Celebrating 10 Years of Community Impact with Citizen HKS

Celebrating 10 Years of Community Impact with Citizen HKS

A decade ago, HKS launched Citizen HKS, an impact initiative dedicated to uplifting people through public interest design and community service. 

Fueled by the passion HKS employees have for taking local action and using their design skills to positively influence lives, Citizen HKS has grown into a global change agent during the last ten years. 

Our teams have provided pro bono design services for nearly 50 projects worldwide. We have volunteered almost 33,000 hours during annual Month of Service events in our home cities and raised $570,000 to support neighbors in need. Altogether, Citizen HKS has aided more than 870 community organizations including social services non-profits, health clinics, educational and recreational centers, and food banks. 

As we face urgent climate and social challenges across the globe, HKS believes that creating, connecting and contributing through Citizen HKS is foundational to our Environmental, Social and Governance approaches. Through this work, we have been able to build relationships with clients that empower our business to benefit more people and create lasting change in the architecture, design and construction industries. 

HKS is proud to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Citizen HKS by highlighting five themes of impact that provide a snapshot of how our teams have been helping solve pressing public health and social equity challenges. 

Food Access

The United Nations estimates that a quarter of the world’s population doesn’t know where their next meal will come from, and that food insecurity is worsening globally with each passing year. Citizen HKS teams have worked to broaden food access for people experiencing hunger and nutritional challenges in cities across the United States and beyond.  

A key project that exemplifies our impact is the Urban Food Studio at Capital Area Food Bank, which opened in 2015. A flexible, all-season space and learning environment for gardening, cooking and nutrition workshops, the structure supports the food bank’s mission to combat hunger and food insecurity in the Washington, D.C. region. In addition to this vital project, Citizen HKS has also provided design services for North Texas Food Bank in Balch Springs, Texas and TNC Food Bank in Orlando, Florida, among others. 

Currently, a Citizen HKS team is designing a new home for Hunger Busters, a nonprofit committed to mitigating food insecurity among Dallas Independent School District students. The vibrant, sustainable food preparation facility is also a Design for Freedom pilot program project — the team is researching and selecting building materials manufactured without forced labor. The building will serve as a beacon of change supporting those who are food insecure in the Dallas region as well as a global symbol of how designers can alleviate human rights abuses in architecture and construction. 

Hunger Busters in Dallas, TX

Expanding beyond design efforts, HKS staff members have participated in annual Month of Service food drives and meal packaging and distribution events across the U.S., working with organizations including Atlanta Community Food Bank, Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Phoenix’s St. Vincent de Paul, and Houston’s Trinity Gardens Food Pantry to disseminate meals to people in need. 

Women’s Health

The UN estimates that a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth every two minutes worldwide and in recent years, maternal mortality rates increased or stagnated globally. These alarming statistics are compelling HKS designers to take action to enhance women’s and family health. We have taken on this challenge by engaging in Month of Service activities and pro bono design work with local health services organizations and non-profits such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities and Texas-based LifeSavers Foundation, where a Citizen HKS team is currently designing a mobile clinic that will travel so providers can give direct care to women and children in disadvantaged communities. 

Citizen HKS’s most transformational work supporting women’s health has occurred with two hospital designs in Uganda. First, Kachumbala Maternity Unit opened in 2017. The unit houses two delivery suites and a seven-bed postnatal ward significantly increases access to maternal care in a rural area, including a 29% increase in deliveries monthly. Constructed by a local workforce, the building is made of local materials and HKS teams raised $50,000 for its design and construction. The highly sustainable design has led to a 96% reduction in predicted energy usage intensity compared to a typical U.S. clinic in a similar climate, and the project is a meaningful example of how design can benefit both people and the planet. 

Kachumbala Maternity Unit in Kachumbala, Uganda

We are also moving forward with a design for a neonatal unit at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, located approximately 17 kilometers away from Kachumbala. This project will increase health care access for local families and mothers, support the hospital’s limited staff to provide better care and also limit impact on the environment with locally sourced materials and high-performance strategies. 

Inclusion + Neurodiversity 

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 in 36 children in the United Sates are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. And globally, there are more than 55 million people living with dementia globally according to the World Health Organization, including 5.8 million in the United States per the CDC. As HKS continues its research and leadership working at the intersection of brain health and design, supporting inclusion and neurodiversity for people of all ages is central to Citizen HKS’ efforts. 

The first of many projects HKS has embarked on to aid neurodiverse youth, the Sensory Well-being Hub at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago was a collaborative effort by Citizen HKS and the firm’s research team. We also raised $50,000 for the project’s design and construction as a firm. Built in 2017, the award-winning hub design helps students recover from sensory stressors and improves well-being, and our many research findings include that diverse approaches are necessary for sensory well-being environments.  

Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, IL

Citizen HKS and the HKS research team have also done extensive work to understand what seniors living with dementia need from their living environments to lead healthy, happy lives. We have created designs for two sensory rooms for dementia care at senior living communities in Michigan. Completed in 2023, the first installation is designed to relieve dementia-related anxiety. 95% of staff have reported the room’s positive impact on residents’ emotional wellbeing. 

