The wall of windows abutting the
frozen Charles River let in startlingly bright winter light, illuminating a breakfast
celebration that, we hope, will become a new start-of-year tradition at
Sasaki. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 16, in honor of Dr.
King’s legacy, Sasaki welcomed two esteemed guests to engage in a discussion
around the historical and current arc of social justice in context of planning
and development in Boston:
Joseph Chow is the former Chief Risk Officer at State Street Corporation and an MIT-trained planner active in community and housing development in Boston.
Frederick Salvucci is a senior lecturer at MIT DUSP and formerly served as Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation under Governor Michael Dukakis.
Chow and Salvucci—as longtime Boston leaders who have shaped the City from the inside out—led us in lively discourse around the history and future of design and planning for social justice. Opening remarks on the legacy of Dr. King came from Sasaki landscape architect and principal Gina Ford, ASLA. And Sasaki principal Fred Merrill, FAICP moderated the panel, bringing his global urban design and planning perspective to the conversation.
Examining the complex forces at play within Boston’s own development over the past 30-40 years, through personal anecdotes about immigrant upbringings and their reasons for studying planning; first-hand accounts of the impacts of development on Boston’s North End and Chinatown communities; and strategies for broadening diversity across industries; Chow and Salvucci afforded Sasaki a unique opportunity to understand the cyclical nature of progress and be inspired to continue to advocate for the change we wish to see happen in our lifetimes.
Panelists, Joseph Chow (left) and Frederick Salvucci (right), look on as Sasaki managing principal James Miner, AICP welcomes Sasakians to the MLK Day breakfast.
“I will continue to urge everyone to be optimistic about the future,” Chow emphasized. “We have made a lot of progress on providing opportunity to people of all backgrounds and orientations over the years because of passionate people like us and people outside these doors like us. It’s no time to stop.”
Salvucci echoed these sentiments and emphasized the need to fuel growth as a means of broadening access. “When there’s growth that is when you have a real opportunity for change. What that says to me is that we need to keep the pie growing so that we behave generously, reasonably, and fairly toward one another.”
On this occasion, marking both MLK day and the week of the presidential inauguration, Chow and Salvucci challenged us to crystallize our charge as design professionals who shape not only the physical environment, but also the realities of abstract issues of access, equality, sustainability, resilience, and social justice, through the places we define. Through their stories we could begin to understand the impacts just one person can have throughout the course of one’s career. Our panelists epitomized that change is driven by both individual conviction as well as through collaboration with vastly diverse entities—from bricklayer unions, to Community Development Corporations (CDCs), to academic powerhouses, to global financial institutions—proving that together we can make incremental progress toward a common end goal.
In a time of flux, at Sasaki we’ve individually and collectively questioned what the future will hold and how we as designers and planners can advocate for the ideals we stand for (diverse as they may be) under a new administration. What our conversations today revealed, is there is no definitive answer to be found, no set plan upon which we can rely, but there certainly is work to be done. This work begins with putting one foot in front of the other, laying one brick atop another, in support of the ideas and values that fuel us.
The Impact of Cumulative Actions
Through our experiences in practice we have come to know that it is by taking many small actions in service of big ideas that we create our legacies. Progress often comes at that delicate seam where idealism meets practicality; each on its own does little good, risking frustrated paralysis on the one hand and unguided action on the other. And in the same way that small steps create landscapes that last generations or turn into buildings that graze clouds, small actions that become habits that become norms pave the way to making progress on lofty ideals.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. famously said. We commit anew, in the work we do and in the collective actions of our community of creative individuals, to do our part to advance this cause. This initial meeting of minds represents a mere beginning, but marks an important re-commitment to our shared ideals as a firm and the actionable ways we can begin to realize them.
Our Call to Action
In the year ahead, we commit ourselves to advancing diversity in our profession; sustainable and resilient design; and, greater equity and access through a succession of everyday actions and small-scale decisions. Simultaneously, we will seek the most impactful projects with visionary clients with whom we can go beyond the status quo and instead disrupt outmoded systems, structures, and processes together.
We have articulated our ambition as a first step, and we must continually inspire each other to achieve our goals. Sasaki managing principal James Miner, AICP put it best in his end of year remarks to the firm, “we will nurture our Sasaki ecosystem as an environment that continues to support our most noble aspirations. In 2017, we will continue to use our firm and our work as an example of how to be in the world, for the world. We stand up for each other and for what we believe, we encourage each to take risks, and we challenge each other to continually strive for this fundamental idea that we can, and we should, be better.”
Beginning in 2017, Sasakians are invited to join in a day of service sponsored by the firm and we are launching an initiative to celebrate the cultural high holidays important to our diverse practice. Kicking off the high holiday celebrations is an office-wide Lunar New Year celebration scheduled for later this month, which will be celebrated in both our Boston-area and Shanghai offices. In these ways and others we are embarking on a new year of serving community and celebrating diversity.