Inclusive Design in Cities

In September we launched the first-ever Mayors Innovative Design Cohort as a partnership with the American Institute of Architects. This project is pairing three mayors (& city staff) to work with an architect team to help reimagine one local space, all with the aim of creating zero-carbon, resilient, inclusive and equitable cities. Mayors and their cities include: 

  • Mayor Monique Owens, Eastpointe, MI
  • Mayor Joe Pitts, Clarksville, TN
  • Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith, Blacksburg, VA

What does inclusive design look like? 

For architects, this process starts with the charrette. The charrette is a multiple-day event where community stakeholders work with an impartial design team to co-imagine highly creative, yet feasible solutions. Engaging stakeholders—especially community leaders and residents—early in the process leaves them excited to implement it together. 

Our three cities are in the process of planning their charrettes right now, with Eastpointe, MI hosting theirs this month. While this process is typically performed with an architectural design team, it provides a valuable framework for all mayors to use in reimagining their own city’s potential.

Here are the types of questions that will be asked during each city’s charrette:

Equitably Meeting the Community’s Needs

Good design positively impacts future occupants and creates spaces where all people feel welcome, safe, comfortable, and able to fully participate.

  • How could this project contribute to creating a diverse, accessible, walkable, just, and human-scaled community?
  • Who might this project be forgetting? 
  • How can the design process and outcome remove barriers and promote inclusion and social equity, particularly with respect to vulnerable communities?
  • What opportunities exist in this project to include, engage, and promote human connection?
  • How can the design support health and resilience for the community during times of need or during emergencies?

“Equity is being able to design a quality sense of place. Architects have a responsibility to design that sense of place, regardless of your income or your annual median income level (AMI). You should be able to live in a place where you feel a sense of pride within the community.” – Corey Clayborne, FAIA, Architect Lead for the Blacksburg, VA partnership

Of course, equity and inclusivity aren’t the only factors at play. Sustainability, efficiency, public health, and adaptability are just a few other factors to consider. As each project unfolds, we’ll provide more on how they’re reimagining their cities.


The Mayors Innovative Design Cohort is a partnership with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and their Blueprint for Better Campaign to help cities address the climate crisis while creating equitable, inclusive public spaces. Thanks to AIA for their generous financial support of this project.