Create Meaning Together With Design Residency

October 02, 2019

In October 2018, RDG Planning and Design hosted its 8th annual Design Residency, a 3-day charette style learning event that gathers the nation’s top graduate students from many fields to address complex community problems. 

How did this come about? The design residency was born out of the desire to connect the community to design practitioners by offering an integrated, collaborative opportunity to graduate students in multiple disciplines. This platform is designed to bring together individuals with extensive knowledge and world experiences to mentor the students and guide their final product. Once they arrive, they are bombarded with a day of information which they synthesize down to a problem statement. The next two days involve research and compiling the information into a final product to present to the public.

Last year’s panel was comprised of ten graduate students from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Iowa State, the University of South Florida, and the University of Iowa just to name a few. Thirteen nationally known experts including a FEMA advisor/program director, city engineers and city managers, sustainable and economic policymakers, and a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize worked with the student residents towards solving the complex problem of resilience, a topic that has risen in importance for leaders on a national scale. In fact, RDG’s Urban Planner Stephanie Rouse shared insight this month in the American Planning Association Magazine article – The Commissioner Vol. 25 No 5, entitled “Graduate Students Seek Solutions to Big Problems,” solidifying the need for graduate students knowledge in advocating for climate change. When compiling the content for this story Rouse stated, “I am proud to join our company’s efforts to educate students on solutions for communities dealing with climate change.”

With such a complex topic, the residents focused on the education of youth knowing the lasting impact they could have. By talking with Grace, a 5th grader participating in the project, they gained insight into the next generation of leaders and how they might tackle the complex problems facing their generation. As a result, they developed a communications platform to reach out to students as they start to learn about climate change and community resilience in 3rd grade, explore their environment in 8th, and envision their future in 11th grade. The final presentation included questions for consideration as Grace, taking on a fictional character role, progresses through each grade. Jonathan Rosenbloom, panelist and professor at Drake University said, “Some of the 11th-grade questions would be good for my Environmental Law class.”

One of the outcomes of the residency was surprise. The climate change board game prototype was developed to make learning about resiliency both educational and fun. The residents developed interactive learning-through-play prototypes that could be incorporated into school curricula or used in other learning environments both for children and adults. The game explores flooding to droughts and impacts on parks, farmland, suburbs, and the downtown. Each of the playing cards has an impact on the city with information on the back where players can learn more. Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa is interested in using the game as part of their environmental law curriculum. The concept of using games to teach resilience is catching on. The County of Marin, CA released a boxed version of its Game of Floods in early 2019, which teaches players about adaptation options to combat sea level rise. 

Climate change is inevitable and is showing its force across the world through more frequent, costly, and deadly natural disasters. Therefore, climate resilience is one of the most important challenges facing our generation and future generations to come. By working together, across disciplines as the student residents do each year, planners can lead the discussion and prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Including underrepresented populations such as our youth is important to understanding how resilience can benefit the entire community now and into the future. Innovative design and engineering solutions can only go so far, but when combined with forward-looking planning and policymaking across multiple disciplines will be key to successful adaptation and resilience in the face of massive climate change. 

Written by Erin Van Zee, Communications Director