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RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan: Visioning, Engagement and Equity through the Design Initiative

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

On October 29th, 2018, Karp Strategies’ Graduate Associate Cheryl Lim attended the Regional Plan Association’s (RPA) panel on the 4th Regional Plan – Designing the Future of the Tri-State Region. Moderated by Rob Lane, Senior Design Fellow at the RPA, the panel featured four speakers: Karolina Czechzek, partner at Only-if Architecture, Juliette Michaelson, Executive Vice President at the RPA, Kobi Ruthenberg, Associate at ORG Permanent Modernity, and Claire Weisz, principal-in-charge at WXY Studio. Rob framed the discussion by asking about some of the fundamental tensions between government, the architects, and the civic community that had been discussed during the plan’s creation – how visionary was RPA and the Plan going to be? How abstract did they want to be? How photo-realistic were they going to be with design work? Was it going to be about having an iterative process during the Plan’s creation?

Karp Strategies was struck by the points raised about the strengths of the 4th Regional Plan, especially around design decisions and engagement. Kobi highlighted that the plan communicates confidence and allows for decisions to be made meaningfully within the region. He expressed that the design is very responsible, and doesn’t envision an imaginary future but rather a very realistic and familiar one. Juliette noted the importance of the design initiative and how it became a very important aspect of the plan because it allows the RPA to speak to a non-professional audience.

Karolina echoed these sentiments – she expressed that the drawings showed to the communities during focus sessions really resonated with people and generated great feedback during the process of creating the plan. Claire brought up the topic about the line between being and illustrating – tied together with community engagement. How do we use the design process to visualize policy and places to plan physically?

These sentiments led to us thinking about community engagement and the way urban planners and others working on any type of major initiative conduct outreach. How can we include communities – especially vulnerable ones – in order to allow for equitable development or strategic planning to take place? We left asking – how do we enable creatives to vision but still ensure that these communities are given decision-making power? How do we ensure that this visioning positively impacts the residents that live in the areas that will see change? Learning from the RPA’s success with creating the 4th Regional Plan, strong, realistic, and accessible materials and thoughtful interactions with communities certainly seem to be part of the method.


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