Event Review: Designs for Democracy by Damon Rich

On Tuesday 23 October the Architecture Centre played host to US Designer and Urban Planner Damon Rich at the Arnolfini

Damon’s talk, ‘Designs for Democracy’ covered his work from investigating how cities work with teenagers  to redesigning parks to include existing improvised activities. The work was was insightful and felt urgent and relevant to the issues facing Bristol, the UK and beyond.

By using popular culture to engage communities that wouldn’t normally be involved in the planning, development or design processes, citizens not only shaped their cities but acquired agency through positive exposure to ‘the system’.

The US system was revealed to be more heavily weighted in favour of capital so modest victories carved out during his work for Newark City Council were appreciated by the city council staff in the audience.

Often the themes that arose in the talk, making room for contested histories,  interrogating the push/pull of Democracy and Capitalism felt contemporary and yet they were revealed to be battles that have been fought throughout history.

A lively panel discussion chaired by Guardian Journalist John Harris and featuring Cllr Nicola Beech (Cabinet Member for Spatial Planning) and Julian Davis (The Curiosity Consultancy, Trustee of the Canival Network) linked the themes back to Bristol where rapid gentrification combined with historic disinvestment and spatial inequality are leading to rising tensions.

A passionate and engaged audience contributed to the discussion and the burning issues of the conflicting visions for the city were brought to life.

While the themes discussed were serious there was a sense of optimism in the room and a feeling that the will and energy of people to create better, fairer cities could overcome all obstacles.

Designs for Democracy was kindly supported by the US Embassy, the British Association of American Studies and the Landscape Institute.

Funded by the BAAS/US Embassy small grants programme and the Landscape Institute.