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About

OUR MISSION

Van Alen Institute helps create equitable cities through inclusive design. In an equitable city, every person is civically engaged, regardless of income or personal circumstances. To achieve that goal, inclusive design supports a community-driven public realm.

For more than 125 years, our purposeful community engagement, convening capacity, and global interdisciplinary network have produced profound transformations in the public realm of New York City and beyond. With a core belief in an interdisciplinary approach to design, the Van Alen team has backgrounds in architecture, urban planning, public health, civic advocacy, community engagement, and arts and culture.

OUR BELIEFS

Our environments shape every aspect of our lives, though we do not yet fully understand how. We must develop a better understanding of how we are affected by them, and work hard to improve those environments for people everywhere.

Design is a crucial tool for tackling complex social, ecological, and cultural challenges. It is a tool for analysis, breaking down seemingly intractable problems into their constituent parts. Design can identify and define problems, and propose new solutions. It can communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively, allowing people to visualize a different future and the steps it will take to enable that change.

We believe that solving persistent and tough problems requires many skills, and that the best solutions come from a collaborative process among different fields. We work hard to connect these disparate groups, translate among communities and disciplines, and catalyze fresh thinking.

And just as we need the skills of many fields, we need a range of tools to address different kinds of problems. For us, these tools are competitions, research projects, and public programs. We believe that they have a symbiotic relationship, and that used together, these three tools will allow us to better understand the ways our environments affect us, and help us to develop projects that impact those environments for the better, both locally and globally.

This interdisciplinary approach must take hold in communities, in schools, among policymakers, and in professional practice. We believe that design professionals must reexamine their collective role in shaping the world we live in, and in how we can improve people’s everyday lives.

Ideas can change the world: We believe that individual projects can be catalytic, and though the processes and thinking they set in motion may take years or even decades to fully mature, these projects are an important part of our work.