GENIUS! FORMER NEWARK PLANNING DIRECTOR WINS PRESTIGIOUS MACARTHUR FELLOWSHIP
Published October 11, 2017 | Andaiye Taylor
Damon Rich, 2017 MacArthur Fellow, Newark, NJ, September 18, 2017. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation via Hector
Damon Rich, who served as Newark’s planning director from 2008 until 2015, has been awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.
The MacArthur Fellows Program, commonly known as the “Genius Grant,” is awarded annually to about two dozen U.S. citizens or residents who have demonstrated “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The $650,000 prize, which is decided based on nominations, not applications, is awarded in quarterly installments over five years.
The MacArthur foundation credited Rich, who is an architect by training, with “creating vivid and witty strategies to help residents exercise power within the public and private processes that shape our cities.” He had barely graduated from college when he founded the Center for Urban Pedagogy in New York City in 1997. The non-profit “uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement.”
As Newark’s planning director, Rich left an indelible mark on the city by being the lead author of the city’s first zoning law in more than 60 years after nearly two years of public meetings, community workshops that unpacked the ins and outs of zoning for residents, and multiple rounds of public revisions. The law was meant to be more user-friendly, community-informed and rooted in modern use cases and goals for the city.
Rich also lead the design for Essex County Riverfront Park in Newark and helmed the city’s first public mural program, for which he produced a report outlining the program’s goals, process and outcomes 2014.
After leaving his role in Newark, Rich co-founded Hector Design Studio, an independent design firm specializing in urban design, planning and civic arts with an emphasis on community engagement and organizing.
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