Career Development

Congress for New Urbanism

CNU 24 was held in Detroit this year, and it has been many years since I attended (CNU 9 in New York City). I appreciated CNU’s attention to designing for the public realm and potential for building community, but I stopped attending because it did not seem relevant to me due to its dogma of traditional design and fakery of the architecture. In returning after almost 15 years, I felt that the organization had grown up. While the founders still clung to traditionalist ideals and privileged ideas about their role and who they served, I found that the newcomers brought added dimensions of self-development, equity, and the importance role that Right-of-Way (ROW) design had in placemaking.  I learned about some inspiring and innovative organizations that are leading the food justice movement – Keep Growing Detroit, Detroit Labs, and Detroit Dirt – a full cycle that is empowering people to grow food. Keep Growing Detroit’s mission is for Detroit to become a food sovereign city. Detroit Labs helps residents create value added products from the food produced in Detroit, and Detroit Dirt is taking food waste from corporate cafeterias to create rich compost to replenish the soil and give the residents of Detroit a chance to become self-reliant. Amazing organizations doing amazing work.

Renaissance Center from the Cut  courtesy of Grace H Kim

Renaissance Center from the Cut courtesy of Grace H Kim

CNU24 was also the first time in almost 19 years that I was in Detroit. When I was working at Skidmore Owings & Merrill, I spent almost 10 months in Detroit – commuting weekly to conduct interviews with General Motors staff to program the uses that would move into the Renaissance Center as GM consolidated to a central World Headquarters. It was a huge move to help re-energize downtown Detroit…which I was uncertain about. But I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the city had evolved. I was in awe of the beautiful architecture that survived years of blight and vandalism, and that a patron had decided to relocate his corporation to Detroit and refurbish the Central Business District. The streets were grand – on the scale of Chicago’s boulevards. They were beautifully planted and super clean. The investment in architecture was balanced with an investment in jobs – scores of people were employed to patrol and clean the streets as well as staff the public open space. Their presence was welcome and demonstrated a high level of community investment.

Campus Martius  courtesy of Grace H Kim

Campus Martius courtesy of Grace H Kim

Campus Martius was an open space worthy of study – a green space with a bandstand, tables and chairs surrounding the space, a fountain, a beach with cabana-like food/beverage service coming out of a shipping container. Adjacent to that in vacated ROW, there were 4 basketball courts, ping pong tables, and other games available to any and all who wanted to use them. There were staff checking out balls and paddles. And the space was well utilized.

the Cut  courtesy of Grace H Kim

the Cut courtesy of Grace H Kim

the Cut  courtesy of Grace H Kim

the Cut courtesy of Grace H Kim

Another great public space was the Dequindre Cut Greenway. This abandoned rail line was recaptured as a recreational trail. The below grade corridor was landscaped with benches and lighting and graffiti artists were welcomed in to give it life. The 1.5 mile trail connects the north end of Lafayette Park to the Riverwalk, providing several miles of public trails within the city center.

courtesy of Grace H Kim

courtesy of Grace H Kim

The food was great, and the shopping was also. For those who want to play up the decay of Detroit…stop it.  It doesn’t exist. Go visit, because Detroit is seeing a renaissance.

Places to stay – Aloft Hotel at the David Whitney, Cadillac Westin. On a budget? Holiday Inn Express or Airbnb in Lafayette Park - 1600 Antietam

Places to eat – Wright and Co., Katoi, Small Plates, La Rondinella.

Places to shop – Shinola and John Varvatos. And oh, they just opened up a Filson’s.

Schemata Workshop leads conference-wide participation session at the 2012 Oregon Design Conference | The New Now

Part of the agenda for Saturday afternoon at the 2012 Oregon Design Conference was set aside as a forum for audience-promoted ideas and interests. Joseph Readdy of Schemata Workshop organized a facilitated two hour discussion using Open Space Technology.

Initiatives raised by conference attendees were actively discussed in small groups and summarized with a short wrap-up discussion of the work completed that preceded the conference’s closing reception. The conference organizers identified four themes for consideration:Design Excellence – community adaptations; The New Now – individual and firm adaptations; The Academy – educational adaptations: and Beyond the Norm – breaking free of traditional adaptations But everyone was encouraged to bring their best ideas forward for discussion, regardless of how they might be categorized. And that’s exactly what happened as multiple individuals raised topics important to their practice and attracted others with similar interests into very lively discussions – discussions that we hope will continue long after the conference closed.

Open Space Technology Open Space allows groups –large or small– to self-organize and effectively deal with complex issues within a limited time. Open Space is a fast, cheap, and simple way to better, more productive meetings. It enables people to experience a very different quality of organization where self-managed work groups are the norm, leadership is constantly shared, diversity is a resource to be used instead of a problem to be overcome, and personal empowerment is a shared experience. Who, What, When... Whoever comes is the right person; Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened—you let go of expectations and work with whatever unfolds in the moment; When it’s over, it’s over—if you find a solution in twenty minutes, move on to the next group. If it takes the full hour and a half, keep the conversation rolling; Be prepared to be surprised—don’t carry your own agenda to point of missing something more creative; and Move—if you are neither learning or contributing to a sessions you are required to get up and leave and join another session in progress where you will feel more useful and inspired.

Open Space runs on two fundamentals: passion and responsibility. Your passion engages the other people in the room. Individual responsibility ensures that things get done. A focusing theme or challenging question provides the framework for the discussion and the work. Consider this a call for topics and ideas that you believe need to be worked on. Bring them to the conference and be prepared to offer them to the conference community to see if you will be able to attract other to work with you.

Open Space originated because Harrison Owen designed and planned a conference, and when it took place he noticed that all the best work was done during the coffee breaks. All the networking, deal-making, visioning, and collaboration. All the new ideas and new products and new programs came from small circles of people chatting over similar passions and interests.

Just as it happens in life.

So for the next conference he designed a process that would be all coffee-break energy, all the time.

Client Satisfaction

This is Peggy... Client satisfaction is a hallmark of Schemata Workshop.  When Mike and I started the company over 7 years ago, we were truly committed to providing a high level of service to all of our clients – regardless of the project type or size.  We have no “bread and butter” projects – all of our clients are treated as a priority.  Yeah, I hear you…this might sound trite, cheesy, gratuitous, whatever.  But we really mean it, really.  And we try our best to practice with this intention.

Over the years we have been featured in a national article for our attention to customer service and commended time and time again by clients for our high quality services.  And this is an ethic that we have intentionally passed down to our employees.  So I was particularly proud to read a post today on a client’s blog – she blogged about Peggy Heim (our longest-standing employee) and her ability to quietly, calmly, and confidently walk them through a very challenging home remodel.  Not only was I proud of Peggy and the careful attention she gave the client, but also for the 8 other colleagues she has working with her.  We have a solid team that truly understands the importance of customer service and the dividends it returns in the form of client satisfaction, referrals and rewarding projects.  After all, we are not practicing architecture for our own enjoyment (but that’s a nice fringe benefit).

To read about Peggy’s ability to “walk on water”, click here.