Resilience By Design

Resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.


This month Thunder Valley CDC was delighted to be a host to the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows for one of their annual retreats. The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship pairs early-career architectural designers with local community development organizations, where they facilitate an inclusive approach to development to create green, sustainable, and affordable communities. We interviewed a few of the fellows to hear about their work, their thoughts on visiting Pine Ridge, and what they hope for the future. From all of them came a common theme: resilience. 

“I think this visit is timely because Puerto Rico is going through this hurricane right now so my mind is really focused on resiliency,” says Irene Figueroa Ortiz, a Rose Fellow working at A Better City, but originally from Puerto Rico. “I see a lot of development issues in Puerto Rico are really similar to the challenges I see here. Structures of oppression have made a lot of our people feel disempowered –– I mean, planning and design has not been led by our communities, but fully led by the federal government. Our communities’ destinies in deciding how our public spaces look have been taken away from us and basically designed by policy.”

Nick Satterfield, who is working as a Rose Fellow with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority shares his perspective on being, as he describes it, “In some ways being the face of that injustice, since I am the government now.” However, he sees a lot of potential for community impact in his position, when the approach acknowledges a community’s experience. “Nick Tilsen talking about the role of healing and spiritual work was important,” he says. “In New Orleans people are still impacted by racial issues, economic inequality, and the very real impact that Hurricane Katrina had. We just saw two extremely powerful hurricanes go one either side of New Orleans and seeing people anticipate reliving that experience has given me a really intimate view of that pain. So for me, coming at this from a healing perspective, we have to be open to hearing peoples’ pain as we transform not only physical systems, but also the processes in place. I think a lot of times people in power talk about ‘you need to take ownership of your life and you need to take ownership of this or that’ but I think that we at the government level really need to take ownership of the processes we created & we need to figure out how to heal as a population.”


In any development work that there are layers of planning, design, and policy that factor into a project’s feasibility, but community engagement is not a consistent thread throughout mainstream development practices. In cities where redevelopment is focused on profit, often the communities directly impacted have little involvement in what happens to the spaces they call home. In the Bay Area, where housing for the booming technology industry is pushing long time residents of low-income neighborhoods out to make way for higher paying tenants, gentrification is increasing inequity.

“I don’t work so much with physical infrastructure as I do social infrastructure, weaving threads of trust between different communities,” says Annie Ledbury, who is a Rose Fellow with the East Asian Local Development Corporation in Oakland. “There is a shift in the way people perceive Oakland, so there is a kind of cultural digging in your heels happening. But there are ways to embed your culture in the walls because there a really rich culture in Oakland –– lots of metal workers, dancers, artists –– and public space is a way to recognize that and really honor it. So I really appreciated the way artists are a common thread here as well.”

Annie is referring to the intentional inclusion of art as a facet of community development. In addition to our general community engagement work for developing our 34-acre Thunder Valley Regenerative Community, we have a designated Artist Advisory Council made up of Lakota musicians, culture bearers, painters, jewelry makers, sculptors, and more. This team helps to create uniquely Lakota buildings, public spaces, and aesthetics in our design, which is key to showing our local community that this space is really, truly theirs.

“In Puerto Rico I think we are reclaiming that process,” says Irene. “Figuring out how to create space that reflects our cultural values, our spiritual values, our relationship with space. So hearing Nick [Tilsen] explain how you translate your cultural understandings of space into site planning –– mapping assets and how you transform assets into a planning strategy –– those are lessons of resilience, right there.”

“Who decides what our streets, public spaces, and buildings look like, feel like, and how they work? Who lives in and uses them?” asks Annie. “Learning how to get a lot of strong voices to come to consensus and figure out what the bright spots are in the neighborhood and lift those up is what lots of communities have been doing for a long time, but now it’s called ‘creative placemaking.’ That’s how we’re building resiliency –– through connections with people and giving voice and vision in public spaces.”


In Thunder Valley CDC’s years of community engagement, cultural representation been expressed through not only aesthetic design, but also respect for the land and environment. Energy efficient, ecofriendly homes have consistently been a local priority. Families not only want to have lower energy bills each month, but want to have a lower negative impact on the earth, especially with climate change being a serious threat to future generations. 

“The reality is that oncoming climate change and the varied obstacles each community will confront as a result, shows that equity and sustainability aren’t abstractly related, they’re directly related,” says Nick. “What really strikes me is the need for a culture shift in the mentality surrounding sustainability and connection to the environment. One of your mantras is People, Planet, Prosperity and I think that is really important, whether it’s from the top where the policy makers are concerned or boots on the ground in communities.” 

On the community level, we have worked to honor the local priority of environmental consciousness by designing the Regenerative Community with the climate change predictions for 50 years in mind. And by actively, intentionally considering our impact on the earth, we’re not only healing the planet, but also ourselves. Sustainable systems help ensure longevity, and ultimately, make us as resilient as possible. 

“Inequity is a weakness in our ecosystem, and that’s an issue of resilience,” says Irene. “So although I don’t know what my exact next steps are, after this visit I definitely feel empowered to go back and inject the idea of equity and fairness into my work. I feel more conscious and driven to make that happen.”


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