December 15, 2017

Creative Collaboration for Designers & Changemakers

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Creative Collaboration for Designers & Changemakers

The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship is cultivating a generation of architects committed to bringing the benefits of quality design to low-income communities. By partnering emerging designers with community developers, the fellowship provides socially-engaged designers with a career path in community development.

As part of the fellowship, Rose Fellows collaborate on projects that address national issues in community development and design. They identify topics of interest and engage in meaningful projects that share what they are learning on the ground through research, writing and creative projects.

When architect and urban planner Irene Figueroa-Ortiz began her job as Assistant Planning Director at A Better City in Boston, she was starting a dream job. As an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow, she planned to sharpen her essential architectural skills while gaining expertise in areas not typically taught in design school like financing, policy, community engagement and organizing. But, she didn’t really know what was in store for her. 

The Rose Fellowship is dedicated to cultivating designers committed to bringing the economic, health and education benefits of quality design to low-income communities and equipping them with the empathy, humility and experience to be effective community advocates. The program partners emerging leaders, who are trained as architects and landscape architects, with community development organizations. Through this collaboration, Rose Fellows are dedicated to strengthening the organization’s design processes and outcomes.

From the beginning of her fellowship, Irene worked with the Boston Transportation Department in a citywide effort to facilitate and encourage the implementation of placemaking interventions in Boston’s streets. She looked forward to helping shape the Public Realm Planning Study for Go Boston 2030, the city’s new transportation plan, and designing a series of creative public space interventions across the city.  

In practice, she came up against the very real challenges of implementation, and the limits to her own urban planning education. She remembers her first meeting with city agencies: “We came in as a team with big ideas like cool crosswalks and canopies…but they didn’t need concept ideas, what they really needed help with was how to get it done. The obstacles were regulatory and financial — there wasn’t a lack of design ideas.”

“It was humbling for me because I had to shift my thinking to realize that the conceptual phase is a small part of the process and I was over-trained for that phase,” she added. “At first I didn’t even have the language to ask the right questions that would move the effort forward.” 

That meant a radical shift for Irene: “The challenge with parklets is who is paying for them, and who’s going to pay for insurance. We had to figure out ways to reduce financial and regulatory hurdles for people —especially small businesses without a lot of capital who wanted to do this — by creating clear and comprehensive design guidelines and connecting them to an easier system of procurement.” 

Irene joined together with two other Enterprise Rose Fellows — Kaziah Haviland and Kelsey Oesmann — to create guides to help other designers cross that gap. Their guides to multisector collaboration focus on the social cues and the implementation advice that were not part of their design education but were absolutely necessary to getting their projects completed. 

The guides focus on common types of multisector collaboration, from working with city agencies to working with community development companies to working with artists. The tips come from lessons the team learned on the job. Kaziah, for example, faced a steep learning curve while working with community members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Her first community engagement event was only salvaged when a local community member noticed her distress at the lack of enthusiasm and response from participants, and decided to assist her in running the meeting. She watched as they effortlessly translated her agenda into one that was more relatable to the meeting participants. She realized that, as a community outsider, she would need to rely on her local colleagues to ensure the success of their process.

When Kelsey began her fellowship at Urban Housing Solutions in Nashville, she realized she need to shift her perspective from that of a designer to that of a developer, especially when it came to architectural or engineering fees. In her previous position at a mid-size architectural firm, she took for granted how these fees were negotiated. But now in the position of a developer, Kelsey needed to learn how to evaluate proposals from the other side, determining the impact of these fees on project budgets and proformas, which added a new layer of understanding to her sense of who was the best architect for the job.

This trio of Rose Fellows created these guides to fill the gaps they have encountered, helping impact-minded designers match their work with their intentions. Irene concluded, “It’s a real challenge for architects to become leaders, because to be a leader you need to go beyond your circle. We hope these guides will help other designers take the steps to do just that.”

The Tip Jar Guides

Learn more about the Rose Fellowship or bringing a fellow to your community or organization.

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