business development, and then translating this knowledge into workable design solutions.
The process of successful engagement requires genuine dialogue and creativity to surface expectations and navigate tensions. And the results may range anywhere from a newly landscaped park to a neighborhood stormwater catchment. But the outcomes are even greater—they bring a sense of community ownership and give life to new aspirations.
As this field continues to emerge, we hope to give shape to it by supporting organizations like the Hester Street Collaborative, a nonprofit design studio on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which uses participatory design processes to work with neighborhood residents. Through a combination of local knowledge and technical expertise, Hester Street has helped transform neglected public spaces into parks. In the process, they have built community power and encouraged stewardship of the projects.