The Series: Genius Loci of the Volta Region

After my experience in Italy back in September of 2015, I became energized by the concept of genius loci. During my sojourn in Ghana in October of that same year, I wanted to explore what it meant in the culturally rich and ecologically fertile landscapes of my grandmother Adjoa's heartland, the Volta Region. Through family and community, my immersion into parts of the culture and environment enabled me to write up four brief synopses of what I encountered and heard in several cities and villages. These narratives became the series, Genius Loci of the Volta Region, for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's CoLab Radio blog. You can find all four entries here. Read on for my original chronicle of the agricultural landscape of the small town of Adidome and how the Adidome Farm Institute helps train a new generation of farmers, in an effort to promote food security and best farming practices across the region.

Lorry Park, the open air marketplace in Adidome.

Lorry Park, the open air marketplace in Adidome.

No Trained Farmer, No Future: Strengthening Local Agriculture in Ghana’s Volta Region

In conversations about plant life in Ghana, you may encounter this widely held idea: you can grow anything here. This is especially true in the Volta Region where alongside fishing, forestry and hunting, agriculture is one of the main economic activities.

This growing potential for Adidome, the small town and capital of Central Tongu District, is even more visible during the rainy season. The area’s popular crops of chilli pepper and starch-rich cassava thrive, creating vibrant patches of green and red across the landscape. Once the inevitable dryness of the Harmattan season sets in, crop cultivation and harvesting almost halts; food prices rise and supply is low, particularly in the months of January and February. But located in the heart of this community, the Adidome Farming Institute (AFI) generates a sort of galvanizing energy for local farmers.

The Institute, established in 1964 by the national Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), is one of a total of eight in the country. Combined, the Institutes enroll an average of 800 students annually that apply from all over the country. Northerners and Voltarians primarily enroll at Adidome’s 83-acre campus. There they are offered a variety of year-long educational and technical training programs, along with free housing and accommodation. On-site work areas, including a greenhouse and a pineapple farm, support the teaching and learning of best farming practices as students move from theory to practice.

Joseph Kwesi-Sarpong, head of the Institute, describes this to me as we chat with other staff, including assistant headmaster Vincent Pomary and instructor Selina Amati-Doe. Their passion for the work of Adidome Farm Institute is palpable as we discuss their programs’ promotion of competency-based training (CBT) to support farmers in reaching their full potential.

 “One of the key things I have personally observed in agriculture is that it is the only vocation that people practice without the necessary skill, knowledge and attitude,” Mr. Kwesi-Sarpong states. He shares a recent example when a pair of farmers with years of experience, inquired of guidance on a fundamental step: the correct prep and nursing of seeds. Even though at least 78% of the district’s households are engaged in agriculture, food security he says, remains an issue. “What we are saying is come and learn before you practice.”

Assistant headmaster of the Adidome Farm Institute, Vincent Pomary, draws a handful of coco peat from a container growing tomatoes that staff members usually purchase. “Tomato suffers from soil-borne diseases, so we try to avoid that by planting in the coco peat," Mr. Pomary explains. "We are training the students how to crop in the greenhouse structure, which is good for high-value crops like tomatoes, cucumber, and green peppers. There’s no weeding and we use drip irrigation.” The sideshoots are removed so that the tomatoes lean in one direction, helping them grow taller and stronger.

Assistant headmaster of the Adidome Farm Institute, Vincent Pomary, draws a handful of coco peat from a container growing tomatoes that staff members usually purchase. “Tomato suffers from soil-borne diseases, so we try to avoid that by planting in the coco peat," Mr. Pomary explains. "We are training the students how to crop in the greenhouse structure, which is good for high-value crops like tomatoes, cucumber, and green peppers. There’s no weeding and we use drip irrigation.” The sideshoots are removed so that the tomatoes lean in one direction, helping them grow taller and stronger.

