How do you measure if a design is creating a positive social impact? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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How do you measure if a design is creating a positive social impact?

SEED Network

Hollygrove Growers Pavilion in New Orleans, LA

At the recent Structures for Inclusion conference in Washington D.C., a new online tool was featured to measure the social, economic and environmental impacts of design: SEED, or Social Economic Environmental Design. SEED encourages professionals to work alongside locals who know their community and its needs. This practice of “trusting the local” is increasingly recognized as a highly effective way to sustain the health and longevity of a place or community as it develops. When a project is awarded SEED certification, it demonstrates compliance with SEED’s five guiding principles:

  • Advocate with those who have a limited voice in public life.
  • Build structures for inclusion that engage stakeholders and allow communities to make decisions.
  • Promote social equality through discourse that reflects a range of values and social identities.
  • Generate ideas that grow from place and build local capacity.
  • Design to help conserve resources and minimize waste.

For example, following Hurricane Katrina, the community of Hollygrove in New Orleans came together to create a vision for their neighborhood as part of the post-storm recovery. After several community meetings, residents envisioned a 28 acre urban farm, equiped with a market for growers to sell produce and a community owned pavillion. The Hollygrove Growers Market & Farm helped create new jobs in the recovering neighborhood, provided an alternate source of income for the community, served as an example for sustainable green building practice (such as collecting rainwater and recycling materials) and, essentially, built community capacity through engagement.

Because it’s still in its infancy, it’s hard to say how far SEED will go, and if it will ever match the popularity of LEED, the widely recognized green building standard.The concept, however, is not new.  MPC’s partner, the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) has made it their mission to create spaces that compute public input into the design process of community spaces. Through collaboration with PPS on Placemaking Chicago, MPC is tailoring this work in the Chicago region by allowing community members to share ideas that will ultimately develop a vision that resonates with their neighborhood's history, diversity and culture.

In 2011, for the first time, Chicago (and the Midwest) will host the 11th Structures for Inclusion conference. My colleague Karin Sommer and I will help plan this conference, so stay tuned for more information.   If you’re interested in becoming involved, contact me at or 312.863.6012.


  1. 1. Nicole from IKIqdxqfZJi on November 3, 2012

    Thanks for the post Eric. Loved the EcoWalk. What a great transition into/out-of sohcol. A great example of how to be educated while enjoying the scenery. And having the students participate in the planting, tending and harvesting is exemplary. So glad you are sharing this so other sohcols can be inspired too.

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