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Lucid Project
(In Development)

Stormwater Park, North Miami, FL. December 15, 2019. Photo: Saul Martinez

Building on Keeping Current, our 2019 climate resilience initiative in South Florida, the Lucid Project supports community resilience and social infrastructure in under-resourced urban areas. Through an inclusive design process, this multi-year, multi-city initiative convenes local residents, mayors and municipal leaders, community-based organizations, and our global network of interdisciplinary experts to build equitable public spaces, increase trust in leadership, and strengthen social fabric.

Stormwater Park, North Miami, FL. December 15, 2019. Photo: Saul Martinez
Stormwater Park, North Miami, FL. December 15, 2019. Photo: Saul Martinez
Stormwater Park, North Miami, FL. December 15, 2019. Photo: Saul Martinez
Stormwater Park, North Miami, FL. December 15, 2019. Photo: Saul Martinez
Stormwater Park, North Miami, FL. December 15, 2019. Photo: Saul Martinez
Stormwater Park, North Miami, FL. December 15, 2019. Photo: Saul Martinez

Unprecedented social, physical, and environmental challenges define urban life in the 21st century. These challenges demand fast, flexible strategies and diverse professional resources to support community efforts to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of disruption. When designed well and with community needs at heart, places like parks, plazas, and community gathering areas build local resilience by fostering greater trust, social cohesion, and equity. These spaces, also known as social infrastructure, strengthen a community’s ability to bounce back from crises both acute and chronic, ranging from public health emergencies and natural disasters to systemic racial inequity and long term effects of climate change.

To support community resilience and greater social cohesion, the Lucid Project will create social infrastructure in the form of equitable community gardens, public infrastructure, and open spaces that are beautiful, useful, and reflect the communities that will steward them forward.

By employing a methodology based in design thinking, the Lucid Project works at the nexus of community needs and feasibility in three phases: Engage, Ideate, and Pilot. First, in the Engage phase, with the support of municipal leadership, Van Alen will work with local partners to immerse themselves in a neighborhood by interviewing individuals, forging alliances, and listening to the community as they define their most pressing issues. In the Ideate phase, we activate Van Alen’s international networks to collaborate with the community and develop innovative solutions together. In the Pilot phase, we help local partners work with the city to implement the designs best suited to community needs. Throughout the process, residents define and direct solutions customized to their priorities, coalitions are created across demographics and disciplines, and local community and municipal capacity is built.

Keeping Current Climate Leadership Workshop. December 14, 2019. Photo: Scott McIntyre
Keeping Current Climate Leadership Workshop. December 14, 2019. Photo: Scott McIntyre
Keeping Current community engagement meeting, North Miami, FL. September 2019. Photo: Scott McIntyre
Keeping Current Climate Design Lab, Miami, FL. 2018. Photo: Scott McIntyre
Keeping Current Climate Design Lab, Miami, FL. 2019. Photo: Scott McIntyre
Keeping Current Climate Design Lab, Miami, FL. 2018. Photo: Scott McIntyre

In partnership with the Mayors’ Institute of City Design (MICD), Van Alen has begun identifying cities that are strong candidates for the project. We have also started forging relationships with community organizations who will identify local priorities, develop programming to engage residents and community leaders in the design process, and steward the new site over time. As project manager, Van Alen will leverage our global network of professionals across disciplines — including economic development, architecture, planning, and environmental science — to drive expertise and resources in support of local priorities. This coalition of residents, community organizations, city government, and diverse professionals, is critical to ensuring broad municipal and local support for the ultimate success of the project.

From the advent of digital technology to growing inequalities across race and class, profound global shifts have reshaped humanity and eroded social cohesion. As the connectedness between people has frayed, so too have the democratic processes and institutions that underpin strong communities and enable them to weather hardship.

Prevailing comprehensive data indicates that Americans spend less time together in social settings and are more isolated than ever before. Social disconnection and isolation are linked to a host of health ailments, from high blood pressure and heart disease to increased anxiety and depression. Inversely, community involvement is proven to have positive mental health benefits. The American Enterprise Institute found that 47% of people who are active members of a voluntary organization say most people can be trusted most of the time, compared with only 32% of civically unengaged Americans. At the community scale, civically engaged Americans are much more likely to both work collaboratively to improve their neighborhood and to express happiness with its direction.

Without a strong civic backbone and social trust, a community is less equipped to mobilize in times of crisis. This is especially true among vulnerable and/or disenfranchised populations, which are disproportionately impacted by crises due to under-resourcing, geography, and sustained disinvestment in their neighborhoods. Moreover, individual lack of purchasing power means geographically-specific social networks are key for accessing critical resources and support. As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, local resilience networks play a vital role in responding to crises, helping communities identify needs, and providing resources. To be effective, these networks rely on social connections forged in digital and physical spaces.

The Lucid Project is designed to help address the interlinked problems of widespread social disconnection, erosion of democratic norms, and the increased need for social and physical resilience. Our focus will be communities most affected by systemic disinvestment and reliant on geographically proximate social networks in times of crisis. By foregrounding community concerns and voices, Van Alen’s Lucid Project will produce reliable, scalable, and vitally useful social cohesion in communities most vulnerable to social, economic, demographic, and geographic disadvantages.

For more information on the Lucid Project, contact:

Jessica Lax
Director of Programs
jlax@vanalen.org