Design summit focuses on South Bronx, New Orleans |

Design summit focuses on South Bronx, New Orleans

John Colson

A project to help create a “sustainable community” in the blighted South Bronx area of New York City was the most popular proposal at this week’s Aspen Design Summit.But that’s not the only project that will come out of the summit, a revamped version of the 50-year-old International Design Conference at Aspen, once the traditional kickoff to Aspen’s summer.Other projects will include the manufacturing of furniture out of waste materials from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans to raise money and publicize problems in the city; and several Web-based efforts to gather and disseminate information among nongovernmental organizations hoping to assist blighted or ravaged parts of the world.In all, a dozen proposed “action items” came from teams of designers, educators, social reformers, design students and others at the summit, from Tuesday through Friday at the Aspen Institute campus.While some projects received more support than others, Richard Grefé, executive director of sponsor AIGA, said, “There are no losers here.”Grefé said the summit, the first design conference here since AIGA took over its sponsorship two years ago, “is clearly a partnership” among the designers and the potential “clients” who attended the four-day thinkfest.”You bring us problems, you bring us solutions, you bring us energy,” he said to the assembled participants on Friday.The conference provided a venue for planners to come up with projects that will help troubled areas of the world along three basic themes: Education innovation, sustainable community development and social entrepreneurship.One of the proposals was an inexpensive device that could charge batteries and provide cheap power to areas off power grids.The South Bronx project was the idea of activist Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx.Carter said some residents of South Bronx live at poverty levels below those in India, where pervasive poverty is well-documented and publicized.Among the Sustainable South Bronx projects is a plan to turn an abandoned industrial park into a new community park – a dream threatened by an unexpected state-sponsored proposal to build a prison on the site.As the assembled participants were choosing among the dozen projects, one man stood and said he planned to take one particular project on regardless of the group’s decision.Professor Nik Hafermaas of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., said he would work on a project titled “You Orleans,” the furniture making proposal.Another conference participant, former Charlottesville, Va., Mayor Maurice Cox, was already making plans to travel to New Orleans after the conference and put the “You Orleans” project in motion. Cox is an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture.According to Hafermaas, who will be working with Cox and another conference attendant, University of Texas-Austin professor Sergio Palleroni, academics, students and volunteer designers will help, along with people from AIGA’s list of 18,000 members.Harry Teague, a former chairman of the International Design Conference at Aspen board of directors and a renowned architect, attended the conference and called it “a huge success.”He said it is a logical evolution from the old design conference, which concentrated on talks from famous experts to an audience of designers, local volunteers and interested residents, to a more focused effort to bring designers together for concrete action.AIGA, he said, is “very committed to making this real and carrying it forward.””We expect that many of these projects will take a year or two” before they are complete, he said. And he predicted more projects will come out of the second Aspen Design Summit in 2007.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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