In our communities across the world, Citizen HKS teams have volunteered personal time to assist children with neurodiverse identities and older adults, providing direct support with organizations such as the Living Learning Enrichment Center in Northville, Michigan and Un Granito De Arena Community Center in Mexico City. 

Social Justice 

One in six people worldwide experiences discrimination based on grounds such as race, ethnicity, age, religion, disability, and health status, according to the UN. United States Census Bureau data shows that underemployment and a lack of financial and housing security are significantly prevalent among people of color, indicating that systematic discrimination prevents marginalized communities from thriving. Advancing social justice and building a more equitable built environment is a shared responsibility for designers, our collaborators, and our communities. 

In Dallas, where HKS was founded 85 years ago, Citizen HKS has designed spaces that help underserved people thrive. Opened in 2018, a new building for Dallas 24 Hour Club’s includes 14,000 square feet dedicated to providing safe, sober transitional living for people experiencing homelessness and substance abuse issues. The project includes living spaces, community meeting rooms, a commercial kitchen and dining area that help the 24 Hour Club offer diverse resources and support to those in need. 

Dallas 24 Hour Club in Dallas, TX

We are also currently working to adapt a former school in the historically African American Joppa area of South Dallas— one of the last remaining freedmen’s towns — where community members are isolated from necessary resources and infrastructure. The community-informed and sustainable Citizen HKS design for The Place at Honey Springs envisions a vibrant multipurpose center that reflects local history and serves residents of today and tomorrow. It will include gathering spaces, a recording studio, and classrooms for after-school programs and continued education that encourage creativity and lifelong learning. ​ 

Our teams have also dedicated their time to aiding people experiencing homelessness. In Singapore, Shanghai, and throughout the United States we have volunteered with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity in multiple cities, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Lotus House and Camillus House in Miami. A Citizen HKS team also designed a masterplan to alleviate homelessness for Jeremiah Community in Fredericksburg, Virginia. 

Education + Play 

In recent years, Citizen HKS has partnered with schools and community organizations to foster education and play to improve development and well-being among children and teens. Teams in nearly every HKS office have partnered with the HKS K-12 Outreach Program on an annual book drive and mentorship programs to engage young people in learning about architecture and design. Citizen HKS design teams have also worked to broaden access to educational opportunities through design projects at a high school in Zirak, Afghanistan as well as CityLab South Oak Cliff Entrepreneurship Center in Dallas. 

Since 2021, Citizen HKS has been working on StationSoccer’s multi-site master plan to create youth soccer fields near underutilized land at MARTA transit stations around Atlanta. Partnerships with local government and nonprofits and a Citizen HKS fundraiser amounting to $40,000 have made this work possible. Several design projects are complete, and others are in progress — all of them enhancing play equity for youth throughout the city. Our Atlanta team has also participated in service events with StationSoccer, including a “draw and play day” and school supplies drive for the organization’s soccer tournament. 

StationSoccer in Atlanta, GA

One of Citizen HKS’ most exciting projects in development touches on several of the themes highlighted for the 10-year anniversary, including education and play: The Park at Floral Farms. Developed in partnership with South Dallas residents and community organizations, the park will replace an area known as “shingle mountain” — a waste dumping site that has affected locals’ health and well-being for years. The project reflects the possibilities of environmental justice and how public health awareness can be a catalyst for transformation. Ultimately, the park design proposes much needed greenspaces, playgrounds, and recreational facilities where all members of the community can play and enjoy the outdoors together. 

10 Years in and a Bright Future Ahead 

By celebrating 10 years of Citizen HKS, we look back at the progress our firm and industry have made in using design as a tool for progress. But we recognize that to create the future we all want — a future with sustainable, equitable, and thriving communities — we must continue to push forward new ideas and collaborate with intention. Through limitless thinking, we will tackle the challenges of today and create a brighter tomorrow. 

Hunger Busters

Case Study

Hunger Busters Sowing Resilience: A Journey to Cultivate Change

Dallas, TX, USA

The Challenge

Nearly two-thirds of the Dallas Independent School District’s (DISD) 150,000 students face the prospect of food insecurity each day. To help reduce that challenge Hunger Busters, a non-profit meal provider program founded in 2012, serves freshly prepared dinners to 4,500 DISD students each school day. But with the continued urgency to feed hungry children in Dallas, Hunger Busters leaders recognized the need to expand their facilities overlooking the Trinity River.

After a break-in that resulted in the loss of equipment and food supplies, Hunger Busters used the temporary setback to launch a capital campaign to propel their ambitious expansion project forward. It trained its focus on the La Bahara neighborhood, one of the five vibrant Hispanic communities in West Dallas. Confronted by challenges posed by large-scale development and escalating housing costs, La Bahara became the inspiration for a facility deeply entwined with its community. Global design firm, HKS, working through its Citizen HKS philanthropic arm, volunteered to help bring that vision to life.

