Design Guidelines for Robust Civic Engagement

News Release

Joanna Frank, Executive Director, Center for Active Design, 212-227-2831, Joanna@centerforactivedesign.org

Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, media@knightfoundation.org

Center for Active Design to create guidelines that help cities foster civic engagement with $1.8 million from Knight Foundation

NEW YORK—Oct. 5, 2015—The Center for Active Design today announced $1.8 million in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to develop “Design Guidelines for Robust Engagement,” a first-of-its-kind publication offering cities, civic leaders and designers a comprehensive set of research-supported strategies that use design to encourage participation in civic life.

Cities around the nation are suffering from a lack of civic engagement. Low voter turnout is the headline but reports also show that most residents do not feel connected to their city and do not see engagement as a priority. “Design Guidelines for Robust Engagement” will help address these challenges with fresh strategies, and practices supported by case studies and research that show how the design of the spaces we live in every day can help to reverse these trends.

“Civic engagement is an important driver of city success; it’s a measure of how committed people are to improving their communities and participating in our democracy,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “Through the guidelines we hope to give cities, nonprofits and even individuals the know-how and resources to create spaces that foster social connections, political participation and resident involvement in shaping their community.”

The Center for Active Design has established a practice of developing successful research-based publications that provide practical design solutions to addressing our communities hightest priorities, such as health and well-being. The center advances strategies found in the internationally recognized “Active Design Guidelines,” which provides architects and urban designers with strategies for creating buildings, streets, public spaces and neighborhoods that encourage more physical activity and healthier living.

Over the past 18 months, with funding from Knight Foundation, the center has developed a framework for “Design Guidelines for Robust Engagement,” supported by a detailed research review and input from expert advisers. Replicating the process used to develop “Active Design Guidelines,” the center will use existing research as a base for continued exploration and create a set of practical design strategies focused on civic engagement, presented as a set of guidelines.

"This support will allow us to expand on a burgeoning practice of using data and research to inform the design of urban spaces. We are excited to develop a tool that combines the disciplines of architecture, urban planning and political science to promote broader use of public space. Practitioners and city leaders will be able to use this tool to build civic spaces that encourage people to participate in their communities,” said David Burney, chair of the board at the Center for Active Design.

“Through this project we hope to reveal that the design and quality of our public and private spaces has a direct impact on everyday participation within our communities,” said Joanna Frank, executive director at the Center for Active Design. “’Design Guidelines for Robust Engagement’ has the potential to expand our understanding of the role that design plays in facilitating engaged, active and well-informed citizens.”

To fill knowledge gaps in the existing research, Center for Active Design will conduct on-the-ground experiments in cities where Knight invests. The guidelines will further be supported by a series of expert advisory sessions that bring together professionals from the fields of urban planning, architecture, political and behavioral science, community engagement and communications. Mayors and civic leaders from Knight cities will be consulted on the best way to implement the guidelines within their cities.

Today at the SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas, Frank will discuss the guidelines, presenting initial evidence, metrics and design strategies that will shape the publication’s development. She will then lead a workshop to show participants how to apply the framework to other design projects. Carol Coletta is also acting as a juror on Place by Design, SXSW Eco’s public space design competition.

Support for Center for Active Design forms one part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to invest in civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. The foundation believes that designing places to achieve these goals is crucial to city success.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit, knightfoundation.org.

About the Center for Active Design

The Center for Active Design is a leader in translating evidence into practical design solutions that amplify the role of building, streets, and neighborhoods in promoting healthy, equitable, and vibrant communities. It serves design professionals, policy makers, community groups, and the real estate community, while maintaining a multidisciplinary perspective in its promotion and expansion of evidence-based design strategies. To learn more, visit centerforactivedesign.org.