Design Assistance: Catalyst for Revitalisation
The Design Assistance programme is a strategic initiative of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Through the Design Assistance programme, over 1,000 professionals from more than 30 disciplines have provided millions of dollars in professional pro-bono services to more than 200 communities in urban and rural areas across the US, engaging thousands of people in community-driven design, planning and development processes. The programme brings the public, policy makers and professionals together to build collective plans for the future. As a result of these processes, the program has helped catalyse billions of dollars in new investment in communities across the country during the past 6 years alone. In communities as diverse as Austin, Texas, Boise, Idaho and Portland, Oregon, the community development story has carried momentum for decades. Over time, some participants have come to describe the program as akin to an urban fairy tale.
The core Design Assistance programme is R/UDAT (Regional and Urban Design Assistance Team), which started in 1967. A companion programme was launched ten years ago called SDAT (Sustainable Design Assistance Team) in response to an emerging community need to develop policy frameworks and sustainability plans. The programme is managed by the AIA Centre for Communities by Design.
The program has proven to be an easily adaptable process based in grassroots community participation and volunteer public service that can be applied to cultural contexts and circumstances around the world. Over the years, the process has been adapted successfully at the local level in the US by universities, state and local chapters of the AIA, city planning departments, planning and design firms, the US Army, and partners in Canada, the UK, and Europe. The democratic values embedded in the design assistance process are core needs for public work today. It is the AIA’s belief that the process can serve as an effective, easily deployable model to aid any community’s efforts and build momentum for transformative change.