The Design Solution

Inspired by the symbolism of a planted seed that is nurtured and grown, the HKS team worked with Hunger Busters to create a vibrant, sustainable food preparation facility that will eventually help nurture, grow and sustain thousands of Dallas youngsters.  

The facility has three core sections: Hunger Busters’ operations, the commissary kitchen, and the rentable entrepreneurial section. Underground parking has been strategically implemented to optimize kitchen and collaboration spaces on the upper floors and address the site’s specific geological challenges.

The first level of the 17,000-square-foot building boasts expanded prep space, tripled production capacity, and a 1,400-square-foot (130 sm) revenue-generating commissary kitchen. Emphasizing sustainability, the site incorporates a chef’s garden for locally sourced produce.

The project incorporates a 1,500-gallon rainwater collection system, capitalizing on Dallas’s average rainfall to support the facility sustainably. With an annual collection capacity of approximately 636 gallons, this system plays a crucial role in irrigating the landscape and providing water for the plants in the chef’s garden. 

The second floor of the two-floor facility will offer a rentable shared workplace that local nonprofits can use to foster collaboration and resource-sharing. Another highlight of the second floor is the outdoor terrace, which boasts spectacular views of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, an iconic structure that acts as a scenic connector from the La Bahara neighborhood to downtown Dallas.

A vibrant artwork piece, chosen through a local high school art contest, will provide a fitting final touch, anchoring the facility’s high-profile corner. Hunger Busters’ journey, like a seed growing from a simple connection with roots to a thriving community project, exemplifies the transformative power of collective effort in shaping positive change.

The Design Impact

The project’s sustainable strategies included an anaerobic digester that can transform food and garden waste into bio-fertilizer and energy that can power all exterior site lighting; a rainwater capture system; and CLT as a structural system.

Also, a roof solar panel with 60% coverage, is anticipated to offset 46% of the building’s baseline energy usage, holding out promise for achieving a net positive project by 2030.

The use of Mass Timber construction, specifically through the incorporation of pre-fabricated Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) panels, aligns with Texas Regionalism and plays a pivotal role in drastically reducing the building’s carbon footprint. The efficiency of CLT not only accelerates the construction timeline but also minimizes labor costs and offers enhanced fire safety advantages. 

Throughout the design and construction phases, HKS and Hunger Busters remain steadfast in their commitment to ethical decarbonization. The overarching objective is to cultivate a building materials supply chain that is deeply environmentally conscious and actively advocates for a future free from forced labor. 

This new facility, overlooking the Trinity River, is a beacon of circularity. By utilizing excess food from local restaurants and businesses, transforming it into nutritious third meals for students, and then converting any remaining waste into energy, this innovative approach addresses food insecurity and exemplifies sustainable practices championing a circular and regenerative system that benefits both people and the planet. With this new infrastructure in place, Hunger Busters will be able to increase meal production to an impressive 14,500 meals per day, significantly widening their impact within the city of Dallas. 

Project Features

Five Design Trends Shaping Communities in 2024

Five Design Trends Shaping Communities in 2024

Advances in artificial intelligence, modular construction and other methodologies will bring renewed energy to the architecture, engineering and construction industry in 2024 despite economic and environmental challenges.  

In response to — and at the forefront of — current real estate and design trends, global design firm HKS is striving to revive and strengthen communities worldwide. In 2024, HKS will continue to create healthy, resilient, dynamic places that support peak performance and bring people joy. 

1 – Spaces for Healthy Living and Learning 

HKS is leveraging the firm’s research and health design expertise to help people navigate ongoing and emerging crises in health care, student health and well-being, and senior living. 

The Sanford Health Virtual Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is one of several exciting HKS health care projects opening in 2024. The telehealth center will improve access to care for rural patients, a medically underserved population.  

Clinical workforce shortages will be a continuing challenge for health systems in the year ahead, according to McKinsey & Company. HKS is designing facilities to address the health care staffing crisis. To further this work, the firm is partnering with design brand MillerKnoll on a study to identify factors that contribute to nurse burnout and to learn how these factors relate to the built environment. The study findings will be published this year. 

This year HKS will also participate in an impact study to gauge how the design of Uplift Luna Preparatory School, which is scheduled to open in Dallas in January, affects student outcomes. HKS’ design of the school was informed by research into how design can support social and emotional learning.  

At the 2024 Environments for Aging conference, HKS and industry partners will present a case study of Elevate Senior Living’s Clearwater, Florida community. HKS’ design for Elevate Clearwater is intended to help address the senior living affordability crisis. The number of middle-income older adults in need of affordable care and housing options is swiftly rising, as demonstrated by a study into the “forgotten middle” senior cohort, by research group NORC at the University of Chicago

2 – Commercial Office Reinvention 

It’s clear by now that hybrid and remote work are here to stay. Changes to work habits over the last four years caused major fluctuations in corporate real estate portfolios, leading to increased vacancy rates and diminishing valuations worldwide. But according to Deloitte’s 2024 commercial real estate outlook, newer, higher quality assets are outperforming older spaces and new construction projects designed to accommodate hybrid work strategies are on the rise.  