The AFI's department units are divided into multiple agricultural specializations that a single farmer or a group can choose from. Prospective students are presented a list of courses and customized trainings that cover tree and arable crops, livestock & poultry, fish farming, floriculture & landscape design, and naturally, vegetable production. By introducing newer crops to the district, like yams and pineapple, the Institute helps to create a shift in thinking around what is possible in Adidome’s agricultural landscape.  

“Yam is not a major crop here,” Mr. Pomary explains of the widely bought commodity. The starchy staple is farmed mainly in the middle and northern parts of the Volta Region. Last year when the Institute experimented with planting the crop, the trial-run proved successful. “We [want] to see if yam will catch here. We want to bring in some farmers to try their hands at it.”

The Institute’s training delves into non-traditional agriculture as well, like beekeeping, mushroom production and importantly, agribusiness. Introducing an element of commerce supports farmers in thinking about moving their practice from subsistence to large-scale production and marketing.

“One of the things we are promoting is the value chain concept in agriculture, where you have to look at the full cycle of the commodity,” Mr. Kwesi-Sarpong explains. “So these are some of the concepts that you have to learn here to have a full understanding of what it takes to grow a crop, so that as you think of production, you think of marketing.”

While the Institute makes available its educational services and training to prospective and practicing farmers at any age or skill level, garnering more attention from the younger generation is central to their work. Though youth as young as 16 are encouraged to apply, the heads of staff realize how hesitant the young rural population is when it comes to pursuing agriculture as a career path. They’ve noticed that young people in the area are increasingly interested in pursuing white-collar jobs with their urban counterparts.

But the idea here is to encourage the next generation to take up agriculture as a profession by presenting more options than the industry has historically offered, like site selection, land acquisition, wholesaling, and transportation. To peak their curiosity, Mr. Pomary believes that conveying the prospects of entrepreneurism and teaching about the value chain for a range of agricultural products will encourage younger students to enter the field. “The value chain of all these commodities are not well defined to them,” says Mr. Pomary. “They think agriculture is just tilling the land. But somebody can go into just marketing, and it’s within the agricultural value chain.”

Akpey Michael, one of the young people the Institute works with, completed the year-long training in 2015. Now, at the age of 23, he’s eager to get into the practice and become a manager of his own agribusiness that will specialize in bringing carrot, cabbage and lettuce varieties to market. “I like to plant a lot of vegetables and fruit, and that is why I went there,” Michael shares with me as we meet up next to the Lorry Park marketplace. He’d been introduced to farming through relatives who raised maize and potatoes, but farming didn’t initially appeal to him.

Instead, the ‘learning-by-doing’ educational perspective helped him realize that his passion for growing food could be profitable and provide him some economic independence. “My friends don’t like or want to do agric because most of them want to be in an office,” Michael says. “They say that farming is an easy thing. My advice for them is that they have to learn more about agriculture; it’s very interesting.” With the help and guidance of his uncle, Michael has set his sights on undertaking the process of land acquisition. Ultimately, he’s determined to start his business.

“Farming is the pivot on which every system relies,” Mr. Kwesi-Sarpong states with deep conviction. It’s impossible to ignore this in Adidome’s cultivated landscapes and local economy. The reemergence of a plenteous growing and harvesting season of the rain-fed crops have become for the area, a source of pride and revenue. While the staff and I continue to discuss the possibilities of a sustainable and economically viable food system, they’re aware that it may depend more than ever on the energy and enthusiasm of students like Michael who are afforded opportunities for more education and critical training in the sector. To keep that momentum circulating in Aididome, Mr. Kwesi-Sarpong remains committed to helping steer the next generation towards a better future in agriculture. “In this place, the potential is huge.”

