Racial Justice and Design Equity

black lives matter

First, let’s grieve for all the life that has been lost. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Nina Pop, the lives lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and those lost in centuries before. I’m not sure when we accepted death as a fact of social inequity, but it is this loss of life that we collectively need to mourn.


The Design Advocacy Group (DAG) stands in solidarity with the protestors and activists demanding racial justice. We must acknowledge that the design profession has been complicit in creating a culture and in making spaces that promote anti-blackness. As Bryan Lee Jr. stated, “For nearly every injustice in the world, there is an architecture that has been planned and designed to perpetuate it.” We must change.


All Philadelphia neighborhoods are equally entitled to fair housing, access to transit, green and recreational space, shade trees, sources of healthy food, lively commercial corridors that meet community needs and provide jobs, and a recognition of each neighborhood’s unique character that honors its history and respects its present. Community engaged urban planning, design and historic preservation can go far to accomplish all of these.


DAG is committed to improving its outreach to neighborhoods across the city, to centering the experiences of marginalized people, and to enhancing its programming to advance listening, learning, and understanding about systemic racism and the ways it has permeated design. We will be posting upcoming opportunities at www.designadvocacy.org.


DAG is also looking inward and commits to diversifying our membership and leadership to accurately reflect the population of our city. If you are passionate about design, and are interested in joining a DAG issues task force or our steering committee, or would like to nominate someone, please write to dagfellow@gmail.com.


We urge all of you in positions of power to do the same work: examine the composition of your staff and boards, and remove the ridiculous barriers that keep people from joining the conversation. Build the networks that will help you reach these goals; the talent is out there. Pay them well; add this to your budgets. As we have witnessed in the last months, leadership is important, and this is a step we can all take today.


In response to the stunning events of this year, we must shift our practices and change the conditions that perpetuate inequality in all facets of life---including the planning and design of our city.


Together we can create a more just future.


What makes you a designer is your ability to envision a different future. For me, COVID-19 has clarified the enormous need to institute policies that ensure digital inclusion for people of color. All homes should have access to the internet. It needs to be a utility, like water and gas, and be affordable. This is not a revelation to many already doing the work, but imagine what design and planning processes would be like if more people could participate in conversations just by logging in. Not having to worry about barriers such as transportation and childcare to participate. These kinds of changes will take time, but this is the kind of long-term work to which we must commit ourselves.


We must work actively to change our physical spaces and infrastructure to promote equity, and to reflect the needs of our communities. Let’s reckon fully with our history, and abolish this culture that accepts Black death, because Black lives matter.


Verónica Ayala Flores

Chair, DAG Design Equity Task Force

On behalf of the DAG Steering Committee




If you’re looking to deepen your understanding of racial justice, the organization Race Forward is doing interactive virtual trainings: https://www.raceforward.org/trainings


In 1968, the Kerner Commission report explained that poverty and institutional racism were driving inner-city violence; Smithsonian magazine describes our failure to heed its message:



A special thank you to all the organizers who worked to remove the Frank Rizzo monument and mural. There are many other monuments that need to be removed, and a reminder that the Octavius Catto statue is not enough.



A reminder that Coronavirus is not fuel for urbanist fantasies:



Donate to the Youth Art and Self Empowerment Project:



Send an email to our Councilmembers asking for a Just Philadelphia Budget:



“America’s Cities Were Designed to Oppress” by Bryan Lee, Jr.:



Make sure you’re registered to vote!