We believe that early and consistent engagement with stakeholders, specific user groups, and community members provides invaluable feedback to our design process. But what does this look like during a global pandemic?

Our Dekum Court Affordable Housing project with Home Forward is a redevelopment of an existing housing community in Northeast Portland, and the project began with an initial three-month master planning phase to determine the site location, project vision, and program requirements. Our team recognized early on that extensive feedback would be required from current Dekum residents and community members in order to understand existing concerns and future aspirations for the new development. A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) was established to meet with the project team monthly via Zoom, which was composed of 30 individuals including stakeholders, current residents, neighbors, and community members.

Our work with the CAC included a visioning workshop to establish the project's Guiding Principles to guide the design and measure overall success. The CAC meetings included virtual presentations by the project team which were shared with meeting attendees in advance, so individuals had an opportunity to formulate thoughtful responses to specific design questions, provide feedback, and discuss topics in smaller breakout groups during the meetings. We also worked with meeting facilitators and translators to ensure that all voices were heard, and ideas were communicated successfully. The meeting topics included project goal setting, site plan design, equity and accessibility, property management issues, resident services, and unit plan design.

LEVER designer Samantha Schuermann has been a key team member in the Dekum Court engagement and design process. She says, “The CAC meetings held us accountable in designing spaces that serve the needs of Dekum residents, as well as their neighbors and the larger NE Portland community. The impact goes well beyond the meetings and knowing the folks who will be living in the spaces we are designing motivates us to be advocates for the residents through thoughtful, inclusive design decisions.”

Our engagement process with the Dekum community has proved to be incredibly successful in developing a shared vision and capturing focused feedback from a large, diverse stakeholder group with many different perspectives, all through virtual platforms.