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Profile: Design Trust for Public Space

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The Design Trust for Public Space is a nonprofit organization with a lofty agenda: improving public space in New York City. Its mission is to improve “the design, utility, and understanding of New York City’s parks, plazas, streets, and public buildings.”

That’s no small undertaking in any city, particularly one the size and with the population density of New York. But Design Trust achieves its goal by pairing city agencies and community groups with the right talent from the private sector creating a collaborative effort for positive change.

Design Agenda

For each project brought to The Design Trust, the group has specific goals: to build consensus among key stakeholders, to enlist New York’s top private-sector talent; to engage a diverse audience; and to deliver the vision and tools for long-term success. And always, the goal is to have a real impact on New York City.

The group partners with municipal agencies like the Art Commission of the City of New York and the NYC Department of Design & Construction, neighborhood groups like the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Friends of the High Line, and public interest organizations like the Brooklyn Public Library and the Trust for Public Land to achieve its continuing agenda for the betterment of New York City through progressive, innovative design.

The varied projects have resulted in publications, websites, exhibitions, and symposia that have brought the vision of concerned community and city groups as well as fellows to life.

Projects in Action

The projects the Design Trust takes on are as varied as can be and a fine example of the many ways the term “design” can be interpreted. They’re also proof of the colossal effect good design can have on an environment.

To give you an idea of the types of projects the group has nurtured: Made in Midtown created an “open-ended, independent study of the value of the Garment District to the fashion industry and to the city as a whole;” Five Borough Farm developed “strategies, evaluation tools and policies to support urban agricultural activity on a citywide scale;” and Park Design for the 21st Century created “a set of sustainable guidelines for New York City’s 29,000 acres of parkland.”

Design Trust Fellowships

One of the aspects I find to be so inspirational about this program is that it opens its doors to more than just architects and interior designers, welcoming ideas from photographers, writers, community groups, public agencies, and other nonprofit organizations. Once a project is selected, Design Trust works with its partners to determine the type of expertise needed to make the project a success. It’s a true example of a community coming together to literally design a better future.

To date, fellowship stipends have averaged between $5,000 and $15,000. In most cases, the project also provides the opportunity for fellows to publish project findings.

Past & Current Fellows

The best way to determine if your idea or your particular area of expertise could be a good match for the Design Trust is to take a look at both the projects and the people who have been involved in them. For example, for the Made in Midtown project a total of five Design Trust fellows were involved in bringing the project to life: filmmaker Jordan Alport was the video fellow, graphic designer Glen Cummings was the graphic design fellow, the team at urban design firm Interboro were the urban design fellows, writer Tom Vanderbilt was the journalism fellow, and urban planner Sarah Williams was the urban planning fellow.

This particular project is just one great example of how many people with differing backgrounds can come together for change. It’s also a fine example of how Design Trust pools its resources to put together the best team for each individual project.

Becoming a Design Trust Fellow

New projects are selected every 18 - 24 months through an open call for proposals. One to three projects are typically selected during each award cycle.

There is no specific application process for becoming a fellow primarily because the scope of each project requires a different combination of skills and expertise. The Design Trust recommends interested parties sign up for its monthly e-newsletters where all new fellowship calls are outlined.

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