Q&A: Urban Design & Planning at DREAM
How does DREAM prioritize community-focused planning?
- RH: Understanding the context is the first step. The physical urban form is a result of many layers of intervention that include public and private actions. We have several tools, but I always start by opening my ears, as my grandmother would say. Researching and listening to the community, the client, and other stakeholders are key to the start of every project. Sometimes the best piece of information comes from the most unexpected place, which is why community-focused planning can’t exist without an inclusive process.
- DM: We throw out preconceived notions of what members of a community might believe or want, and start by really listening. We can draw upon many different tools to reach the public and other stakeholders – in person meetings; online forums and surveys; walking tours, and church, school, and other community events. We can create participatory engagement activities for workshops – such as charrette game pieces, mapping exercises, and visual preference surveys – tailored to exploring local issues such as the tradeoff between building height, density, and open space; desired land uses and community benefits; and strengthening a community’s sense of place.
What has influenced you in your approach to design and planning?
- RH: The places and the people I have and continue interacting with. I grew up in a small apartment in a dense city, playing outside, walking, and taking public transit everywhere. To me, that should be available to everybody regardless of location and economic status. A place should work for everyone across physical ability, identity, and age.
- DM: Long ago, I worked as an engineer at a large water utility in the Bay Area and saw first hand the effects of sprawl on the struggle to conserve the scarce resource of water. I was inspired to turn to Urban Planning to help fundamentally shift our development patterns to a more sustainable model. I am very interested in how the physical fabric of our communities sends visual cues that influence how we choose to travel, and how we can shift those choices through changes to the patterns of buildings, streets, and open spaces. I find cities and suburbs endlessly fascinating with their constant shifting and regeneration of the built environment; as an urban planner, there is always more work to be done. I am heartened by the growing awareness of and support for policies that can help safeguard people and the planet, including diverse communities, active transportation, compact development, sustainable buildings, and climate-resilient site planning.
In what ways can Urban Design & Planning impact communities and their cultures?
- RH: Our environment shapes us in more ways than we think. Communities and cultures can be united and separated by Design. It is not just about the physical form, but also about the intangible systems that influence life in a built environment. Urban Planning helps bridge several disciplines to craft the places we inhabit for better or worse. For example, not having sidewalks pushes people away from walking.
- DM: So much of the built environment in America is designed around the car, and most people default to driving because no other option feels safe or convenient. But driving creates many negative externalities, particularly for inner-city neighborhoods and the natural environment. As planners, we can shift this behavior and guide development through progressive policies. We can create environments that are safer and more inviting for pedestrians, that are welcoming to a greater diversity of people, that define and reinforce a community’s unique sense of place, and that use land more efficiently. In so doing, we can help people to be active, spark joy, and facilitate cross-cultural understanding through novel experiences and encounters.
How can equity be incorporated into Urban Planning & Design?
- RH: Equity is fairness. We are not all the same, we don’t all have the same needs or priorities and that needs to be identified, understood, and incorporated for a project to be equitable. Urban Planning & Design looks at the bigger picture beyond a single building; with that, it potentially has a bigger impact on a community. Meaningful thoughtful partnerships might be the biggest assets for equity at the Planning scale. For example, in a mixed-use development, the rent of a retail space can be lower for an emerging BIPOC-owned business that historically has had less access to capital.
- DM: We need to be sensitive to different priorities and beliefs in different communities. We can advocate for those who typically do not have a voice, or who cannot participate in community meetings, and make sure that their interests are represented. We can help underserved populations to be active participants in new development projects, allowing them to remain in their communities in the face of displacement pressures from economic and social changes. And we can reach out to young people of diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, tell them about the planning, architecture, and civil engineering professions, and encourage them to join for a lifetime of interesting and rewarding work.
What do you hope to accomplish through your work?
- RH: I hope to give a little push to the world to become a better place for all of us. Good Planning & Urban Design should improve the quality of life of everyone.
- DM: I would like to help create healthy, diverse, and vibrant places, places that work for people of all ages and abilities, in all seasons, and even during a pandemic! I would like to help make it easier to shift humanity towards more sustainable development patterns and reduce our energy and resource consumption. I would like to work in a wide variety of neighborhoods and communities across greater Boston, Massachusetts, and New England.