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Design Activism

How can landscape architects become active agents in making positive changes in the world? How can design and planning be part of a movement for social and environmental justice? How can activism reinvigorate the social practice of landscape architecture and the allied professions?

‘Design Activism’ encompasses a wide range of socially and environmentally responsible actions in design and planning. From community advocacy in American inner cities to the tsunami relief efforts in South Asia and recovery effort in post-Katrina New Orleans, the involvement of design and planning professionals testifies to the significance of design activism in making positive social and environmental change. The term was first used in the 5th Conference of Pacific Rim Community Design Network organized by the department in 2004. It has since become an emerging discourse in the design profession that parallels a resurging interest in the social practice of design.

In recent years, the Department has worked with Native American tribes in the Northwest, local schools in Seattle, Asian American communities in the Puget Sound, rural towns in Alaska, and many other community organizations both local and abroad. Through these projects and other initiatives below, students and faculty collaborate with communities to bring multiple and creative definitions of design problems, engage in design development, and support implementation and stewardship of design solutions.

Informal Urban Communities Initiative (IUCI)

The Informal Urban Communities Initiative (IUCI) is a design activism, service learning and research program based in Lomas de Zapallal (LdZ), an informal urban settlement in northern Lima, Peru. It focuses on the design and implementation of community-driven interventions in the built environment with particular emphasis on public green space. Projects completed as part of the IUCI include two parks and a classroom at the Pitagoras school and fog collection and household garden projects in LdZ’s Eliseo Collazos neighborhood. The work has received ASLA Community Service Award (2012), EDRA Places Design Award (2012), SEED Award (2012), and Public Interest Design Global Award (2014).

International District Community Design (IDCD)

In partnership with local community organizations, UW landscape architecture students and faculty have developed and helped initiate a number of ongoing community open space projects in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District since 2002. The completed projects including the Maynard Avenue Green Street, Night Market, and redesign of International Children’s Park were envisioned not only to revitalize and improve the historic Asian American neighborhood but also to broaden participation and build capacity for the neighborhood’s immigrant youths and elders. Student work has been published in Service-Learning in Design and Planning (2011) and Transcultural Cities (2013).

South Park Design Lab (SPDL)

SPDL is a group of designers, planners, artists, and, most of all, doers, based in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood. Its work supports the vision crafted by the South Park Action Agenda by employing design to ignite the community’s vision of a healthy, equitable, and productive neighborhood connected to the Duwamish River. Recently, SPDL has teamed with residents and Urban Systems Design on the design and implementation of community-driven, roadside bio-infiltration gardens. In 2012 this collaboration included students from UW who worked with the neighbors at the intersection of 12 Ave. S and South Southern Street to design four rain gardens that will collect roughly 185,000 gallons of roadway runoff and provide attractive public amenities for the community.