Black Lives Matter Framework Update: February 2021

Since creating our Black Lives Matter Framework in summer 2020, MVVA has been examining and acting on ways that we can be actively anti-racist in our practice and how we can help diversify our profession. This update describes some of our recent efforts within our various communities, as well as our commitment to an office culture that supports equity and inclusion for MVVA staff.

We have chosen February, which is Black History Month, as our time to share our work to date and our plan for this upcoming year. This is our first, but not our final, update on the equity work we’ve been doing at MVVA—we will continue to provide updates moving forward.

Where did we begin in 2020?

  1. Listening to Each Other

    1. Over the past summer and fall, MVVA organized two independent working groups composed of staff from both offices that represented a range of positions and identities within the firm.

      • The Working Group on Hiring discussed a range of obstacles to diversity within landscape architecture and proposed new measures MVVA could enact to ensure that we are supporting justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in our office as well as in our profession. This group also began thinking about broadening our recruitment strategies and how this might work in tandem with staff retention groundwork, prioritizing mentorship initiatives for staff at different points in their career development.

      • The Working Group on Community Outreach polled MVVA staff to gauge interest in different types of community outreach, such as educational outreach to youth, pro-bono design work, physical volunteering opportunities, and advocacy through research, writing, and sponsorship. This group then created a variety of project proposals for 2021.

    2. Firmwide, MVVA has been examining the community engagement techniques we’ve employed in the past, as well as different outreach approaches, to help adapt our practice through and beyond the pandemic.

  2. Listening to Outside Experts

    1. Several members of our leadership team, including both Partners and Principals, participated in online racial equity training seminars over the summer. We prioritized this effort so we could begin from a common baseline of mutual respect as we move through projects, procure work, and support clients and employees of all intersections.

    2. MVVA hired an outside consultant to perform an equity assessment to help us better understand our assets, challenges, and identify our priority areas of work for 2021.

    3. Our staff has reached out to high schools and professional landscape architecture programs to look for ways that we can create opportunities to diversify our profession and support the good work they are doing. We are internally strategizing our support and started delivering on some of their needs as identified during our continuing conversations. We have begun to understand some of the unique yet significant challenges to entering and staying in the profession across cultural groups and economic strata, while prioritizing education and pathways to design careers in our equity work.

What is our plan for 2021?

While we uplift Black landscapes, practitioners, and places, we want to be sure we consider a full range of equity work, both internally and externally. Our website and social media accounts will reflect our commitments, our work and values, and the many ways that these reflect a commitment to experience, equity, and environment.

  1. Internal Equity Work

    1. Move forward with the recommendations of the equity assessment, once they are available.

    2. Company-wide workshops on diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) with the goal of supporting all staff.

    3. Provide ongoing DEI learning opportunities for all staff, similar to other professional development training provided by the firm.

    4. Continued equity coaching for key leaders and staff, with alignment across firm practices and principles.

    5. Continued efforts to achieve DEI in our hiring and professional development at all levels.

    6. An ongoing examination of ways that office culture can better support all staff, with an emphasis on DEI.

    7. Creating training seminars that provide broad access for professional development. Topics include design, administration, job development, technical problem solving, project management, and technology training for those who need or want to expand their skillsets.

    8. Identify resources that can facilitate new conversations within the office. For instance, MVVA has offered to provide a copy of Black Landscapes Matter (edited by Walter Hood and Grace Tada) to all interested staff members.

  2. External Equity Work

    1. Strengthening new connections with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), such as Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T, and other schools that have not been part of our networks in the past, through lectures, job fairs, reviews, internships, and other types of outreach.

    2. Sharing the work we do as landscape architects with high school students in design-oriented programs and introducing them to the profession we love.

    3. Collaborating with Banana Kelly, a Community Improvement Association in the South Bronx, on community gardens as part of the Neighborhoods Now initiative, organized by the Van Alen Institute and the Urban Design Forum.

    4. Providing pro-bono design services to a project in the Chelsea neighborhood of Boston, in conjunction with COG Design, a nonprofit that connects community groups with landscape designers.

    5. Continuing to seek out new opportunities to catalyze greater diversity in our profession.