HKS commercial interior designers are creating offices with hybrid-ready technologies and attractive amenities for companies like Textron Systems in Arlington, Virginia and AGI in Naperville, Illinois. HKS’ advisory groups have also teamed with influential companies, including CoreLogic, to develop strategies and design concepts for their robust asset portfolios that help them keep up with the evolving real estate landscape. 

The firm’s industry-leading research on brain healthy workplaces has yielded exciting discoveries about how offices that prioritize employee well-being can be designed, delivered and operated. Piloting strategies in the firm’s own real estate portfolio and advocating for “breaking the workstation,” HKS researchers and designers are setting new standards for inclusive, productive office environments. In 2024, HKS will present these ideas to a global audience at South by Southwest® (SXSW®) and continue to design workplaces for new modes of working. 

3 – New Mixed-Use and Planning Match Ups

Fluctuations in the commercial office sector and retail are providing new opportunities in mixed-use development. PwC and ULI’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2024 report indicates that real estate investors are increasingly diversifying or pivoting their portfolios to counteract disuse of downtown offices and regional malls.  

A shift toward developments with a variety of localized services and amenities is occurring — and HKS designers and planners are at the forefront of creating exciting new projects with unique anchors. In Hangzhou, China, the 2023 Asian Games Athlete Village Waterfront Mixed-Use is becoming a prime destination for retail and entertainment, not unlike HKS-designed SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park in Los Angeles with its newest attraction, Cosm. Beyond these new mixes, HKS designers are creating dynamic properties such as NoMaCNTR in Washington, DC, to join hotel and residential uses — a combination on the rise in many major cities. 

In 2024, HKS is expanding its ability to serve communities with mixed-use planning and design, fostering sustainable growth for cities in the years to come. The Austin Light Rail team — consisting of Austin Transit Partnership, HKS, UNStudio and Gehl — is set to finalize design guidelines for proposed station locations that will provide opportunities for Austin residents to live in more affordable locations and promote urban expansion into less dense areas. As the transit network expands, it will unlock real estate opportunities and give rise to a variety of diverse and exciting mixed-use properties. This work complements the Transit Oriented Developments projects HKS is working on to elevate the health and well-being of our communities nationwide.  

HKS designers are also set to craft a new master plan for the Georgia World Congress Center’s 220-acre campus in downtown Atlanta this year. The cohesive, sustainability-driven master plan will create a legible pedestrian-friendly environment that maximizes economic potential of the convention center campus. This will integrate the campus’ global canvas with surrounding historic neighborhoods using a comprehensive framework. 

4 – Adaptive Reuse Rising 

In their report on 2024 real estate trends, PwC and ULI write that that “the movement to convert existing buildings from office to multifamily (or any other asset class, really), offers a meaningful achievement in saving carbon emissions.”  

As part of HKS’ efforts towards sustainable and resilient design, the firm is igniting adaptive reuse for a variety of building types, such as ParkwayHealth Gleneagles Chengdu Hospital in China, a tertiary care facility created from a former shopping center. HKS’ design for Mount Sinai Beth Israel Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center in New York City reinvigorated a structure built in 1898 to create a new destination for behavioral health. HKS designers in London renovated a 19th-century office building into a 21st-century clinic. And for an expansion of Rusk State Hospital in Texas, HKS reinvented the hospital campus, which opened in 1883 to house a penitentiary, into a therapeutic and dignified behavioral health care setting. 

In a highly poetic adaptive reuse project, HKS reimagined a defunct airport terminal, which dated to the 1940s, as a creative, contemporary workspace for online travel company Expedia Group. 

In 2024, HKS will continue to advance adaptive reuse design across different markets and geographies. 

5 – Creating a Better World through ESG

Balancing holistic sustainability — including decarbonization, climate resilience, and equitable design practices — with business goals is imperative for commercial real estate investors according to 2024 outlooks by both Deloitte and PwC. Leading the architecture and design industries to a brighter future, HKS is committed to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). 

HKS leaders recently demonstrated the depth of the firm’s ESG efforts through thought leadership — speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the United Nations Science Summit on Brain Capital, and at the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference, where HKS was also a Diamond Sponsor. 

Driven by ESG goals, HKS designers strive to enhance human and environmental well-being through the places they create day in and day out. The firm’s growing portfolio of high-performing projects includes the world’s first WELL-certified airport facility, a COTE Top-Ten Award-winning campus in California and a IIDA Global Excellence Award finalist hospital in Saudi Arabia to name a few. In 2024, HKS architects, sustainable design leaders and advisors will continue developing building portfolio sustainability guidelines and high-performance designs for major tech companies and educational institutions.  

HKS will also align with the Science Based Targets Initiative, which recently established building sector guidelines, to ensure the firm’s carbon neutrality goals are science-backed and can be properly benchmarked. The firm will provide voluntary disclosures about its offsets portfolio to meet regulatory requirements, enhance transparency and improve accountability. 

