It is an inspiring time for public space advocates.

Public x Design brought together a diverse group of people who contribute to the vitality of the public life of our cities. This year’s theme was “From Inclusion to Equity.”

We asked ourselves and each other:

What role can design play in shaping more inclusive public life in public spaces? How are design and planning practitioners implicated in our increasingly unequal cities? And how can design and planning practitioners best work with and for community partners to achieve their visions?

Together, we devised solutions for cultivating healthy, equitable, thriving public life.

Our program featured curated site visits, shared learning experiences, applied policy analyses, and hands-on exercises developed in collaboration with Gehl Institute, our program committee, and participants. We shared ideas, forged new relationships, and transformed the way we co-create our cities through defining and designing public space that promotes a vibrant public life.


Public x Design: From Inclusion to Equity addressed a myriad of sub-topics that help us expand our conversation and our thinking around these challenges. We are seeked proposals for sessions that address the following:


What role can public space design and stewardship play in addressing racial injustice in our cities? To answer this question, we will engage with ongoing histories of exclusion in the public realm and share policy and community-led solutions for making it more welcoming and dignified.


Public x Design is a platform for people who are looking to activate different inclusionary practices on the ground. We will explore and share strategies that have succeeded in meeting people where they are and amplifying community voices. What kinds of design outcomes result from such processes? Together we will workshop our models for how we rebuild trust, redistribute power, and catalyze development for shared prosperity.


There is an urgent need to make public spaces more inviting and physically accessible for young children, older adults, and people with disabilities. We will exchange design and policy approaches that shape our cities to be more navigable, enjoyable, and supportive for all.


Even well-intended efforts at improving public life in public spaces can have unforeseen negative results. Together, we will look to acknowledge and learn from mistakes and improve our processes.


Advancements in technology should do more than improve the efficiency of cities; they must also address experience, civic engagement, and justice in the public realm. We discussed the ethics and applicability of new methods for data collection and standardization, applied research, and incorporating public life data into decision-making processes.



We chose Detroit, a UNESCO City of Design, and a Knight Foundation Community, to locate this year’s conference because we are inspired by the energy and enthusiasm that Detroit is investing in improving the connectivity and vibranc of its public spaces and public life. From Maurice Cox, transforming the City’s planning department into one more reflective of the people it serves, to the multitude of grassroots and creative forces shaping Detroit from the bottom up, Detroiters are inspirational in how they are shaping the future of their city, and navigating worries about gentrification as they do so. Public x Design united an international audience with local talent to explore the city’s public spaces, challenges, and triumphs.



Abir Ali, Director of Design & Culture, The Platform
Kimberly Driggins, Board Chair, Gehl Institute/ City of Detroit
Alejandro Echeverri, Architect and Urban Planner, Director, Centre for Urban and Environmental Studies (Urbam) at EAFIT University
Maria Galarza, Urban Designer , City of Detroit, PDD
Garlin Gilchrist, Executive Director, Center for Social Media Responsibility, University of Michighan
Danny Harris, Director, San Jose, Knight Foundation
Ritchie Harrison, Extension Specialist, Michigan State University
Lauren Hood, Activist, Speaker, Entrepreneur,
Katy Locker, Director, Detroit, Knight Foundation
Anna Muessig, Project Manager, Gehl
Marc Norman, Assoc. Professor of Practice in Urban Planning & Architecture, Univ of Michigan, Taubman College
Michelle O’Connor, Founder, Applied Theater Collective
Ceara O’Leary, Senior Designer & Project Director, DCDC/University of Detroit, Mercy
Lynn Ross, Founder, Spirit for Change Consulting
Ellie Schneider, Director, Advocacy and Operations, Design Core Detroit