Posts tagged with "Equality":

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NOMA President Kim Dowdell on the politics of Detroit and the architecture profession

Detroit is an entrepreneurial city. In its heyday, it was full of forward-thinkers who were breaking boundaries by building big business dedicated to innovation and manufacturing. That same spirit still exists in the Motor City today, though some have written off the gritty, Michigan enclave as a place of the past. Many dedicated Detroit natives are working hard to rebuild its legacy as a capital of American economic and cultural development. Kimberly Dowdell, in particular, is using her experience as an architect and a real estate developer, as well as her innate entrepreneurial drive, to change the face of urban housing in Detroit. Along with her team at Century Partners, an emerging firm in the city, she’s tackling long-standing social injustices through the lens of home ownership. She’s doing the same in her new role as president of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA) by advancing representation in the architecture industry and fighting for professional equity. AN spoke with Dowdell about her unique career path, what drives her to rebuild Detroit, and why addressing architecture’s internal issues can help build stronger cities. The Architect's Newspaper: You spent time on the East Coast working as an architect and developer, and then studied public administration as a graduate student at Harvard University. What drew you back to Detroit? Kimberly Dowdell: I grew up in Detroit in the early '90s when the city was in pretty bad shape. The buildings were ghosts of their former selves, which fascinated me, but economically, Detroit was devastated. Instead of moving back after graduating from Cornell with my bachelor’s in architecture, I decided to sample cities on the East Coast (Washington, D.C., and New York), rounding it all off in Cambridge for the Harvard program. Many people ask me why I studied government since I came from a design background, but I firmly believe buildings are intrinsically part of the public realm, so it’s our responsibility to learn everything we can about how policies can work to better the built environment. In 2015, I was recruited by the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, where I worked closely with the Planning and Development Department, collaborating with a long-time mentor, Maurice Cox, Detroit’s Planning Director. That unique opportunity to contribute to Detroit’s resurgence ended my 14-year East Coast tour. AN: Since you’ve been in Detroit, you’ve transitioned into a more entrepreneurial role as a professional and within your current firm, Century Partners. How does your background in public service and design serve you in thinking about housing in Detroit? When I was younger, I didn’t like that Detroit looked bad, so I decided I was going to become an architect. I didn’t really see many people trying to solve the city’s big problems growing up, so I aimed to do it myself. A lot of what I’ve chosen to do in my career has been in response to things that I think are not ideal. As a kid, I actually wanted to be a doctor, which is funny now because I consider myself kind of like a doctor at the macro level. I get to help heal neighborhoods. Architects have to be knowledgeable of all the issues at hand in order to get a project done successfully. To be a developer, you also have to understand the bigger politics at play. With Century Partners, I’m able to use my design eye as I try to maintain the historic fabric of Detroit as much as possible through our projects. AN: What’s the biggest thing you’re working on at Century Partners? Detroit is well-known for its expanse of single-family homes. We’re currently looking at building out neighborhoods that are positioned to contribute to the multi-family housing fabric of the city. We’re currently fundraising to purchase commercial and multi-family buildings in Detroit’s core that will spur economic development, increase density, and create a 24/7 neighborhood. The other major project that we're working on right now is called the Fitz Forward Neighborhood Revitalization project, a city-backed, public-private partnership that will eventually revitalize over 300 parcels of land, including existing homes, open lots, and parkland, across the Fitzgerald neighborhood in central Detroit. AN: You spend a lot of time thinking about Detroit’s future and how to solve these big-picture problems. How is this mindset helpful as you start your new position leading NOMA? I’m three months into my presidency and the biggest thing I want to be really mindful of is fundraising for the organization. As a woman, I think there’s a general consensus that we don’t directly ask for money—as if fundraising is a taboo thing to do. But as president, I want to commit to doing that, which coincidently ties into my fundraising efforts with Century Partners for the commercial property and multi-family housing fund I mentioned. Money is always part of the bigger picture in architecture, but it’s a new challenge for me to think about it so directly.   AN: How could more money for your organization have an impact on architecture? I was recently possessed to say out loud in a podcast interview that if someone gave NOMA a million dollars, it could change the face of the profession. We’d have money to fuel our access-related programs like exposing K-5 students to architecture through classes and products, while middle and high school students could more deeply engage with our NOMA Project Pipeline summer camps. College students, especially aspiring architects of color, need help with studio supplies, technology, housing, transportation, and scholarships. As the first millennial president of NOMA, I’ve also begun considering how the architecture profession can alleviate the student debt crisis. Many of my colleagues have really high levels of student debt coupled with comparatively low professional salaries (consider lawyers and doctors) and limited flexibility and financial freedom. How can we as an organization motivate or incentivize people to pursue architecture knowing that compensation is a challenge and the student loan debt is higher than ever? We will miss out on some really talented people if things don’t change. This is also a diversity issue. Minorities in particular struggle with this given the wealth gap. NOMA is about getting people to believe in the power of diversity and the success of companies and organizations who support that vision. I want to make the case that investing in NOMA is investing in the future of a more diverse and equitable profession, which can help build more diverse and equitable cities. AN: So you think addressing the architecture’s internal inequalities would have a trickle-down effect on not only the way firms are set up, but how projects and cities get built? I absolutely think that there is a correlation between who is empowered to author the built environment and how that environment shapes the well-being of the community that it serves. In the words of Winston Churchill, "we shape our buildings and thereafter our buildings shape us." I believe that this statement holds true and I would add that the heightened diversity of our built environment stewards (developers, architects, builders, real estate brokers, etc.) will contribute to a more thoughtful and responsive set of buildings, spaces, and places that will equate to more sustainable cities. I believe in quadruple bottom line sustainability—incorporating financial, ecological, social and cultural priorities. While everyone in the development process has a particular purpose and role, I think that the more we see greater cohesion between those quadruple bottom line priorities, the better off our cities will be moving forward.
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Central Park’s first female statue may have racist undertones