landscape design, bergamo

Designing with Bergamo's 'wild' genius loci

When shaping public space, a knowledgeable landscape architect will not ignore this tenet of the process: that good design begins with understanding the place the site is located in. Consulting a place's genius loci - its intrinsic character, its physicality, nature, and wholeness - helps guide place-based design. Even more, a multi-disciplinary approach illuminates more of that site's complexities. To explore this paradigm first-hand, the Centro Internazionale's 2015 Summer School met in Bergamo, Italy during the International Meeting of the Landscape and Garden event this past September. As architects, artists, landscape designers, agronomists, botanists and gardeners, we set out to connect with this tangible and sensory element as we navigated Bergamo's Citta Alta (Upper City) and its surrounding landscape. Led by the expertise of  Landworks Sardinia's Annacaterina Piras and Stefan Tischer, we worked to uncover and visualize 'wild landscape', the overarching theme for 2016. Our focus was direct but complex: creating an interface for the wild landscape and users in urban space.

The site: the Upper City

Bergamo’s central urban core is divided into two parts. Citta Alta sits high up and functions as a walled yet airy urban epicenter. 16th century Venetian walls erected with skillful masonry fortify the internal organs of Citta Alta, separating it from the lower city, Citta Bassa, and the surrounding suburbia. Winding cobblestone streets mimic arteries for passage and movement; they lead into monasteries, museums, churches, eateries and storefronts with upper living quarters. The city itself teems with histories of Celtic settlement, Gothic wars and Roman occupation, of Bartolomeo Colleoni, centuries old art, Baroque architecture and local gastronomy. Its two prominent piazzas serve as the door to the city, Piazza Mascheroni, and the heart of its activity, Piazza Vecchia. Civic life opens up these specific sites to engage residents and visitors. Consequently, these piazzas were the canvases for our ideas, a dynamic social meeting space, to introduce a tactile concept of human interaction with wilderness through design.

The environment: Wild life

Stepping foot onto the northern Italian region, it becomes clear the regard for the land itself. And it is deeply rooted. Away from urban life, we encountered the cultivated landscape, replete with vineyards, patched with terrace agriculture and partitions of the terrain cleared on mountaintops where sheep grazed. Still further, beneath the human-altered beauty of the scenery is a layer of wilderness reinforced by humid temperate continental climates of the Lombardy region in which Bergamo is situated. Its naturally steep and winding topography open up into plains, surrounded by bodies of water, glacial inclines and mountains. Specifically, the Orobie Alps that border Switzerland make way for pastoral stretches of shallow rivers and rolling hills.

The first wild destination point we reached was the Serio River. Starting from Mount Torena, the 124 kilometer river serves as a tributary of the Adda River along with the Brembo River. And within the vast boundaries of the region's wilderness we reached deep and lush 'primeval' forested areas of Alanzo Lombardio, blanketed with indigenous trees of Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), Ash (Fraxinus ornus), European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa). The wilderness and particularly the forest in medieval times - reminiscent of widely-held views illustrated in Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy (Dantes Inferno) - was perceived to be foreboding. In many historical Western contexts, it is usually a frontier to tame. But its uninhabited rawness exposed these rooms in the natural landscape to be the lungs of the planet. Forests are also homes for the insects and microscopic living organisms that play a vital role in pollinating the plants that produce the fruits we buy at markets year-round. 

Human culture of Citta Alta

"How do you create a public space for people that resonates with them?" Renowned landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson once asked this question to her audience as she spelled out genius loci's three roots of existence: the site, the environment and the human culture. She emphasized that the project should look, act and feel like the place where it is built. That essentially, a place fits. If we pay attention to this question during the design process, then the quintessential role of a landscape architect remains pivotal in helping reconcile the relationship between people and nature in urban spaces. The process and the work of the practice continues to behave like an intercession between life and land, making the connections between human life and physical landscape tactile and firm. As times change, our understanding of wilderness and the living, breathing systems within it can begin to morph into an awareness of it, a renewed appreciation for it, and concern about its prolongation.