Most excitingly, 2024 marks the 10-year anniversary of Citizen HKS, a firmwide initiative that impacts lives and drives change through design, community service and financial philanthropy. HKS designers around the world will celebrate the pro-bono design work and service projects they have contributed to through Citizen HKS and re-commit to enhancing their communities for years to come. 

The Place at Honey Springs

Case Study

The Place at Honey Springs A New, Inviting Future for a Historic Dallas Community

Dallas, Texas, USA

The Challenge

The Joppa community was founded in 1872 as a freedmen’s town in present-day South Dallas. Today, the community is isolated from the rest of the city by the borders of a highway, a river, railroad tracks and industrial sites. The neighborhood — also known as Joppee — is a food desert and lacks access to city infrastructure such as grocery stores or sports facilities.  

Citizen HKS partnered with the Melissa Pierce nonprofit organization to revive the abandoned 1950s Melissa Pierce School into a vibrant multipurpose center that reflects the rich history and character of Joppa.

The Design Solution

After extensive community engagement, the design team developed The Place at Honey Springs, a multipurpose center that embodies the vibrant spirit of Joppa’s residents. The center is named for the Joppa community’s original name of Honey Springs, which was annexed into the City of Dallas in 1955.

The Place at Honey Springs features several indoor and outdoor multipurpose areas for community gatherings and dining. A recording studio and classrooms for after-school programs and continued education encourage creativity and lifelong learning.  

The center also boasts a variety of opportunities for neighbors to pursue active lifestyles, including a soccer field, basketball court, exercise stations, open green areas and an indoor swimming pool. Further, community members will have access to fresh produce from multiple aeroponic gardens, and there is dedicated outdoor space for a pop-up clinic to deliver medical services. 

The Design Impact

The Place at Honey Springs stands as a testament to Joppa’s enduring history while equipping the community with tools to design its future. By reimagining the original school building, the new community center helps preserve Joppa’s identity, but is also more sustainable than a brand-new structure.  

The new sloped roof allows for the collection of rainwater to irrigate the center’s native landscaping, and the addition of new trees helps to mitigate the urban heat island effect. If incorporated, solar panels, minimal glazing on the south side of the building and other passive strategies could reduce both energy use and operating costs. 

Project Features



Case Study

StationSoccer Building Social Infrastructure with the Power of Play

Atlanta, Georgia, USA 

The Challenge

Like in many large American cities, neighborhoods in Atlanta are divided by a variety of factors such as race and income, and low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color have historically had less access to resources than wealthy and white neighborhoods. This includes less access to sports facilities and green spaces, as well as less access to pay-to-play sports leagues.  

Global design firm HKS collaborated with public and private interests through its pro bono practice, Citizen HKS, to help bridge this gap with an unlikely pairing: transit stations and soccer.   

The Design Solution

HKS joined the partnership of Soccer in the Streets, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the city of Atlanta’s Department of City Planning and the Atlanta United Foundation to help develop a cohesive vision for StationSoccer: a multi-site master plan to integrate youth soccer fields into underutilized land in and near 10 MARTA stations around the city. The soccer fields host the “League of Stations,” a free youth soccer league.  

The HKS project team used extensive geographic information system (GIS) data to identify distinctions in factors such as demographics, walkability, land use and per capita income, but also engaged with each community to gain a wholistic understanding of the character of each neighborhood.  

Based on the research, HKS developed a unique program for each station that honors and serves the identity and culture of the community. For example, the neighborhood around Kensington Station has a large number of immigrants, so artist Kevin Bongang was commissioned to design a mural on the asphalt around the soccer field to represent the mosaic of cultures in the area. At East Lake Station, bike racks are also sculptural objects to highlight the prominence of biking in the community.  

StationSoccer also offers educational and community programming at its fields. Stations may feature a community garden, a learning center inside a decommissioned MARTA rail car, a mobile health truck or event space, all of which are included in a “kit of parts” that allows each station to be customized for each neighborhood’s unique needs. Each station also features benches made of Golden Spikes that pay homage to Atlanta United as a benefactor and Atlanta’s history as a railroad hub.  

The Design Impact

The League of Stations is the world’s first transit soccer league and now impacts 5,000 children in Atlanta. Because StationSoccer fields are built into transit itself, they’re accessible to not only those whole live near a particular station, but those who have access to MARTA’s entire service area. 

Soccer in the Streets has partnered with schools for years, but the new StationSoccer fields allow students from nearby schools to join a recreational league to play soccer outside of school. According to Soccer in the Streets’ annual impact reports, parents are thankful for the opportunity for their children to spend time outside and be active, especially as the world emerges from the COVD-19 pandemic.  

Once neglected greyfield land, StationSoccer fields are now vibrant community spaces that promote healthy lifestyles and amplify the identities of the neighborhoods they serve. StationSoccer is healthier for the environment, too. The heat island effect and runoff are reduced by replacing impervious pavement with pervious surfaces and with the infusion of nature and shade.  

