SP2021 Session #2:

Date: March 5, 2021
Location: Zoom
Leaders: Alex Morales, Megan Irvin
Documentation: Jean Daly, Rick De La Cruz.

Community Engagement + DEI


Part I: Introduction & Opening

The session opened with a short presentation by session sponsor Cast Connex, covering their capabilities in creating unique and aesthetically pleasing structural connections. Then session leaders Megan Irving, AIA and Alex Morales talked about the transformative power of architecture and how it can impact the community and the change the world we live in, followed by a brief overview of the speaker line up for the session.

Part II: Food that Heals

In this segment, we welcomed two speakers – urban famer Tommy Garcia-Prats and restaurant owner, Ana Beaven, both with enterprises deeply rooted in the community. 

Tommy shared his experience in learning about farming in Nicaragua, and setting up the practice in downtown Houston. He reminded everyone that history doesn’t just happen on TV – it’s made by every single one of us. By bringing healthy food to less developed neighborhood, Tommy hoped to raise awareness of healthy eating and healthy living. 

Following Tommy, Anna talked about her restaurant concept – by bringing fresh and authentic Mexican food, and by extension Mexican culture, to the US. Anna shared her story about coming to the US, selecting a place for her business, and menus for the restaurant. Beyond food, she also wishes to bring Mexican musicians and artists to further the role as a culture ambassador.

Both speakers drew the conclusion that food connects people, just like architecture – they are all a part of culture. Many of these community based projects face similar challenges, yet they can all make huge impacts on the communities as well.

Part III: Affordable Housing & Architect’s Role in Engaging the Community

After a working lunch with Ana Beaven, the CKLDP scholars welcomed affordable housing advocate and Director of New Hope Joy Horack-Brown, as well as Kirksey’s Catherine Calloway.

Joy reinforced and reiterated the need for affordable housing in Houston and nationwide. In her view, affordable housing isn’t just another entitlement program, it’s a basic necessity for building stable and healthy communities. Her passion and charming southern affect captivated the audience. Joy highlighted the efforts of New Hope including $700 million in real estate development of affordable housing and over one thousands affordable units under management.

Catherine, a project manager involved with New Hope affordable housing projects, showcased the Avenue J project, and highlighted how the building represents quality architecture on a budget. Joy also presented the award-winning Braes Crossing project which was designed to create a sense of place, and reflect the community it exists in.

However, affordable housing projects are often faced with very real challenges. The speakers pointed to Nimby-ism (not-in-my-backyard attitude) and Note-ism (not-over-there-either) as the primary challenges to much needed affordable housing in Houston.

Both Joy and Catherine underscored the importance of housing quality for affordable projects. “There’s nothing cheap about affordable housing, nor should there be.” We are shaped by our environments. Architects shape people’s physical environments. Ergo, architects should work to create wonderful environments that shape people’s lives for the better.

Part IV: Community Engagement and EDI

After hearing from Joy and Catherine, the second CKLDP session closed with a three-person panel discussing community engagement, and equity, diversity, and inclusion.

James Harrison, Amanda Dean, and Nicola Springer engaged with students and each other in lively discussion on the lack of equity, diversity, and inclusion EDI initiatives in the past, and how current efforts are affecting the industry today. Each speaker, although from very different backgrounds, all faced an uphill battle for equity, diversity, and inclusion as they advanced in the profession. Each speaker also shared not only their personal experiences, but also strategies for pushing EDI personally and professionally.

Amanda advocated a courageous approach without reservations, citing her own experience bringing up EDI issues with her CEO as well as leaving a firm that refused to change it’s outdated practices.

James suggested a nuanced approach that was a little more accommodative and well suited for his particular time and place. “You can’t affect change on the bench. You gotta get in the game”. James encouraged CKLDP scholars to find common ground, earn the trust of their superiors, earn a place at the table, then change their organizations from within.

Nicola built off of James’s advice by telling the scholars to “be intentional, be prepared, and be knowledgeable”. In building professional expertise we can gain people’s trust. With trust, we can make changes to our firms in order to advance EDI.

The trio also touched on other important topics such as the need for specific “safe spaces” and organization for minority groups,  EDI in the promotion process, and mentorship.

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