After the 2018 ACD Conference, Feeling the Reverberations


Dr. Sutton delivers her keynote address to a packed house and kicks off the 2018 ACD Conference.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a month since Reverberations: Roots and Relevance of Community Design. Here at NDC, we are still in awe of those few days: the new friendships and collaborations sparked, the radical ideas communicated, and a collective vision for the future of community design shared. More than 300 people from across the country came to Baltimore to be part of the weekend, attending over 60 sessions across 3 days, from our pre-conference environmental justice tour led by Destiny Watford, United Workers, and others to Antionette Carroll’s closing keynote. Thanks to each and every one of you who joined us—we’re so moved by your presence and participation.

If you were there on the opening morning, you heard the brilliant, resounding words of Dr. Sharon E. Sutton. Dr. Sutton, the educator, musician, activist, and 12th African American woman to be an accredited architect, eloquently traced both the history of community design and Baltimore’s Neighborhood Design Center, highlighting the activist roots of both. But she also spoke bluntly about her concerns for the present moment: “Median black household wealth is less than 10% of median white household wealth—the average black family will never catch up without extraordinary remediation. Racial polarization due to years of segregation is tearing the country apart.” She implored the community design field to respond: “Today’s community planners and designers must help salvage the human community by nurturing compassion across difference; by infusing people with a sense of being able to write a new and inclusive story of the future.”

Throughout the course of the weekend, we heard the beginnings of this new, inclusive story. From poet Michelle Antoinette Nelson’s reimagining of Whitney M. Young’s groundbreaking 1968 AIA speech in which she challenged us to “design on the horizon,” to Designing the We’s April de Simone’s reminder that, as an industry and a country, “we have to heal, and we must build empathy,” words of hope resonated throughout the event. They were intercut with sharp reminders of the challenges we face: during the Racial Justice and Design panel, Justin Garrett Moore of the NYC Public Design Commission shared his long family history of work in urban design and the fact that “black and brown people’s and women’s history of building, designing and planning this country has been erased.” During the Design as Protest workshop, Bryan C. Lee cautioned, “For every injustice in this world, there is an architecture designed to facilitate and perpetuate it.”

Designers and thought leaders joined us from across the country to share their successes, foibles, and best practices. Detroit Collaborative Design Center workshopped their tactics for engaging students at Denby High School and Bleeding Heart Design  convened a conversation about new futures for designers of color. Annie Ledbury and Garrett Jacobs shared their equitable placemaking  work in Oakland. ACD Board member Nikia Hill moderated a conversation with national funders from Enterprise Community Partners, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Surdna Foundation that focused on priorities and models for supporting community design work. We heard from local superwoman Barbara Brown Wilson about her new book Resilience for All and examined equity issues in the suburbs with Dan ReedWillow Lung-Amam, and Tanvi Misra.

Michelle Antoinette delivers her interpretation of Whitney M. Young’s historic 1968 speech to the AIA.

Of course, as Creative Reaction Lab’s Antionette Carroll reminded us, “If oppression, inequities, and inequalities are designed, they can be undesigned.” And to that end, we heard incredible ideas for undesigning inequity. On Friday, we heard from Davin Hong about design as activism and from members of Baltimore City’s i-Team about strategies for recruiting better police officers. We learned from community leaders about efforts to build community land trusts and, during the Complete the Streets panel, how policy changes can pave the way for more inclusive public spaces. On Saturday, Marisela Gomez and Lenora Knowles shared a vision for cooperative ownership in East Baltimore and efforts in Philadelphia to design communities in collaboration with immigrant populations. At Open Works, youth from Baltimore, DC, and Philly worked together to actively ideate, design, and prototype better public spaces. This is just a small selection of the rich content that emerged over the weekend. We hope you take some time to watch and read more about the conference.

Students collaborate on the design for a safe bus stop during the Wondergound Teen Workshop.

In her closing remarks, Antionette Carol reminded us, as a community, to “align your impact with your intentions; think about the role that you’re playing and the team that you’re working with—because you can’t do it alone.” In the days since the conference ended, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback, especially the stories you’ve shared of connections made. There’s so much good work to do, and we can’t do it alone. We hope after Reverberations that you feel, as we do at NDC, better prepared to join forces and design on the horizon.

Our volunteers made the weekend happen—we’re so grateful to each of them.

Special, warm thanks to our dedicated conference volunteers and to our generous sponsors: Surdna Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, Kaiser Permanente, ACD, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, Morgan State University, MICA, Morris and Ritchie Associates, NDC Board, and the Aaron Straus and Lillie Straus Foundation.

— The Entire NDC Family