StationSoccer has gained national attention with a visit from Pete Buttigieg, U.S. secretary of transportation. StationSoccer is now featured on the U.S. Department of Transportation website as an example of a successful transit-oriented development that combines transit, wellness and sport while cultivating healthy communities. The StationSoccer masterplan and design process are also featured in the AIA Equitable Communities Resource as a premier example of how architects can help create equitable communities.   

Draw+Play Engagement Session

Project Features


East Lake Station
Lindbergh Station
Kensington Station
Kensington Station

Awakening: Design for Sensory Well-being Transforms the Senior Living Experience

View Transcript

Hearing birds chirp outside. 

Smelling fresh flowers from the garden. 

Touching a fabric tied to happy memories. 

Seeing engaging images like old movies. 

Connecting with friends. 

Our senses spark memories and encourage us to engage with the world. When we hear our favorite songs, we dance and sing along. When we see people out walking, we stop and say hello. When we feel fresh air on our skin, we take a moment to breathe and relax.  

Good design can awaken the senses. 

Good design can improve the lives of seniors with dementia, which impacts more than 55 million people worldwide. 

Creating enriching spaces that make people feel safe, comfortable and joyful is at the core of what designers do. At HKS, we extend that purpose to design spaces that actively promote brain health and mental well-being.

“Through Citizen HKS, we apply innovative thinking to solve social inequities. Our work with Samaritas is an opportunity to explore how design can improve the lives of those living with dementia.” – Lisa Adams, HKS’ Director of Citizen HKS & Sustainable Design Leader 

Through Citizen HKS, we apply innovative thinking to solve social inequities. Our work with Samaritas is an opportunity to explore how design can improve the lives of those living with dementia.

Senior living organizations have the immense responsibility to provide care and homes for the population most affected by fading mental capacities and memory loss. HKS recently partnered with Samaritas — a social services organization with independent and assisted senior living residences throughout Michigan — to improve the lives of people living with dementia.  

Several years of research and pro bono projects have shown us that spaces designed for sensory engagement — spaces that activate senses like touching, hearing smelling — can enhance the well-being of neurodivergent individuals. Multi-sensory spaces can also slow the progression of dementia, and in some cases, prolong the life of elders with the disease. Equipped with this understanding, Citizen HKS and the HKS Research team have teamed to assist Samaritas fulfill its mission to “transform entire communities one life at a time.”  

Citizen HKS provided pro bono design services for a respite room at Samaritas’ Grand Rapids location with soft seating and calming sensory objects including a digital nature window, aromatherapy elements and familiar memorabilia. This quiet space uses evidenced-based design strategies to reduce episodes of anxiety and duress for residents with dementia. 

We also raised over $50,000 to design and furnish a dynamic engagement room just down the hall. Formerly an under-used library, the space is being transformed into a stimulating destination where residents can partake in activities that spark social engagement and creativity — design strategies that can slow the progression of dementia.

Research Drives Design Impact 

HKS is committed to researching and designing for sensory well-being and brain health. Led by Citizen HKS and HKS Research teams, we’ve embarked on partnerships, studies and pro bono design projects to improve how the built environment supports brain functions. 

We designed our first Sensory Well-being Hub in 2017 to help neurodiverse high school students recover from sensory stressors and refocus on classroom learning. In addition to designing the Hub pro bono through Citizen HKS, we were able to build it using funds raised by HKS employees and project partners. By studying how students engaged with its interactive art and soundscapes, and calming cocoon structure, we found that many young people — especially those who are neurodivergent or autistic — desired diverse spaces and ways to engage that would make them feel comfortable and safe. Over time, we’ve prototyped new versions of the Hub and made an open-source design guide to share our learnings.

In recent research, we explored how design can aid mental processes and improve social connection among older adults, whose population will double by 2050. With an understanding that adult brains are capable of growing over time and making new neural connections throughout life, we developed a framework for creating Enriched Environments — spaces with design features that encourage motor, somatosensory, social and cognitive processes foster creativity and reduce stress.

“We have learned that enriched sensory environments can improve learning and memory in older adults and promote brain health. We want to leverage design as a powerful ally to care, and an active instrument to stave off cognitive decline.” – Dr. Upali Nanda, HKS’ Global Practice Director, Research

We have learned that enriched sensory environments can improve learning and memory in older adults and promote brain health. We want to leverage design as a powerful ally to care, and an active instrument to stave off cognitive decline.

HKS also partnered with The University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth this year on a workplace study to learn strategies to enhance our well-being and productivity. Nearly 200 HKS employees participated in assessments, online trainings, think tanks and brain exercises to optimize their brain health by improving strategic attention, integrated reasoning and innovation abilities. By using the science of brain health to enhance our capacities, we are becoming better equipped to improve the experiences of people who use the spaces we design — including senior living communities. 

Last spring, when Samaritas learned from HKS’ Global Practice Director of Research Dr. Upali Nanda and Director of Citizen HKS & Sustainable Design Leader Lisa Adams, that these initiatives and ideas could be brought together to improve the lives of elders, a beautiful partnership began. 

