The Public Interest Design Program at the University of Texas at Austin (UTPID) is a summer program that is supported by the Center for Sustainable Development within the School of Architecture. The primary aim of the Public Interest Design Program is to connect students from a myriad of disciplines interested in the relationship between public service and the built environment to projects that address real community needs. Through rigorous exploration of how each of these terms affects design, UTPID challenges students to develop theoretical and practical skills to respond to the ethical complications of engaging the public and its spaces.
Public Interest Design emerged out of a call for the design professions to directly respond to the needs of underserved communities.
Specifically, PID attempts to raise the question of equity within the design professions and the extent to which the design professions -- from architecture, landscape architecture, and planning -- apply expertise to issues of everyday life.
Equity, one of the three fundamental factors of the triple bottom line of sustainability, is frequently ignored and poorly understood by the decision makers and stakeholders in the design process. In light of rapidly depleting natural resources, famines, natural disasters, and political tensions, it is critical to create sustainable communities that are healthy, prosperous and equitable places where people can live, work, and socialize.
By developing local projects, UTPID employs the tools of community-based design as a platform for addressing social and physical specifics of place while simultaneously contributing to the larger national discussion about the experience the public brings to architecture and planning discourse and practice. UTPID thus operates in dialogue with communities within Austin, Texas, as well as with other similar emerging programs.
A driving motivation behind all the efforts of the UTPID program is to build and nurture the connections between students, movement thinkers, leading practitioners, and the larger academic community. The program aims to support the work of partner organizations and collaborate with those conducting similarly-structured programs across the country, in hopes of building a supportive network on multiple levels and learning from a rich exchange of best (and worst) practices.
The UTPID program draws from and leverages a network of community-based partnerships that allow for innovative approaches to seemingly complex problems. Weaving the built works with policy solutions that might affect more systemic issues, the PID projects attempt to have a lasting impact in the Austin community. Past projects build on one another; for example, the PID 2011 Alley Greening project built off of the ongoing work of the Alley Flat Initiative (AFI) – an award-winning collaboration of the UTSOA Center for Sustainable Development, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation (GNDC), and the Austin Community Design and Development Corporation (ACDDC) – which has been in existence at the CSD since 2005. In addition to the built interventions of the Alley Greening Project that summer, participating students developed a community tool-kit, "An Action Guide to Greening Austin's Alleys," that has now empowered several City departments to join together to develop a more extensive Alley Regeneration Demonstration Project that will be realized within the year.