With our unique ideas in mind, the opportunity was presented in Bergamo to reintroduce the wilderness into urban space through artistic, place-based design. We considered different components to help shape that - an encouragement of both the intellectualization of sustainable ecosystems and a child-like curiosity of landscapes, unaware of danger and a willingness to learn, to be adventurous and to allow ourselves to be amazed. If the heart of Citta Alta is Piazza Vecchia, then its lungs are the wild features that envelope its medieval walls, the source of its identity and its existence. Not limited to Bergamo’s Citta Alta, understanding the genius loci, the intrinsic character of the land in any place, helps guide landscape design for its most meaningful and functional present use, to challenge our formal perceptions of what a place is, what we want a place to be, and seek to understand the opportunities and limits it presents. With that knowledge we then can venture into more sustainable ideas for future interventions in the land, along with skillful efforts towards protecting it and preserving its wholeness, its nature and spirit. 

The 2015 Summer School's designs will be installed in 2016. Looking forward & so many of my thanks go to Arketipos Cultural AssociationDott. Ric. Elisabetta BianchessiLorenzo Rebediani, Stefan Tischer, Annacaterina Piras, Laura Bani, Natia Kapanadze, Aleksi Solomnishvili, Andrea Verginella, and the entire group of participants for making the Summer School an incredible adventure. Grazie mille. 


A Padovan Botanical Experience

Botanical gardens are an interesting dimension of landscape design. These ecological patches in an urban area are intrinsically multi-purpose. They can be places that produce positive emotive reactions from us humans, simply by their tranquil and balanced nature. Equally, botanical gardens can provide deeper understanding of disciplines like botany and chemistry, or inspire learning centered around them.

On a trip to Padova (also referred to as Padua), Italy this past September, the highlight was the visit to the University of Padova's Orto Botanico. Founded in 1545 by Benedictine monks, it is the oldest existing university botanical garden in the world and widely regarded for its preservation of rare plant species, both inside and outside of Europe. The garden’s central design – circular plots that convey the sphericity of earth – plays out like a maze, guiding and directing the user to various features of plants, sculptures, water elements, vertical green walls, an herbarium and a massive library, containing thousands of historical volumes and manuscripts. I was drawn to this feature, and in particular, the medicinal and pharmaceutical characteristics housed in Orto Botanico including the arrangement of its potted herbs and cacti.

Taking inspiration from ecological & cultural properties like Orto Botanico, and infusing that into individual, residential or public landscape design, a designer or gardener is able to go beyond choosing certain flowers and herbs for a garden solely for their aesthetics. There’s an opportunity as well to tap into a plant's whole value, at nearly each stage of its life cycle.

It is more and more fascinating when selecting certain species of flowers and herbs, to become acquainted with a wider range of their benefits, including their aromas, their visual appeal, their psychological effects and complex properties that create and nurture health, beauty and wellness. Mimicking a botanical garden may be a holistic approach to designing landscapes since it welcomes new ecologies. Importantly, the give-and-take components that arise from this strategy allow the user to interact again with nature in a complete way. 

Traffic calm down.

If you've ever lived in a high-density urban area that has a quieter or low-speed street, then you are probably familiar with traffic calming, an urban design strategy for more safe,  complete streets. Traffic calming started out as a grassroots movement in early 1960s Europe. The motivation of Dutch residents in the city of Delft was to divert vehicle traffic and its negative effects, like noise, congestion and accidents. 

Inspired by current discussions at my place of work revolving around traffic calming for a busy corridor in North Minneapolis, I explored a few South Minneapolis neighborhoods and downtown in search of other ideas and already employed remedies. Pictured in the last three images, Nicollet Avenue stands out as a unique example.  Dubbed "Eat Street" because of its high volume of restaurants and coffee shops, the two-laned street is a good illustration of how a highly frequented thoroughfare can be user-friendly to pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. 

But what are other ways to traffic calm? Could direct engagement from one user group to another, be a way to utilize this medium and generate complete streets? 

Bollards & planters


Speed bumps

Narrowed two-way streets & road diets

user groups

The Onus of the Urbanist

We're urbanists for a reason. For us, it's easy to grasp a fact given by the UN that 54 percent of earth's population now live in cities. We can identify a sense of magnetism that these places wield upon us.

