Public Life Dialogues

Gehl Institute facilitates workshops that connect grassroots organizations with design and planning practitioners to discuss social justice issues and public space.


With generous support from the Surdna Foundation, Gehl Institute’s Public Life Dialogues initiative brings together practitioner and grassroots city-makers to expand the field of social justice and public life, raise awareness of racial and economic exclusion in public space, and promote design approaches that foster more inclusive and accessible cities.

The initiative supports the work of practitioners of color who are creating more opportunity within their field, as well as dialogue between people of many backgrounds who strive to improve public spaces. Participants workshop solutions for sharing power, fostering civic participation, and dismantling exclusionary design, policy, and practice to enhance public life for all. Community-based organizations do inspiring work around public life issues of gentrification, environmental justice, disability rights, and more, but are not always invited into forums where they can directly engage with design and planning practitioners in conversation. We hope to play a role in providing this platform and amplifying the voices of community advocates.

Since beginning the Public Life Dialogues in early 2018, Gehl Institute has hosted and collaborated with key partners on programming directly related to these themes. We worked with BlackSpace on its unconference side event at the American Planning Association’s annual convening in New Orleans, entitled, “Spaces and Places.” The workshop focused on community-led initiatives in cities addressing “Equity, Inclusion, Crisis,” with an emphasis on issues facing communities of color. We additionally presented in Detroit at the Allied Media Conference; our session explored on how the design community can provide resources to public space advocates, and thereby foster more participation in the design/planning process, create long-lasting and self-determined change, and make compelling cases about the impact of their work.

What’s next?

Stemming from these experiences, we are in the process of building a module at Public x Design: From Inclusion to Equity, our annual convening on public life, hosted this year in Detroit. We will bring together hundreds architects, activists, planners, policymakers, technologists, and more to engage in conversations about the most pressing issues affecting our shared urban spaces. The direction of these presentations, workshops, and site visits by local partners will be directly informed by the themes, sentiments, and visions expressed during our earlier Public Life Dialogues events.