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Mayors and Design Professionals Join Forces at Latest Mayors Design Summit

Brainstorming ideas and generating solutions is what DesignAlabama’s community-based initiatives are all about, including its annual Philip A. Morris Mayors Design Summit held last month for the 18th year.

At the recent two-day Summit held in Prattville, a team of six Alabama design professionals worked with five Alabama mayors to identify their community’s design challenges and come up with workable plans moving forward. Proposed projects focused on such issues as downtown redevelopment, creating moderately-priced housing and improving street connectivity.

Participating mayors, who attend free of charge except for travel expenses, are asked to make a 10-minute presentation about their community. The Summit was named in honor of the late Philip Morris, DesignAlabama board chair and leading advocate for how good design practices enrich lives and improve communities.

Delmartre Bethel is mayor of White Hall, a town located in the Montgomery metropolitan area along the Alabama River. He participated in the recent Summit and was pleased to discover how approachable and easygoing it turned about to be.

“I was expecting a different [more formal] approach, instead it allowed me to feel comfortable to talk about our issues,” Bethel explains. “We identified the center of town and the resources we have for economic growth. We considered our assets, and ways to utilize our green space, blue ways and history. I look forward to DesignPlace and getting more feedback that we can turn into a comprehensive plan.”

Mayors who participate in the Design Summit are eligible to participate in DesignPlace, a three-day charrette that provides communities assistance with design, planning and identity.  Along with Bethel, mayors who participated in the recent Summit are Jimmie Gardner of Prichard, Donna McKay of Wadley, Woody Baird of Alexander City, and Becky Bracke of Opp, who in 2017 was elected the city’s first female mayor.

Design professionals at the latest Summit include Marshall Anderson of Design Initiative, Ryan Collins of Dix + Hite Partners, Brittany Foley of Williams Blackstock Architects, Jason Fondren of KPS Group, Inc., and Steve Stone of dakinstreet architects. Ben Wieseman of Place Associates moderated the event.

In addition, two speakers shared their experiences and expertise. Belinda Stewart of Belinda Stewart Architects in Eupora, Mississippi, discussed her work with historic preservation and how she applied it to helping revitalize Eupora. Matt Leavell with Leavell Design Consulting discussed the positive impact design and planning can have in creating vital and livable communities. Leavell also chairs Your Town Alabama, a workshop in partnership with DesignAlabama that provides small and rural towns with tools to strengthen their economy and make community improvements.

Says Executive Director Gina Clifford: “Each year, the Philip A. Morris Mayors Design Summit brings something new to DesignAlabama, and this year brought the most diverse group of mayors and designers to date.”

What encourages Clifford most is when she sees mayors “get it.”

“The look on their faces when they have an aha moment about how design can change their community for the better. I’m also always excited to see when our small and large communities realize they are facing some of the same problems. This year, two of our communities were working through sewer needs and similar developments in their communities. Moments like these make them realize they aren’t in this alone.”

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama

 

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