Institute for Environmental Negotiation

Empowering communities to create shared solutions

Transforming Community Spaces: Bending the Arc of Memory Towards Healing and Justice

Few institutions and communities in the United States, if any, have ever fully confronted the truths and legacies of colonialism, slavery, and white supremacy. These constructs are often visually embedded in public art and spaces, reflecting cultural beliefs, institutionalized policies and practices that devalue African Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color.
For those who seek removal or other change, the public art and spaces are painful reminders of the violence and the injustices of colonialism, slavery and Jim Crow. For others, change is challenged as revisionist efforts to rewrite history and an attack on fundamental values. 
While these conflicts may be painful, the attention brought by the many current debates over statues, memorials and named institutions and spaces is an opportunity that may not happen again for decades. This can be a time to reach people who rarely engage in civic action but who are energized by these issues. This also offers a real opportunity to foster candid dialogue and action about deeper, systemic inequities, which tend otherwise to be ignored or suppressed.

The Institute of Environmental Negotiation (IEN) is initiating a project to develop, enact, and share guidance for communities and institutions to address their past through engagement, learning, creativity, and consensus building. This effort will include the following elements:

·      convening a diverse national stakeholder group of artists, designers, and historians to provide guidance throughout this process; 

·      development of case studies of communities navigating their way through change to public spaces, including New Orleans, Baltimore, Charlottesville, and more; 

·      production of a comprehensive guidance document that includes best practices for community consensus building; and

·      testing and implementation of this guidance for collaborative change with experienced partners in key areas of the country.

This IEN-led initiative will launch in conjunction with UVA’s Center for Cultural Landscapes symposium Race and Public Space: Commemorative Practices in the American South on March 24-25, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Transforming Community Spaces (TCS) will support the many communities and institutions across the nation facing challenges in telling more complete histories by providing best practices for consensus building, public history, public design, and community engagement. TCS begins on March 24 with the convening of a national Advisory Committee of designers, historians and mediators. The group will offer advice to IEN as it develops guidance for communities and institutions seeking to tell more complete histories and change their narratives around issues of race and other types of identity. 

The CCL-led symposium begins later that same evening and continues into March 25. With dynamic and provocative speakers who bring deep knowledge on these topics, the symposium aims to generate vibrant discussion about the "21st century crisis” of how problematic community narratives are maintained, changed or erased through histories, stories, and memories in public spaces and representations. Ideas and discussion at the symposium will feed into development of the guidance, which will be tested with pilot projects in different parts of the country before it is finalized and widely disseminated.  

The two-day symposium is sponsored by the UVA School of Architecture Sara Shallenberger Brown Cultural Landscapes & Sites Initiative, and supported by the BNSF Railway. All events are free and open to the public, but registration is requested. You can find more information and the symposium schedule here

The goals of these two initiatives are synergistic in seeking to initiate and support intentional, candid and inclusive dialogue about how communities may approach historical commemoration issues that stir passions and conflict. The initiatives address a resurgence in debates about the impacts of public parks, monuments, and other sites identified with slavery, colonialism and more recent contested histories.

The CCL and IEN are working closely in both funding and execution of these initiatives: IEN is supporting CCL’s symposium in design and facilitation, and CCL is supporting IEN’s initiative in design and serving on the Advisory Committee.

The IEN initiative is sponsored by UVA’s School of Architecture and Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and project partners include The Cultural Landscape Foundation, the National Preservation Institute, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.