The spectrum of experiences we have in relationship to people we meet and spaces we frequent in cities, shape us and stay with us. Yet as urbanists, our relationship to nature - a connection vital to our well-being - is often physically disconnected by the design and function in many of our cities. The fracture in this relationship has for so long received neglect in these urbanized places and in terms of relevance, makes issues like climate change appear light-years away. 

A matter of scale

Like climate change, scale is not a simple concept to grasp. To gain a working knowledge of it though, helps us leverage it when attempting to wrap our heads around Anthropogenic disruption. An incredible 9 minute film about scale created in 1977 by the American designers and architects Charles and Ray Eames, Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of Things in the Universe, is an intense visualization of the concept. A zero is simply added to the starting point of a one meter frame of reference. The video frame zooms out of planet earth to the universe and other galaxies, and back again to earth, then down to a microscopic level of internal systems of the human body. The magnitudes of scale, or perspective, creates an impression of how simultaneously significant and seemingly insignificant we are in the expanse of the universe. Although some living systems and their operandi appear minor, Powers of Ten illustrates just how inaccurate that assessment is when we examine what's happening in our core. For greater context, take a moment to watch it

Climate change and cities

Back on earth where constant urbanization is taking place, globalization continues to shape existing cities and provide impetus for the creation of new ones (and informal ones). By 2017, the majority of the earth’s population will live in cities. Economically and socially, they are the places where production and consumption happens. As social beings, we gather, both inside of cities or outside of them. We look for opportunities to make exchanges - intellectually, economically, physically and culturally - and to connect in order to have our needs met. The connection between us and other humans remain key to our survival, so we cluster in these spaces that are distinctly known for problem-solving. That problem-solving arm extends to the area of climate change. 

The conclusive impact of urban life on the planet is staggering: collectively, the world’s cities contribute up to 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s in spite of the fact that cities cover only 2 percent of the earth’s total landmass, according to a 2011 UN Habitat reportAs more people use more resources in the same capacity in these places, experts suggest that developing countries will tap into 65 percent of earth’s energy resources by 2040Statistics now proving impossible to eschew, curbing that impact requires strategy. Now more than ever, urban landscapes depend on an influential segment of its denizens known as urbanists, to step in. 

The Urbanist

When we live in cities, our habitats are inherently human-made systems and environments. Since the era of industrialization, the built environment has worked sort of as a mathematical formula, an equation that shows the relationship between different variables: plug in towering condos and office buildings, streets and amenities first, and then insert people into it, much like an afterthought and at our expense and the planets'. But the role of cities and their function does not have to remain that narrow. Alongside the environmental perils urban living generates, there is the pristine opportunity to mitigate as urbanists.

The question then follows: why is the responsibility on the urbanist? To put it plainly, there’s a sense of ethicality attached to the onus that taps into our social core. The urbanist, traditionally considered to be an expert in city planning, is now more commonly thought of as a type of social-environment investor, an advocate of shifting the conversation and strategy of city planning to include better societal outcomes and more equity through creative interventions and support of useful urban connections. Unlike the fixed identity of a Millennial, the Baby boomer or the Gen X’er, an urbanist ranges in age and ethnicity and other physical, educational and socioeconomic demarcations. The common denominator is simply his or her geography. The urbanist is the public transit commuter and the vehicle driver and the bicyclist – all identities living in and giving to the urban environments they find themselves in, and working to improve them.

Framing the scale

When the magnitude of climate change is discussed, it often creates a gap in understanding how to physically address it in everyday urban life. But scaling it down can provide the initiative to power desired outcomes. A different frame can show new ways to address the derivatives of climate change, like air pollution, biogeographical and social disconnect through car-based planning, reduced accessibility to resources and depletion of resources in general, on a particular level of intensity. 