Rooms Designed to Awaken the Senses

To provide comfortable living environments for seniors with dementia, Samaritas focuses on individuals, not the disease. By learning about residents’ lives and values, Samaritas staff members create meaningful bonds and offer support they need.  

An integrated team of HKS interior designers, senior living architects, and researchers have worked with Samaritas to design two new rooms at Samaritas in Grand Rapids: one that makes residents feel calm and at ease, and one that stimulates activity and social connection.

“These rooms are meaningful to our community because they offer safety and comfort for residents in times of need, especially in moments of overstimulation and stress. They allow us to better support our residents, their family members, and our staff.” – Dayna Roe, Samaritas’ Director of Memory Care

These rooms are meaningful to our community because they offer safety and comfort for residents in times of need, especially in moments of overstimulation and stress. They allow us to better support our residents, their family members, and our staff.

Individuals with dementia often feel restless, confused, or anxious due to overstimulation. Known as “sundowning,” this symptom can be frustrating for those experiencing it and challenging for caregivers. Phase One of the Samaritas project, The Nook, is a calming space designed to relieve the effects of sundowning and other symptoms of dementia that hinder relaxation and peace.  

Residents enter the softly lit space through a wall of open bookshelves that provide privacy without fully blocking sight to the rest of the community. Once inside, they can rest on comfortable seats and take in sights of nature displayed on a digital window. They are also able to interact with objects such as apparel items, nostalgic décor, aromatherapy elements, and a virtual window that reflects a calming landscape and the time of day — all intended to de-stimulate, spark fond memories and aid personal restoration by calmly engaging the senses.  

The respite room also provides well-being improvements for Samaritas’ hardworking team members. Because senior living workplaces are often challenged by staffing shortages and high levels of stress, relaxing spaces for residents like the respite room mean that caregivers can take a break themselves, resting assured that residents are safe and comfortable. 

The Sensory Engagement Room at Samaritas 

Dementia frequently leads to isolation, loneliness and disassociation. A lack of brain stimulation can also worsen the effects of the disease. Phase Two of the Samaritas project, The Nest, seeks to provide sensory and social engagement opportunities that can offset disease progression and provide positive experiences for residents. 

Designed like a household kitchen and dining area, the room is intended to evoke the feeling of being in “the heart of the home,” and will be furnished with sensory objects that present residents with opportunities to participate in everyday activities. In this space, seniors can see, touch, smell, and hear familiar things that spark positive memories of the past and promote socialization and storytelling.

Located off a main corridor the room has a design that balances the creation of an authentic kitchen environment with the safety and spatial requirements for elder care. Flexible furniture, counter heights and a clear circulation pattern all support accessibility for seniors with mobility concerns and those who use aids such as wheelchairs and walkers.

The multi-sensory and multi-purpose space will include items typically found in family and friends’ homes including plants, cooking accessories and spice jars, photographs, craft items, and a television that will play cooking demonstrations and exercise, storytelling and music videos.

The design team worked to curate a believable environment that feeds sensory cues to the brains of people with a lifetime of experience. A kitchen is an authentically familiar, friendly, relatable environment with positive associations.

Help Make This Vision a Reality  

Our work with Samaritas demonstrates how outcome-driven design and applied research can work hand-in-hand to improve lives. But sensory well-being goes beyond thoughtful design. It’s a vision for healthier, brighter future for seniors living with dementia, for all neurodivergent people, and for everyone.  

The Citizen HKS Donor Advised Fund supports projects that align with our mission to make the world a better place. Your donations help us contribute to creating positive impact through design.

Mark Palmer


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Hector Covo

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Design for Equitable Communities: Citizen HKS Empowers People through Architecture

Design for Equitable Communities: Citizen HKS Empowers People through Architecture

An architect’s credo is to protect the health, safety and welfare of people. That’s more important than bottom lines and financial margins that can sometimes consume design projects. People, not profits, should be the motivation for what architects and designers do.

At HKS, our Citizen HKS public interest design initiative provides designers with opportunities to serve a higher purpose and create authentic social impact in their communities.

Citizen HKS began in 2014. It has grown from a small grassroots effort to a full-fledged program that enables us to do pro-bono projects by donating 1 percent of the firm’s billable time toward public interest design work each year. From a sustainable maternity unit in Kachumbala, Uganda to a ground-breaking sensory well-being hub for diverse learners at a Chicago high school, Citizen HKS projects have come to life in cities around the world.

But while they may be far apart and address various societal needs, all Citizen HKS projects have one thing in common: they are designed for, and in collaboration with, the people who will use them.

“If you don’t have the voice of the community that’s fueling, motivating and building the bones of the project’s intent, then who are you designing for?” asks Lisa Adams, a Chicago-based Senior Interior Designer. Adams, who directs Citizen HKS, believes that the 8-year-old initiative exemplifies HKS’ continued efforts to “serve and uplift marginalized and underserved populations.”

