Divesting Expert Practice: Participatory Community Design and Local Knowledge

Sheri Blake, Associate Professor, Department of City Planning, University of Manitoba
Larry Spencer, MCIP, RPP
Bob Webster, OAA, FRAIC

What happens when an architect, planner or landscape architect decides to open the “black box” of their profession’s knowledge base to public scrutiny, and to use their skills to actively engage people in the design process? What happens when those that become involved have a strong emotional attachment to the area that is the subject of the professional’s interest?

This Urban Forum session raised a timely and provocative discussion of community planning strategies achieved by divesting expert practice. The discussion was sparked by a documentary made by Dr. Sheri Blake. The documentary focused on the ‘how-to’ and ‘so what’ of community participatory design by outlining Detroit Collaborative Design Center’s (DCDC) architectural workshop series and resulting award-winning projects. It demonstrated the skills a designer requires for effective participatory community design and highlights the knowledge sharing toward mutual transformation that could occur between designers and stakeholders. It focused on the skills necessary to facilitate design. It also discussed the culture of collaboration that occurs between design and other professionals in support of the non-profit community based development organization sector.