Bringing people together and fostering a sense of community has been a core tenet of our design and planning practice since our firm’s birth. In late summer 2016, Asakura Robinson staff held an inaugural event that became a monthly staple in the Austin community, still continuing today. The UP Club brings together Austin’s Urban Professionals for monthly happy hours and events focused on planning, design, and architecture. From the first event in 2016 to today, UP Club has been about fostering community and encouraging conversations between disciplines about the many intersections both within and outside of the design and planning practice.
We have hosted parks planners, urban wildlife biologists, landscape architects, sustainability experts, green infrastructure folks, transportation planners, zoning code nerds, economic and community development leaders, affordable housing advocates, engineers, urban designers, big picture and lost-in-the-details people, and visionary thinkers as featured guests of informal happy hours – simply asking them to talk to our group about “whatever the hell they want.”We’ve partnered with local firms who have hosted us and helped to plan events that allowed us to get to know their practices better.
We have cultivated panel discussions to tackle some of the hard questions in our industry – in February (women in architecture month) of 2017 we hosted a panel of women in design and planning fields and talked about how gender has been a barrier, how gender has influenced their practice, and finally, what their advice was for young women in the profession. Following suit, in June (pride month) of 2017 we hosted a panel focused on LGBTQ folks in the design and planning professions and February (black history month) of 2018 we hosted another panel focused on black designers and planners. We’re proud to have curated a recurring event that can be light-hearted some months and talk about our most pressing issues in others.
In early 2017 we created a Leadership Council for UP Club and asked designers and planners throughout the city to join us. Every quarter we meet, brainstorm fun, quirky, and meaningful events and decide who is going to plan and execute each one. Our May 2018 event was the brainchild of Asakura Robinson’s Senior Planner and Urban Ecology Studio Lead, Katie Coyne, and .dwg’s Landscape Designer, Lauren Ko. For May, UP Club partnered with local Central Texas nonprofits Tree Folks, the Shoal Creek Conservancy, and the Trail Foundation for a multi-stop event called “Look UP! An Urban Tree Crawl.” The event focused on merging two types of events – a bar crawl and tree identification walk. Tree Folks Research and Education Director, Dr. Sarah Dooling, was May’s featured guest, acting as a technical expert, a leader for our group, and someone who prompted us to think beyond our assumptions about urban design and landscape architecture as it relates to urban trees.
With seventy participants registered, we opted to create teams and treat the event like a scavenger hunt. Teams of 5-7 people were given a route map outlining two legs of a walking tour with three bar stops (a start, end, and pit stop in the middle), tree guides, and dichotomous keys. The flip side of the hand out offered a list of trees teams could encounter along each leg of the route with a goal of checking off as many trees each team could identify in the time before they had to be to the next bar. Teams were also asked to consider some key design questions such as: “What are some urban design challenges when it comes to planting and establishing trees?;” “How can we integrate more sustainable designs in the urban environment?;” and, “What were some good or bad examples of design your team encountered.”
We found the event to be a fantastic balance between educating folks about trees, thinking critically about designing for nature in urban environments, and cultivating a sense of community among participants both through the team work it took to participate and in the conversations had at the bars along the way. We hope to cultivate more conversations about how good design for urban forests mandates more biodiversity, more room for growth, and more consideration of our future climate scenario when choosing certain trees and designing tree infrastructure. Many thanks to all of our event partners!! We look forward to making this an evolving annual event.