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AIA Chooses Sustainable Projects for Volunteer Program

The AIA's Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) has selected seven communities to receive pro bono design and planning services.

By Paula Melton
January 30, 2012
Image courtesy Ailien Vuong
An SDAT team worked with DeKalb County, Georgia last year to help revitalize the Moreland Bouldercrest Cedar Grove community by creating a sense of place.

Thanks to The American Institute of Architects’ Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) program, seven communities will receive pro bono design and planning services to help them in their quest for sustainability. The program has assisted more than 50 communities with development planning since 2005. Cities submit applications outlining the economic, environmental, and social challenges facing their neighborhoods. The SDAT projects on the boards for 2012 are:

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  • Revitalization of two historic African-American neighborhoods in Augusta, Georgia
  • Balancing recreational development and preservation of Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas
  • Land-use assessment for the Sipaulovi village in the Hopi Nation in Arizona
  • Environmental, social, and economic initiatives for the South Hadley Falls neighborhood of South Hadley, Massachusetts
  • Economic development opportunities for the historic downtown core of Springfield, Illinois
  • Urban and rural connectivity in the Stanwood/Camano Region of the state of Washington
  • Community renewal in South Wenatchee, Washington

“We are particularly excited this year,” says Erin Simmons, director of design assistance at AIA, citing the geographical diversity as well as widely varying project types. “We’ve never had such a wide range of applicants. It’s going to be a good year.”

The SDAT program brings together a multidisciplinary team of experts—like urban designers, architects, and economic development specialists—to host intensive charrettes with members of the chosen communities, usually centering around an already-planned development project. Members of the team travel from outside the region—sometimes even from overseas, depending on the expertise needed, Simmons says—and provide their services pro bono. After meeting with the community over the course of several days, the team provides recommendations, framing the project in terms of sustainability and analyzing obstacles and opportunities that are likely to arise.

Recommendations hone in not only on environmental sustainability but also on economic growth and social equity. In the past, SDAT projects have focused on issues like balancing growth with flood mitigation, revitalizing downtown retail centers, and ensuring environmental justice in all neighborhoods.

“This is the public service outreach component of AIA,” Simmons explains. “We recognize that our members have unique abilities and talents” for helping communities become more livable and healthy, she adds. “[The program] ensures that we’re able to make a difference in those communities and help create great places to live.”

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