Key Takeaways from the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Conference

January 5, 2023
Joseph Baker Project Captain

NOMA’s UNPLUGGED conference was held in Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 26-30, 2022, “honoring the achievements of its members, learning from industry peers and departing with a clear commitment and renewed energy to support the diversification of the architecture profession.”

With over 1,200 NOMA members, allies and students in attendance and more than 50 educational seminars and talks, I walked away feeling equipped and energized to positively design for the future.

Reflecting on how designing intentionally has the impact to positively affect a community, below are three main takeaways from NOMA’s UNPLUGGED conference:

Participatory Design
Expert designers are no longer looking inwards for design inspiration, but rather tapping into the outside community for perspective.

Design focused on the individuals living in the said community, is derived from a deep and direct understanding of their needs and wants.

Moreover, investment in the understanding of the public realm’s wants and needs leads to a more equitable, engaged and sustainable community.

There are many different methods to evaluate the desires and demands of a community. Some of which are:

  • Surveys
  • Gameboarding 
  • Focus Groups

Public Space to Build Community
When it comes to community, we have to dig deep to understand how shared space plays a role in shared success.

It was found that spaces that were well kept and responsive to needs led to individuals being more likely to participate and be good stewards of the community.

Even small investments like proper lighting were instrumental in creating a space that fostered the wellbeing of the individuals who reaped the benefits of a shared space.

In one case study from Reimagining the Civic Commons, research found that those who used well-lit parks were more likely to participate in elections, be better stewards of their neighborhoods and contribute to public life, while public spaces with broken lights were associated with a 20 percent lower perception of public safety (Budds, Curbed).

Racialized Landscape
It is important to consider how policies and decision makers impact the spaces in which minorities and low-income residents live.

In a recent study by the NAACP, Fumes Across The Fence Line, researchers demonstrated the health impacts on African American communities living within the radius of air pollutants from oil and gas facilities.

Specifically, the top three states with the highest population of African Americans living within a half mile radius of an oil or gas facility are:

Documenting and raising awareness is the first crucial step in addressing this issue. Quarterly environmental reports of health risk factors at vulnerable communities and publishing findings to residents, policy makers, landlords and facilities operators is essential.

Plus, any new residential projects in African American communities should undergo thorough environmental justice reporting to document any public health issues, socio-economic trends, pedestrian pathways and the cultural identity of a place. One solution in upkeep of these residential projects is to assemble a focus group including community leaders, EPA officers, landlords and facility operators.