Black in Design Conference: Reflections from Two Women of Color

image: Black in Design

The Black in Design Conference is a biennial event that focuses on uncovering the complex dialogues related to the intersection of design and black identity. Hosted at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University by the African American Student Union (AASU), the conference highlighted the works of emerging and seasoned design professionals, activists, artists, and educators whose common goals challenge Eurocentric methods of design, education, and engagement to create spaces and places for all people. The 2017 conference, entitled “Designing Resistance, Building Coalitions,” specifically focused on design as a social justice and activism tool that promotes equity and equality in spaces around the country that oppress or erase black and brown presence. For more information, visit the Black in Design website to watch the entire conference, and for the 2019 conference announcement.

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The Ripple Effect: Diversity in Design

The Diversity and Design panel at the ASLA Texas Chapter’s annual conference / image: Diana Fernandez

Diversity in design and urban policy has long been an issue the architecture and engineering industry has struggled with. In 2016, ASLA curated a keynote for the Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans focusing on diversity in design and urban policy (the full general session, Designing for Diversity and Diversity in Design, can be viewed online).

Building upon numerous ASLA efforts, the panelists—Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2009-2011; Lucinda Sanders, FASLA, CEO, OLIN; Mark Rios, FASLA, Principal, Rios Clementi Hale Studios; Diana Fernandez, ASLA, Associate, Sasaki; and Kona Gray, FASLA, Principal, EDSA—each brought their own perspectives on how designers can rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of constituents whom have historically been underrepresented in the discussion for urban policy and city making. The conversation was continued on the EXPO floor, where attendees participated in a lively question and answer session focusing on topics such as education, design practice, and policy changes.

Unbeknownst to the panelists was the ripple effect the keynote had on the local ASLA chapters in attendance. Following the national conference, the panelists were approached by the Texas and Florida chapters to bring the topic of diversity in design to their local communities. Melissa Henao-Robledo, ASLA, a Landscape Forms Business Development Representative for Central and Southern Texas and a past Diversity Summit participant, worked with the ASLA Texas Chapter to organize a panel on Diversity and Design and what comes next. The panel compiled for the Texas conference sought to emphasize the demographic trends affecting the way we practice as designers. Similarly, Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA, a partner at Gentile Glas Holloway O’Mahoney & Associates, Inc., worked with the ASLA Florida Chapter to create a keynote for the chapter conference focusing on diversity in design in practice and education. Each conference provided varied opportunities to discuss the topic of diversity in design and urban policy within a regional and national context.

The impact of the 2016 keynote on diversity in design and urban policy has had a profound effect on our profession at the national and local level. From inspiring panels on the topic to creating the space for the topic to be discussed, it is a reminder of how landscape architecture can be a leading voice and presence in solving our society’s most pressing needs.

The following excerpts were taken from individual interviews of the participants and organizers of the presentations.

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