the Neighborhood Design Center

About the Neighborhood Design Center

Building equity through community-led design since 1968.

What We Do

We support the growth of healthy, equitable neighborhoods through community-engaged design and planning services.

By providing the tools, expertise, and partnerships necessary to realize neighborhood visions, we support broad participation in the evolution of the built environment.

NDC projects are collaborations between residents, community stakeholders, design professionals, local government agencies, fellow nonprofits, and our staff. Together we lay the groundwork for improving blocks, renovating parks and school grounds, reclaiming abandoned structures for community use, and revitalizing commercial districts. 

We believe that these unlikely partnerships provide mutual benefit, offering invaluable on-the-job training and exposure to members of the design community and positioning historically disinvested neighborhoods to attract future investment.

Why Place Matters

Our work focuses on public and shared spaces—the environments we occupy together. Why? Because well-designed public spaces make communities safer, happier and healthier. In a 2017 study in Philadelphia, researchers found that greening vacant lots in neighborhoods below the poverty line resulted in:

  • 29.9% reduction in gun violence

  • 21.9% reduction in burglaries

  • 13.3% reduction in crime over all

In a survey of people living near the greened lots, researchers found:

  • 41.5% fewer participants reported feelings of depression

  • 50.9% fewer participants reported feelings of worthlessness

Our Impact

92%

of NDC partners said our process strengthened their community association

5k

we design over 5,000 new tree plantings each year

200k

each year our volunteers invest more than $200,000 worth of hours

Our History

On June 24, 1968, in the midst of the civil rights movement, Whitney M. Young, Executive Director of the Urban League, stepped to the podium to address the 100th Convention of the American Institute of Architects.

“You are distinguished by your thundering silence” in the face of urban disintegration, he challenged. “You share responsibility for the mess we are in.” His words were not comforting, nor were they meant to be. “Get involved in helping cities rebuild,” he said, “or risk the consequences”. From Young’s challenge sprang a national call to arms among architects, and nonprofit “design centers” opened in cities across the United States.

In the fall of that same year, a group of architects in Baltimore took this challenge and began working with low and moderate income communities to rebuild after the riots and white flight that swept the city in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Thus was the birth of the Neighborhood Design Center.

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1. NDC’s first Executive Director, Doris Johnson.2. An early NDC Baltimore location in Mount Vernon. 3. Early NDC staffers and community members at 26ers Community Park in Baltimore.4. Volunteers have powered NDC since day one.

The volunteer architects started simply, working with residents and a few nonprofits to develop for community centers, playgrounds, affordable housing, and neighborhood master plans. The goals of the architects were to use the projects as a community organizing tool, a means of advocating for urban development, and as a tool for increasing investment in Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

By the early 1970s, what was strictly a volunteer organization could not keep up with the growing demand for services. Funding was secured through the efforts of Charles Lamb, FAIA (founding partner with the architectural firm RTKL) and NDC hired its first paid staff to manage the requests and projects. Since then, the office has functioned in this manner – maintaining a small number of paid staff that are supported by a large number of volunteers.

In 1993, NDC expanded outside of Baltimore, opening a second office in Prince George’s County to serve the older, lower-income communities surrounding Washington DC. The expansion of NDC allowed the organization to draw from a regional volunteer base—from Northern Virginia to suburban Baltimore—as well as assist various statewide initiatives.

Our Process

At NDC, our community partners are our experts. Since 1968, we’ve practiced co-design, a process built on participatory decision making at all levels.

Collaborative Design

We bring everyone to the table. The more inclusive the process, the better the design, the stronger the buy-in, and the longer-lasting the project.

Is your organization ready to get started?