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Mid rise building with black facade and glass frames divided by monochromatic murals. Streets active with people and trees.

Opportunities for Equity in Design

Leon Holloway

Balancing hybrid work.
Remote schooling.
Civil unrest.
It’s been a tumultuous couple of years.
It’s been hard for all of us.
And it has been extremely hard for minorities.

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day not far behind us, I can’t help but reflect on his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, particularly this line:

Even though things have changed since Dr. King gave this speech, we still have a long way to go to create a unified, equal society.

As architects, we are civic stewards in charge of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public with our built environment. We should be designing and building equitable spaces for all, for our communities we live in, and minimizing the systematic racism that exists in our nation. It is our American creed for every one of us to strive for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Design concept for Freedom West in San Francisco. Image by DLR Group.

Projects like Freedom West in San Francisco are reclaiming parts of the city for communities that were on the verge of displacement. We’re partnering with the city of San Francisco to reimagine the Freedom West housing cooperative located in the historic Fillmore District. Our design plans honor the history of the site’s triumphs and hardships as one of the country’s first equity-oriented developments of this scale for the African American community.

JK Daniels Conference Center at Lane College. Image via Fast Company.

We’re also supporting the communities at historically Black colleges and universities. We’re helping three institutions secure grants through the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HBCU-focused Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative. Lane College in Jackson TN, and Philander Smith College in Little Rock, AR each received a $65,000 grant to prepare historic preservation plans. Those grants include a professional development opportunity for HBCU students to collaborate with our project team, and earn a stipend from our firm. Earlier this year, we also assisted Voorhees College in Denmark, SC re-apply for a multi-stage, $150,000 grant. With these schools, we are designing a preservation plan for the historic buildings of each college working with the campus community including students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders to champion the cause of historic preservation.

“HBCUs play a significant role in providing access to affordable and quality education to highly motivated students,” says Yogesh Saoji, AIA AICP, planning and urban design leader, DLR Group. “HBCUs are also indispensable to many first-generation students and the communities they serve. Our work with HBCUs is helping provide access to funding, build expertise, and renovate historic facilities and spaces.”

Now more than ever, we must take advantage of our privilege and advocate for access to education, fair housing, public policies, and empower our communities. We must always find the courage to speak out and take action against human indignities wherever we see them taking place in this country.

I’m also reminded about another quote, from January 2021:

If you’re interested in service projects to help your community, find some here.


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