How would you use scale to frame air pollution, an obvious by-product of climate change? Would you scale back from eerie statistics about the premature deaths it causes around the globe and focus instead on the local relationship between cars and pedestrians in your city, or buildings and employee energy usage at major companies in your town? Or would you start at a scale of tracking your personal carbon footprint for a month, then frame it in the context of an informational community workshop you design? When the scope of the problem has been scaled down to meaningful chunks of information, framing climate change can be a creative process. Thinking back to Powers of Ten, the power of scale shows how diverse systems are interconnected and impact on the smallest scale is still impact. 

As urbanists, we ascribe to a variety of identities in our cities. Yet irrespective of the denomination, as urbanists we value the opportunities we gain and share in the urban realm. Our awareness of our shaky relationship with nature impresses upon us a responsibility to become invested in decreasing environmental degradation through observation of our immediate surroundings. Our proximity to the beauty of cities and their problematic spin-offs puts us in an ideal position to literally react to those problems in a proactive capacity - to really grasp the impetus for the onus. 

Related: Urbanist Feedback

user groups

Urbanist Feedback

About a month ago, I handed over an article I had written, titled The Onus of an Urbanist to a colleague of mine. I was seeking feedback on the flow of the piece. "But what exactly is an urbanist?" the colleague asked after reviewing it. The focus of it centered on how urban-based individuals can address & combat climate change in cities by exploring scale and framing. Thinking it a given, the space provided to understand who an urbanist was though, remained brief. I considered his question for a few days and thought of a better way to answer it: by asking self-described urbanists for the definition. 

So I created a survey. Fully acknowledging that there exist urbanist denominations, the aim was for them - us -  to share thoughts on not only the definition of the identity, but also how it is molded through urban life, while discovering our common ground. After combing through a small sample of responses, I realized the mixture of interests and perspectives seem to truly enhance what each urbanist promotes: better solutions for urban problems. Appreciation of the benefits and beauty of urban living. The memorable moments they've experienced in a city. The issues their city is currently facing and what actions they are invested in to create positive outcomes. 

With this feedback, I hope that these urbanists can find ways to link with one another on issues, projects, initiatives and future ideas - and that more urbanists will join in. You can add your voice to the discussion, too - connect on social media, or take the survey.

Cheers, Urbanists. 

"All of Earth is a planned community these days, so I don't think of 'urbanist' as excluding farms, mountains, or oceans. An 'urbanist' is someone who acknowledges that our lives are all connected and that we must make respectful, shared decisions about how our space and resources are used on our block and on our planet. I'm an urbanist because I acknowledge this reality."
Erik Moe, Washington, District of Columbia

"An urbanist deeply feels the interconnectedness of struggles for justice, visions for a more equitable society, and a practice of collective liberation."
Martin Xavi Macias, Chicago, Illinois

"An urbanist is a proponent of healthy cities. I am an urbanist because I am invested in seeing myself contribute to a strong and resilient community."
Magdalena Kaluza, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"My definition is probably unique - my own urbanism is born equally out of a love for walkable, compact cities and a respect for nature. Sprawl has greatly harmed the ecosystems of Georgia. Concern over the loss of land & connectivity in the habitats of native plants and animals fuels my love for compact land use and livable density." 
Darin Givens, Atlanta, Georgia

"A civic activist. I am interested in the phenomena of people in a place. I am inspired and guided by these thoughts: 'True involvement comes when the community and the designers turn the process of planning and building a city into a work of art.' (Edmund N Bacon)"
Franc D'Ambrosio, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

"An urbanist lives in the city, embraces, reflects and participates in the city's culture, and is active in creating a better environment for others."
Jared Hanks, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"Being centrally located."
Marc Ingram, Minneapolis, Minnesota 

"Access to people and culture."
Erik Moe, Washington, District of Columbia

"I love that there are so many different cultures represented in my city. One can meet people from nearly every walk of life. It is also the biggest small town you'll ever live in!" 
Magdalena Kaluza, Minneapolis, Minnesota

""[Being able to do] anything I want, whenever I want. With family, friends, co-workers and /or strangers."
Franc D'Ambrosio, Victoria, British Columbia

