KELLEY OKLESSON

My career defining moments occurred during my tenure at the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC), which happened to be my first “real” design job after receiving my Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Maryland.  NDC is one of the longest-standing social impact design non-profits in the United States. The organization was formed 51 years ago by a group of architects in Baltimore looking to help low and moderate income communities to rebuilt after the riots and white flight that swept the city in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. They were inspired by a call to arms speech given on June 24th, 1968 by Whitney M. Young, Executive Director of the Urban League, that urged members of the design community to take responsibility for the unprecedented urban disintegration.  Whitney Young was a true visionary because he understood that in order to make sustainable change, a paradigm shift in thinking was needed. This historic movement initiated in the 1960’s, continues to motivate and inspire design professionals to seek justice for all.

These sentiments informed every aspect of how NDC approaches design. Through my work, I grew to understand the intersectionality of fields like Politics, Economics, Public Health, Ecology, Engineering, Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture (to name few). Through this understanding I was able work efficiently and effectively on behalf of communities that traditionally could not afford professional design services.  My experiences taught me how to be an honest broker, how to actively listen, how to advocate for exceptional design for all.

Working with the Neighborhood Design Center shaped me as a woman, a designer, a community member, a human being.  Although this may sound like a love letter to the Neighborhood Design Center, it is truly a love letter for the profession of Landscape Architecture.  I consider myself lucky to have personally experienced such a powerful approach to our profession, especially so early on in my career. I have a tremendous sense of optimism for the future – I have seen what radical acts of love can do for a community and an individual.

CREDIT: Matt Roth
CREDIT: Matt Roth

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