Toni L. Griffin is the founder of urbanAC, llc, based in New York, specializing in leading complex, trans-disciplinary planning, and urban design projects for multi-sector clients in cities with long histories of spatial and social injustice. Recent urban planning projects that showcase how the practice transforms legacy issues of population and economic decline into innovative places for inclusion, prosperity, and equity include the Chouteau Greenway Framework Plan, Detroit Future City, and MKE United: AGreater Downtown Action Agenda. The practice has also served as a strategic advisor to mayors, civic leaders in Washington, DC., Memphis, St. Louis looking to design comprehensive urban planning frameworks that integrate land use, economic growth, capacity building, and power-sharing. Recently, urbanAC has been working with clients including the City of Philadelphia Rebuild initiative and the Heinz Endowments to develop theory of change models and inclusive criteria for investing in civic infrastructure. Additionally, Toni has served as program advisor and facilitator to the Surdna Foundation and Heinz Endowments to more deeply embed the principles of just urbanism into their funding criteria and evaluation of social impact design practices. Toni is also Professor in Practice of Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and leads The Just City Lab, a research platform for developing values-based planning methodologies and tools, including the 2017 Just City Index and a framework of indicators and metrics for evaluating social justice in public space. The 2015 Urban Life and Urban Justice in Public Plazas study developed an elaborate framework of indicators and metrics to assess how the conditions of civic life and social justice in several New York City Public plazas. Toni is also co-editor of The Just City Index: Volume One, a collection of 26 essays by thought leaders representing 22 different cities and 5 countries, offering their propositions for ways to acknowledge injustice and promote greater justice in cities.
The public murder of George Floyd on a public street by an officer of the public, witnessed by the public, brought about public pain, protests, and pleas for publicly elected leaders to change public policy that would put an end to the public dehumanization of black bodies... in the public.
Publicly expressing Black pain can render reactions of solidarity, healing, and empowerment or exhaustion, guilt, and helplessness. However, Black voice can be a powerful instrument of change—used as a currency to be saved or spent or as a carrier of demand and solution. The past year has unearthed untold public knowledge that gives additional context to the root of what drives Black voice: its trauma, its demands, and its joy. Making this knowledge more public can help to inform how we understand and engage one another, how we reframe harmful Black narratives that shape the public perception. and how the power of Black creativity and resiliency as a political device can produce spaces of Black-centered freedom and liberation.
This exhibition ofcollages represents the confrontation of pain and quest for joy found in the Black public realm of Chicago’s Mid-South Side. Each collage, which was assembled by hand and digitally reproduced, illustrates the relationship between publicness for Black Americans and the current urban landscape of vacancy, from southern migration in response to public denial, the public scars left by urban renewal’s land mutilation, and the relentless pursuit of public freedoms in the public realm. The series offers a reflection on the contests that exist over land, space, and place alongside the aspiration of Black Americans to simply occupy and be carefree in public.
Founded by Toni L. Griffin, Urban American City as a practice views these land occupation contests as the core urban problem that design and planning interventions must address in order to realize more just and community-wealth-building outcomes for Chicago’s Black neighborhoods and beyond.