In 1957, Whitney Young, civil rights champion and executive director of the Urban League, addressed the centennial convention of the American Institute of Architects. "You are distinguished by your thundering silence," he said of the design community's response to urban disintegration nationwide. "You share responsibility for the mess we are in." In response to this charge, a culture of outreach and service was fostered through the creation of "design centers," many associated with schools of architecture. As a design center, part of our mission is to live up to Whitney Young's challenge through service-based learning and by facilitating effective design and planning strategies using a community-based approach.
CAP: INDY is part of a diverse family of design centers nationwide. Some are associated with universities, while others are independent nonprofit organizations. Design centers take on a wide array of purposes. Some focus primarily on advocacy and community-building. Others do actual design and planning that result in construction documents and plans that are built. Our center falls somewhere in the middle with a mix of advocacy, community building, and facilitating conceptual design and planning.
Regardless of how a center operates, all support seven core values as outlined by the Association for Community Design:
Equity and Justice—Advocating for those who have a limited voice in public life
Diversity—Promoting social equality through discourse that reflects a range of values and social identities
Participatory Decision-Making—Building structures for inclusion that engage stakeholders and allow communities to make decisions
Quality of Life—Advancing the right of every person to live in a socially, economically, and environmentally healthy community
Integrative Approach—Creating strategies that reach beyond the design of the built environment
Place-Based Solutions—Generating ideas that grow from place, and build local capacity
Design Excellence—Promoting the highest standards of quality in the design and construction of the built environment
CAP: INDY's activities can be divided into three categories that, while often overlapping, provide a good overview of why the center exists.
At the heart of CAP: INDY's mission is to provide education. For undergraduate and graduate students, Indianapolis offers a unique urban laboratory in which service-based learning can be used to provide design education and needed community service. Education is also important to the professional community, and CAP: INDY strives to offer continuing education offerings. At a higher level, it is important to provide general public education about design and planning issues that affect people's daily lives.
Decades after Young's challenge, CAP: INDY continues to provide affordable community-based design and planning assistance to neighborhood organizations, public agencies, and related groups. While CAP: INDY does not typically offer traditional consulting services that many other design centers provide, we are involved in the visioning and conceptual development stages of a process. We are often brought on board as a project team to facilitate community involvement and to integrate student or public education with the process, a concept known as service-based learning.
The center plays a role alongside many professional organizations in advocating for a better and more participatory community. We sponsor a conference series, Indianapolis By Design, aimed at increasing the discussion about how to build off the legacy of intent in Indianapolis by planning and debating the future. Through the center's involvement in community projects, issues can be raised and debated. And through academic involvement, student projects can raise issues and provide alternatives.