Emerging leaders in design will need a robust set of tools to tackle the complex issues before them. The particular challenges of climate mutation, the legacy of racist planning policies, and the erosion of social safety nets are evident in the built environment, but cannot be addressed through site-bounded, market-driven design practices. How do we teach the relational skills of design, the reading of political context, necessary to make true change? Are these design skills or skills of citizenship? How do we define success for projects with goals beyond a built intervention? This paper discusses a series of exercises that challenged students to explore their own positionality within social and environmental systems, as a basis for considering the multiple, different roles we must engage to affect change around systemic issues. Modeled on alternative design practices that use participatory action research and graphic advocacy to influence systemic issues in the built environment, these assignments explored design’s interdependence with policy regulation and enforcement, social use of space, and public landscape literacy. Students learned to observe and document the often invisible boundaries that structure our everyday life, and to consider the role of relational leadership tactics, and multiple kinds of expertise in contributing to change. Students reflected on the different agency they have as designers and as an engaged citizens. The outcome of the assignments raise questions about the boundaries of design disciplines as professional fields, and the limitations placed on our impacts when design activities are defined narrowly.
Maggie Hansen is a landscape designer whose work investigates how ‘care taking’ (of space, of shared histories, of caretakers) serves to maintain and build community. Her work draws on training in architecture, landscape architecture, theater, and contemporary art. From 2014-2017, Maggie served as director of Tulane’s Small Center for Collaborative Design, where she led community-based design projects in support of a more equitable New Orleans. Under her leadership, the Center launched an exhibition program and panel discussion series exploring the ‘big issues of our small city’; piloted engagement strategies for youth of all ages; and fostered relationships across the private and public sectors. The Center’s work is consistently recognized as a national and local leader for design quality and for a deep engagement process. Projects ranged from masterplanning of Parisite Skatepark to preservation design of retail spaces along culturally significant commercial corridors. Maggie is currently an assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, and a designer with FORGE Landscape Architecture.