Last year, New York City’s Parks Department announced plans to build a statue honoring women’s suffrage movement leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The monument, designed by sculptor and human rights activist Meredith Bergmann, will be the first non-fictional female statue in Central ParkIn a city where roughly 90 percent of its public monuments depict men, Bergmann intended for the sculpture to celebrate women and pay homage to those who actively fought for women’s rights, yet since it's unveiling, the piece has been met with a wave of online controversy over its subject. In January, the New York Times noted that women’s rights activists and historical scholars were among the first in recent years to call out Anthony and Stanton’s problematic history with race and more specifically, their focus on white women’s suffrage over voting rights for all women. Both figures were prominent abolitionists, but the passing of the 15th Amendment created a huge rift between those who fought for black men’s rights and those who strived for women’s rights. The frustrations voiced by white women like Anthony and Stanton, who were told to “wait their turn” as black men won the right to vote following the Civil War, often conveyed distasteful, racist undertones, according to History.com In 1866, the two women formed the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) with Frederick Douglass, an organization whose goal was to grant equality and voting rights for both women and African Americans. But after just three years, the AERA disintegrated over debates about whether to support the 15th Amendment. The Villager wrote that at a 1869 convention, Stanton delivered a hateful speech filled with "classist, racist, and xenophobic" remarks against former slaves and immigrants, saying that uneducated and illiterate men should not be making laws for affluent women’s suffrage leaders.  Bergmann, while aware of Stanton and Anthony’s shortcomings, created the sculpture to recognize their tireless efforts to mobilize an entire country toward acknowledging women as a powerful and resilient demographic. “It’s unfortunate that these two women did not transcend those prejudices,” Bergmann said in an interview with The Villager. “These things should be brought to light for sure.” The statue will feature a lengthy, 22-foot-long scroll, which will recognize the contributions of African American women, such as Mary Church Terrell, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells, who helped promote the advancement of all women’s rights. Bergmann told The Villager she hopes the presence of these black, Latina, and white women's names will "mitigate the [widespread and common] prejudices of Stanton and Anthony." The monument will be installed on Central Park's Literary Walk next year on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment's passing.  
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Stop asking where all the female architects are; we're right here

