Screen grab of virtual lecture

Want to Think Like an Urban Designer? Ask Ellen Dunham-Jones

Want to Think Like an Urban Designer? Ask Ellen Dunham-Jones

Wes McRae | Mar 27, 2023 — Atlanta, GA

When 100 Ukrainian women wanted to learn how to rebuild their country, they asked Ellen Dunham-Jones.

Professor Dunham-Jones, director of the Master of Science in Urban Design program, was contacted by STEM IS FEM to introduce urban design concepts to the program's young women, age 15-22.

"STEM IS FEM is a Ukrainian organization that encourages more young women to go into STEM fields," Dunham-Jones said. "Each year, they ask the students what STEM field to highlight."

"There was absolutely no question this year. They said we want to learn how to rebuild our cities and towns."

In April, when the young women will present their reconstruction proposals for three Ukrainian cities, STEM IS FEM asked Dunham-Jones to be part of the final event.

"[Dunham-Jones] has been an integral part of our project, providing our audience with invaluable knowledge and experience," Iryna Cherhenets, project manager for STEM IS FEM, said.

Dunham-Jones's lecture, "How to Think Like an Urban Designer," highlighted how different designs can support different public values. "Good design guides how a city grows to become healthy, just, and resilient," she said, "and public space is the organizing framework for that."

Thinking Like a Designer, Long-Term and Short

Side-by-side photographs of two different housing projects
Examples of housing projects: the Soviet-era Solomenka project, Kyiv (left), prioritizes affordability and equality, while the Sankt Eric project, Stockholm (right), prioritizes diverse households and public space.

To illustrate this type of thinking, Dunham-Jones compared pictures of a Soviet public housing project to those of a housing project from Stockholm.

"We can see the Soviet era one is prioritizing affordability and a notion of equality, because every single unit is identical. It's not really prioritizing usable public space."

"The Stockholm example provides a diversity of housing types, providing a recognition of different types of households. And it's absolutely privileging the public space."

Dunham-Jones told the young women it's up to the citizens of Ukraine to decide how to rebuild. "This is how you should start thinking. What are the values you want to express? What are the values of the new Ukraine?"

Along with this long-term theory-based view, Dunham-Jones discussed short-term, practical ways to start the process. "Tactical Urbanism is the phrase we use. It's not going to happen all at once, but there are lots of ways to use what you have."

"Working on gathering places, pop-up shops and services, places to heal, and recycling buildings and materials will be crucial in the near future."

Optimistic Outlook Despite Conditions

Student notes in sketch format
From: Jenia Polvektova, STEM IS FEM
Student notes in sketch format

Dunham-Jones said the young women's outlook was optimistic. "The organization is in Kyiv, and they have generators. Most of the girls are in Poland or other places, so they attend courses virtually."

"I loved hearing them talk with such confidence about how they're going to rebuild. They said at first it was extremely devastating. Now, they said they're allied and unified as a community."

"That is how they're going to rebuild their cities."

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