Snapshots of Assembly in Action

Over the past four years, CfAD has been leading Assembly, a pioneering initiative funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to explore how the design and maintenance of public spaces can bolster civic life—including trust, participation in public life, stewardship of the public realm, and informed local voting. In less than a month, CfAD looks forward to releasing the Assembly: Civic Design Guidelines, a resource that compiles evidence-based strategies to support thriving, engaged communities.

In anticipation of the launch of the Assembly Guidelines, we are highlighting recent projects that demonstrate the value of using original research and community collaboration to inform local design and decision-making. Several key findings emerging from these efforts are reflected in the forthcoming publication.

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Re-envisioning Guadalupe River Park in San Jose

In San Jose, SPUR is working to re-imagine a three-mile ribbon of parkland that runs along the bank of the river through the downtown. SPUR collaborated with CfAD to develop and field a survey of San Jose residents in early 2018, in order to gauge community opinions on the park today and understand preferences for the park’s future. A total of 842 people completed the survey, and shared their thoughts around park design, public art, programming, safety, and more.

While respondents do not exhibit particularly high levels of pride in the park today, they recognize it as a public space with remarkable potential. A mere 21% report they are very proud of the park in its current state, while 41% report they aren’t proud of the space. However, these numbers shift dramatically in questions about the potential for the site—with 61% of respondents viewing it as a great asset, 57% feeling very invested in its future, and 83% supportive or very support of a revitalization effort. These results were reflected in a successful kickoff event that generated great enthusiasm for future park improvements.

Three Georgia cities weigh in on Assembly

Earlier this year CfAD hosted an Assembly Strategy Session in conjunction with NewTown Macon to convene community leaders from Macon, Columbus, and Milledgeville, GA as well as Tallahassee, FL on the topic of design and civic life. CfAD provided an overview of the draft Assembly Guidelines and facilitated discussions to explore Assembly's resonance and application in small to mid-sized cities.

Strategy session participants put Assembly concepts into practice through an interactive working session around the redesign of Poplar Park, a multi-block median park within downtown Macon's Poplar Street. Valuable recommendations emerged for future design, programming, and maintenance strategies—such as simplifying the landscaping to restore natural beauty; enhancing pedestrian connectivity across intersections; providing flexible seating options; and involving park maintenance and management staff in the design process to facilitate ongoing upkeep of the park.

Connecting civic life and holistic health outcomes in Tallahassee

Goodwood Museum & Gardens in Tallahassee is a unique community space, long recognized as a site for special events, historic tours, and local programs. With support from Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation of North Florida, CfAD is collaborating with Goodwood and Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare (TMH) to strategize opportunities to open up Goodwood for broader public enjoyment. Given its prime location adjacent to the medical district as well as surrounding residential neighborhoods, Goodwood holds tremendous potential to serve as a hub for community wellbeing—fostering physical health, mental wellbeing, and social and civic connections throughout the Tallahassee community.

On May 10th, CfAD facilitated “Envisioning Goodwood” a strategy session with over 40 diverse community leaders at the Goodwood Carriage House to collaboratively envision how the site could better support new physical and programmatic pathways to wellness. CfAD’s presentation highlighted evidence-based health-promoting design strategies, and also previewed relevant topics from the Assembly Guidelines to inspire conversations around holistic community wellbeing. Through facilitated discussions and walking tours of the site, participants collectively identified priority design strategies and programming opportunities emphasizing local arts, culture, and wellbeing. CfAD is working with Goodwood to develop a report and advocacy tool that synthesizes short- and long-term implementation recommendations, which will be used to engage new partners in contributing to the vision for Goodwood.

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    San Jose residents are invested in the future of the Guadalupe River Park. Photo Courtesy of Richard Masoner.
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    In Macon, strategy session participants brainstorm how the redesign of Poplar Park can elevate civic life.
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    Participants envision the future of Goodwood as a hub of physical, mental, social, and civic wellbeing.