In 2014, a year after I graduated from architecture school, I read Karrie Jacobs’s Fast Company piece on Nicole Dosso, “The Tallest Tower in the U.S. is Being Built by a Woman.” A perfect title, a perfect piece. In it, Jacobs wasn’t describing Dosso as a “female architect” or as a “woman in architecture.” She simply stated that the tallest tower is being built by a woman, period. As a 23-year-old female starting out in her career, I was energized and in awe of Dosso, and my peers who weren’t in architecture were too. It was a breath of fresh air, a moment of strength. Another example is a recent New York Times article titled, “Architecture is No Longer Just a Gentlemen’s Profession.” Precisely. These are the types of headlines and stories we need. Last Saturday’s New York Times op-ed, “Where Are All the Female Architects?” was not titled to advance our cause. The piece did talk about redefining success since there’s often a limited view of what being an architect means. But its headline, along with a slew of others lately asking where are the female architects, adds to the misleading narrative that there are none out there. It’s a negative story to suggest because there are truly so many. It’s time to change this narrative. I no longer want to hear people asking, “Where are all the women architects?” or saying, “I can’t name five female architects.” I’ve published interviews with 50 women on my platform Madame Architect who build, design, or otherwise advance the practice of architecture, and I’ve spoken to even more. We need to listen to them, write about them, amplify them, and support them in combating the issues our industry faces in order to change this situation.

Instead of asking “Where are these women?” start writing about them and telling their unique stories.

Yes, we need to call out the systemic issues in the industry that are perpetuated time and time again and prevent many women from rising through the ranks. They need to be discussed and approached thoughtfully. But why not show what the redefinition of success looks like by writing about the myriad women who are doing exceptional, sensitive, and important work while simultaneously running businesses, acting as caregivers, and making time to mentor? To me, that is the beginning of change. Instead of asking “Where are these women?” start writing about them and telling their unique stories. Show their successes, their reinventions of practices, and how they forged their own paths. Take Andrea Simitch, who leads the nation’s top-ranked undergraduate architecture program, or Nina Freedman, the former “secret wing” to Shigeru Ban and founder of Dreamland Creative Projects. There is also Sylvia Smith, senior partner at FXCollaborative, who started and oversees the firm’s award-winning cultural and educational practice, as well as Sandra McKee, who spearheaded Rafael Viñoly’s Tokyo International Forum but now owns her own international studio and hosts ArchiteXX’s mentorship sessions. Younger women are also emerging as leaders in the field. Elyse Marks, a restoration architect, rope-access technician, and marathoner, defies gender norms every day while hanging hundreds of feet in the air, while Alda Ly, one of the co-founders of MASS Design Group, runs her own practice working with entrepreneurs and startups like The Wing. Danei Cesario is raising two girls while traveling to speak on industry equity and diversity, while Isabel Oyuela-Bonzani introduces architecture to high school students.

There are clearly many women who are architects, but the yardstick for evaluating good architecture and success is shortsighted.

There are also countless women I’ve met who may not build, but advance the practice and advocate for the value of architecture and architects, like critic Alexandra Lange, public relations expert Tami Hausman, strategist Ashley Bryan, and activist Jessica Myers. These women show there are different types of success at all levels that deserve to be celebrated and talked about. There are clearly many women who are architects, but the yardstick for evaluating good architecture and success is shortsighted. Good architecture now has a broader definition, and we can be more inclusive in showcasing the architecture that addresses the issues facing society today. I should also note that the women I’ve called out in this article are all based in New York. Since I live and work full-time here, these are the architects with whom I can have meaningful, intimate, face-to-face conversations. Of course, I am trying to profile more women located elsewhere in the country and around the world. But just imagine: If there are so many unique stories held within a singular city, there must be countless architects out there doing fascinating work that we need to acknowledge. In last week’s New York Times op-ed, writer Allison Arieff quoted Caroline James, a graduate of Harvard’s architecture program and founder of the advocacy group Design for Equality. James told Arieff that it’s “time to ID the problem and what we need to do moving forward” by giving women the tools they can use to succeed, such as mentorship and access to information. This is exactly my goal for Madame Architect, and the same spirit drives other organizations like ArchiteXX, Rebel Architette, Equity by Design, and Girl Uninterrupted. We should also start early by speaking and listening to students, asking them what questions they have, what resources they’ll need, and what kinds of mentors they want. When I was studying at Cornell, I read Toshiko Mori’s newly-released monograph and remember focusing on the following words which have since fueled my attitude toward my career: “Architects cannot be defeated by disappointments. The profession requires mental strength, good health, and especially a strong stomach. An unlimited amount of optimism, a healthy dose of idealism, and high energy and high spirits help us to persevere through difficult circumstances.” This industry is tough and we need to infuse it with this kind of motivation. We need a strong start in 2019 where we can mobilize, spread knowledge, build community, and support men and women alike within architecture. I don’t believe this is the only solution, but this moment is a new beginning. So let’s write about these women—these architects—in the way that Karrie wrote about Nicole. We are not missing and we will no longer be hidden. Julia Gamolina is the founder and editor of Madame Architect. She also currently handles business development at FXCollaborative.
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Brooklyn is slated to erect two statues in honor of Shirley Chisholm

