Photo by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation/CC BY
PLANewark salutes the selection of Damon Rich, as one of 24 MacArthur Foundation fellows for 2017. Rich is a designer and planner who shares the PLANewark vision of building a vibrant and reinvigorated Newark through equitable and sustainable environment and land-use practices.
He and the other honorees will each receive a $625,000 “genius” grant, bestowed annually on creative people, working in any field, who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”
Rich was chosen for “creating vivid and witty strategies to design and build places that are more democratic and accountable to their residents.”
Much of the work for which Rich was recognized was done in and for the City of Newark, where he and business partner Jae Shin, run an urban design, planning and civic arts studio called Hector.
As chief urban designer and director of planning for the City of Newark from 2008–2015, Rich worked with the Ironbound Community Corporation and others to begin transforming Newark’s waterfront along the Passaic River with public parks, trails, and environmental installations. He led the move to overhaul Newark’s unwieldy and outdated zoning and land-use regulations and replace them with ones that further a more sustainable, prosperous and democratic city. It was the first such comprehensive revision in over 50 years.
During the adoption process, Rich helped build public understanding and support for the updated zoning by designing and deploying the Newark Zoning Workshop, a set of interactive educational activities hosted by community-based organizations and in other forums. The Workshop won the American Planning Association’s 2015 National Planning Awards for Public Outreach.
On a smaller scale but in line with his design and social vision, Rich designed a special bike rack for Newark, fabricated within the city by a Newark company.
Rich is the founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement. It collaborates with designers, educators, advocates, students, and communities to make educational tools that demystify complex policy and planning issues. As president of the center from 1997 to 2007, he helped develop a roster of programs to engage community-based organizations and public school students in explorations of such topics as tenant rights, affordable housing, and infrastructure design.
Reacting to the award in an interview by the MacArthur Foundation, Rich articulated his view of urban design and planning as a chance to put “new narratives” into “landscapes where narratives of oppression already exist.” He seeks to embody abstract ideas in physical form and create spaces that become a “reflection of values and principles.”
This honor to Rich comes at a time when Newark is moving quickly to amend its Master Plan and the various Redevelopment Plans without the participation of the impacted communities, a departure from the processes Rich established during the zoning overhaul adopted in 2015. PLANewark will strive to carry on Damon’s work in educating and engaging the community on issues of Planning and Economic Development.