One quote stuck with me after the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards were given out last night to honor some very impressive projects, organizations and people. It came from Marca Bristo, the longtime president of Access Living, a cross-disability organization governed and staffed by a majority of people with disabilities.
Access Living's new headquarters at 115 W. Chicago Avenue, designed by LCM Architects, LLS, received second place in the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design because it incorporates features that "make the spaces and their functions visible, audible, chemically neutral and easy to navigate for people of all statures and levels of mobility."
The design works well, Bristo said, because the architects worked very closely with Access Living staff to understand the needs of the people who would work in the building or come to it for services. Bristo noted a South African proverb sums up the lesson:
"Nothing about us without us."
It's an anthem used often in the disabilities community but it applies equally well to community development work. If you want to do something useful in a community, it must be done – from planning to execution – with the community.