What is a Design Center?

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We operate the Charleston Civic Design Center, a 2-story public engagement and design-based event space. You can read more about the Charleston Civic Design Center here. Did you know that a civic design center, also called an urban design center or studio, is not unique to Charleston? Other medium- and large-sized cities have them and there are a few different types. Generally, civic design centers can fall under one or more of the following categories:

  • Municipal - owned and operated by a local government with a mission to serve the residents, visitors, city departments and other partners within the city boundaries. These are often associated with the planning departments of the cities they serve and report to the Mayor, City Manager, and/or City Council. Staff are local government employees and may also include interns, fellowships and volunteers.

  • Academic - operated by a college, usually one with an architecture, planning, landscape architecture degree program. These can serve a specific city or region in which the center is based, or undertake projects in a different location in keeping with the mission of the academic institution. These often combine project work with school projects, using student talent to solve real world problems.

  • Non-profit - having a wide range of origin stories, missions, geographic scopes and funding sources, these can be staffed by full and part-time employees. Given the special operational challenges of a non-profit, these employees may not always be design professionals. These centers often rely on the use of volunteers, interns, fellowships, grants and strong community partnerships to deliver on their community-focused missions. Their work is often guided by a Board of Directors or other advisory board.

Nearby Municipal Urban Design Centers

We’ve identified three municipal urban design centers to which we can compare ourselves. After having made great contacts with lead staff in these centers, we will be visiting them in person in 2019 to learn firsthand from what they are doing right. While these other cities are much larger than Charleston, the basic overview shows many commonalities: programming and projects focused on community-based design, facility located in an urban building type along a commercial street frontage, and an operating budget relative to population of just over 25 cents per resident per year. Each of these centers are profiled below.

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The Raleigh Urban Design Center is a team of urban designers and planners who envision and design solutions that create a better built environment for the City of Raleigh. By engaging and leading the people of Raleigh in deliberate, targeted design discussions, we build consensus around innovative solutions that encourage all people to be active in shaping the physical form of their community.

The center is divided into three major groups related to function: lab, design, and policy.

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The Atlanta City Studio is a pop-up urban design studio within the City of Atlanta’s Department of City Planning. Their space serves as an incubator, workspace, and meeting place for residents, visitors, design professionals, and curious urbanists to connect and learn from each other. It is a place for City departments, agencies, and the public to collaborate on design projects that will shape the city.

The work of the Studio is an extension of the Atlanta City Design project as it continues to explore answers to the following two questions:

  1. What is Atlanta’s DNA?

  2. How do we design a city for everyone?

Read the draft document here: Atlanta City Design

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Charlotte Urban Design is a program of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department. Their mission is to advance the quality of the built environment, create public awareness, and communicate the importance of urban design to their city. They reveal how design influences quality of life and economic resilience. They also advocate for great places in a livable city.

Projects, programs, and events Charlotte Urban Design either leads or supports are found in one of these areas: InvestigateEngageDesign, or Activate. Follow one of the links below to learn about what they are working on now.