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MacArthur Genius’s Mission: Enliven the Planning Process
Next City profiles Damon Rich—former Newark planning director, founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy, and one of several urbanists to win a MacArthur "genius" grant this year.
The piece highlights the impact of Rich's career "democratizing and demystifying urban planning and design." From creating popular education tools to overhauling Newark’s zoning laws for the first time in 50 years, themes in Rich’s work include playfulness, accessibility, and civic engagement.
Whatever the project he ultimately pursues with the MacArthur grant, Rich's stated mission is to "de-stultify" key aspects of urban planning—like hearings, zoning, and regulations—for both professionals and the public.
In architecture school, he says, zoning and building codes were treated as necessary evils … It wasn’t until he was out in the real world, meeting with tenant advocates and community organizers, that he began to see these regulations as milestones on the road to civic progress. “It was a real revelation to me that these things weren’t tyrannical constraints,” he says. Quite the contrary — they were the end result of hard-won battles for social justice.