"Living wages, the right to heal, leisure, good food; a healthy environment."  
Martin Xavi Macias, Chicago, Illinois

"Good people. Community."
Jared Hanks, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"Transportation options."
Marc Ingram, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"The availability of alternative transportation modes, abundant green spaces and lots of attractions/entertainment - preferably located in mixed-use developments."
Brionte McCorkle, Atlanta, Georgia

"Equal access, shared experience, shared responsibility."
Erik Moe, Washington, District of Columbia

"I worked to expand our Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority into Clayton County. This is the first expansion of the MARTA system since the 1970s, and will restore transit to Clayton County residents who lost access when C-Tran (the local county bus system) shut down in 2010. Essentially, I worked as part of a coalition that informed the residents of the opportunity on the table, actions they could take, and how to put direct pressure on the decision makers to get a referendum on the ballot. We successfully got it on the ballot in July 2014, and in November 2014 nearly 74% of the county voted in favor of joining MARTA. MARTA's expansion is a $1.5 billion dollar investment by Clayton County over the next 35 years; the largest investment in public transit that Georgia has seen in decades."
/ Brionte McCorkle, Atlanta, Georgia 

"In Durham, I've used placemaking events to bridge gaps between various cultures."
/ Wanona Satcher, Durham, North Carolina

"I work for a nonprofit that makes city gardening more accessible; I am on a community advisory committee to contribute to community engagement for a south service area master plan for the park board; I am a performance artist and am an active supporter of the arts."
/ Magdalena Kaluza, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"I try to improve my city by way of volunteer work of various kinds. Atlanta is a city full of untapped potential contrasted with inertia on the part of city leadership; realizing that potential requires vision and work from residents and business owners."
/ Darin Givens, Atlanta, Georgia 

"[By] reducing the dominance of automobile use (parking, traffic) by giving preference to pedestrian, [public] transit and cycling infrastructure in all projects, public initiatives and conversations with leaders and influencers."
Franc D'Ambrosio, Victoria, British Columbia

"South Downtown is a neighborhood that was fairly devastated by disinvestment and bad development decisions in the latter half of the 20th century. It has a small residential population of a few hundred people and their voices are barely "at the table" with city leaders when it comes to effecting positive change in the area. I'm participating in regular neighborhood meetings to try and boost the voices of people who live and work here."
Darin Givens, Atlanta, Georgia 

"Currently, I'm heavily focused on the issue of mental health. I'm reporting on disparities in service and police violence towards people with mental illness. I'm also trying to dig into what stigma is, where it comes from and how to eradicate it."
Martin Xavi Macias, Chicago, Illinois

"Transportation. I am working on expanding MARTA in Cobb & Gwinnett through similar process as I did with MARTA in Clayton."
Brionte McCorkle, Atlanta, Georgia

"I am invested in seeing more healing spaces for people. I have been supporting a new community healing center that opened, called the People's Movement Center and I have been meeting with healers. I am in an organizer training called SPEAC, run by Hope Community, and I am seeing that we are in desperate need of platforms for emotional sharing around trauma, especially in light of Black Lives Matter."
Magdalena Kaluza, Minneapolis, Minnesota

What makes you an urbanist?

As urban-based planners, architects, advocates, writers, activists, designers, and artists, we identify ourselves by the title of "urbanist", to describe our relationship to the built environment and our lifestyle as a result of it. But how do our personal interpretations of this term vary from one urbanist to another? What are our differences? What are our similarities? This survey serves as a starting point in posing general questions to those who identify closely with the concept and practice of an urbanist and urbanism. 

First sent to associates, then opened to a broader audience, the goal of this survey is to share the responses given, right here, for urbanists to learn about what other urbanists love about living in a city, what they find positive about their city and the issues they are addressing in order to achieve better outcomes in those same spaces.   

Thank you for taking this survey.

*Note: This survey is not meant to be used as formal or comprehensive research on the term "urbanist". Additional responses may be sent to