In a city boasting nearly 150 monuments of different men, pioneering politician Shirley Chisholm is set to get not one, but two statues in her honor. Both Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and New York City Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., (D-36) have announced separate efforts to erect public artworks in Brooklyn memorializing the legacy of Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress. As a former educator and decades-long state legislator, the Brooklyn-born Chisholm inspired a whole generation of women to seek public office. She served New York’s 12th congressional district in the House of Representatives from 1969 to 1983 and was the first women to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1972. The mayor’s effort to celebrate her life is spearheaded by She Built NYC, an initiative developed to honor the trailblazing historic women who’ve made an impact on New York. After being nominated during an open call this summer, Chisholm was chosen as the first woman in the program to be honored with a statue. It will be installed outside the Parkside entrance of Prospect Park in 2020. The artist who will design the project will be unveiled early next year.  Council Member Cornegy’s move to commemorate Chisholm’s work is part of a community cultural initiative aimed at highlighting people of color who’ve specifically influenced the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford Stuyvesant, where Chisholm grew up, and northern Crown Heights. This statue, unveiled in a maquette, will be designed by renowned artist Sterling Brown, Jr., in conjunction with the Crown Heights North Association. It’s set to be installed by July 2019 in Brower Park by the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, a two-mile walk from the larger, Olmsted Vaux–designed Prospect Park. Hers will be one of four statues that honor some of the community’s iconic leaders. Once erected, Chisholm’s monuments will make her the city’s fifth female figure to be memorialized in bronze or stone. The Department of Parks announced in August that suffragette leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony will receive a statue together in Central Park next fall.
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New York City to get 10,000 free public Wi-Fi portals

New York City is a city like no other. It’s lousy with things to see: architectural icons, world-famous parks, A-list celebrities, pigeons, food carts, and pigeons eating off of food carts. With so many sites, it's a real bummer that so many New Yorkers walk around the city staring directly into the hollow glow of their phones. This isn't going to change anytime soon, especially with the de Blasio administration announcing that, starting next year, the city's dated payphone system will become "the world’s fastest municipal Wi-Fi network." The system, called LinkNYC, includes 10,000 individual portals—called "Links"—that offer free Wi-Fi (up to 150 feet away), connections to city and emergency services, charging ports, and city information via a digital screen. These kiosks can even make national calls, just like the good 'ole days. The program is being overseen by CityBridge, a group of technology, design, and advertising firms, and will be entirely funded by advertising. So, from a distance at least, Links will likely appear as an ad for a cologne or an airline. (Links in residential neighborhoods are more slender and feature less prominent ad space.) The plan to replace New York City's aging payphone infrastructure with a more 21st century alternative dates back to the Bloomberg years. Almost two years ago, the former mayor announced the Reinvent Payphones Design Competition "to rally urban designers, planners, technologists and policy experts to create physical and virtual prototypes that imagine the future of New York City’s public pay telephones." That following spring, Sage and Coombe Architects’ NYFi portal won the Popular Choice Award. And then a year later, de Blasio issued an RFP to get the next generation payphone actually up and running.  That's where we are now: CityBridge has been selected by the city and installation should start early next year. The system could ultimately include up to 10,000 Links. The de Blasio administration said the LinkNYC program will provide reliable, high-speed Wi-Fi across the five boroughs, and plugs into its underlying fight against inequality. “This administration has been committed to expanding affordable access to broadband for all New Yorkers from the outset," Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. "It's essential for everything we need to do to be a fair and just city, because we can't continue to have a digital divide that holds back so many of our citizens.” But, according to a Daily News report, not all Links will perform the same way, at least not as currently planned. "The speedier systems are flanked by advertising—and advertisers prefer wealthier eyes," explained the publication. "As a result, all of the 2,500-plus locations in Manhattan are high speed, giving the borough with 20 percent of the city’s population fully 65 percent of all the fast kiosks. Meanwhile, the Bronx will get speedy Wi-Fi at 361 kiosks—just 6 percent of the fast Wi-Fi stations in the city. The borough will have slower service at 375 non-advertising kiosks, which replace old payphones." An administration official told the Daily News that they are working to rectify the discrepancy.