Adams describes the work of Citizen HKS as human-centered participatory design focused on creating triple-bottom line value by solving ecological, economic and social issues. That mission coincides with “Design for Equitable Communities,” one of the 10 measures of design excellence championed by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Designing for equitable communities, according to the AIA, is a way for architects to extend their reach. By engaging with community members, providing for greater mobility, access and long-term resilience, designers can be a conduit for social justice and inclusion.

Addressing Problems through Design

Public interest design is becoming increasingly important as our profession races to positively transform how buildings and construction impact people and the environment.

“We generally try to look at a project to understand a deficit in society that’s causing a struggle within marginalized populations. We make investments in design solutions that can be applied to a host of other entities that may be facing the same issues,” Adams said, noting that one of the tenets of Citizen HKS is to apply research and design thinking to broader social and environmental concerns.

Citizen HKS projects and programs hinge on three interconnected impact areas — Create, Connect and Contribute. “Create” encompasses our public interest design work while “Contribute” and “Connect” reference HKS’ annual fundraisers and Month of Service volunteering, which have totaled more than $150,000 and 30,000 hours of donated money and time in the last few years.

Dreaming Big in Communities Worldwide

Each Citizen HKS project team — from the U.S. to Singapore — strives to connect community members with each other as they work on defining and refining their goals for their built environments. HKS designers then work with communities to bring their vision to life.

Last year, HKS staff and community members teamed up to raise $25,630 to support the construction of a Citizen HKS design for the Benefield Building, an adaptive reuse project intended to serve a Richmond, Virginia neighborhood that is in the initial stages of revitalization.

Benefield’s new community building will include a garden, outdoor plaza, flex space, food and retail options. Currently targeting a net-zero energy strategy, the sustainable project will also feature an artistic wall that will be curated by the community to celebrate the story of Richmond’s Highland Park neighborhood.

In early 2021, Citizen HKS began a new partnership with southern Dallas’ Floral Farms neighborhood to design a large recreational park in a residential area that was once a dump site for toxic shingles. The project will restore hope and offer healing to a neighborhood that has suffered from poor air quality and neglect in recent years.

“We got involved because we wanted to help the community envision what it was that they wanted,” said HKS’ Erin Peavey, the architect leading the design of the Floral Farms park. “We wanted to give the visions in their hearts and minds physical form.”

Peavey and the Citizen HKS team from Dallas have consistently engaged local residents in community design meetings this year and will continue to help them reach their aspirations for Floral Farms.

“We’re so excited for people to come out and help us after being turned down so much and not getting as much support in the past,” said Marsha Jackson, a longtime Floral Farms resident. “I don’t have the words to express those feelings.”

Extending our Impact

The 2021 Citizen HKS fundraiser added to the firm’s existing work with the Atlanta nonprofit, Soccer in the Streets, which builds soccer fields on underutilized public transit land to give underserved communities access to sports programming. HKS has designed several soccer fields for the StationSoccer initiative, and more fields are planned.

“StationSoccer is inspiring kids both on and off the field through mentorship and encouraging them in their dreams. It is so much bigger than just soccer,” said Meggie Meidlinger, a design architect at HKS Atlanta who is part of the project team. “What StationSoccer is doing for kids in the community is incredible, and for us to get to be a part of something like that is such a privilege.”

In the fall, HKS staff raised $40,000 to build a pilot installation for a new program. Decommissioned rail cars donated by the City of Atlanta will be transformed into traveling studios, bolstering after school programs, addressing food insecurity and hosting adult education programs for a multitude of communities.

“Through this project, land is going back to the community. Thankfully, with partners like HKS, The City of Atlanta and their design studio, we’re able to design for the community by the community,” said Sanjay Patel, Soccer in the Streets’ Director of Strategic Projects.

An upcoming Citizen HKS project, Into the Light, will install a parklet with potted plants, a couch and facts about Singapore’s homeless population just outside the HKS Singapore office to humanize the city’s housing crisis. Into the Light was one of three tactical urbanism projects recently chosen to become official Citizen HKS efforts.

Connecting the ‘Three Cs’

This year, Citizen HKS established a Donor Advised Fund, allowing HKS to allot even more time toward project implementation and enhancing external fundraising efforts for maximum influence.

Exemplifying HKS’ desire to educate and pay equitable design forward, Citizen HKS recently launched a new mentorship program with architecture students at Dallas’ CityLab High School, including two who interned at HKS Dallas where they worked with professional design teams.

These newer Citizen HKS initiatives, along with multi-phase design and fundraising efforts like the Benefield Building and Floral Farms, illustrate how Create, Connect and Contribute work together to raise up communities.

Holistic Design Excellence Includes Equity

Designing for equitable communities is often an arduous process that requires buy-in from a broad range of public and private stakeholders with competing interests. But when approached as a collaborative act of service, design can empower and benefit all people, whether they are architects, high school students, elected officials, business owners or community members in need.

Earlier this year, HKS introduced ESG in Design to bring all of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives under a unified holistic design ideology that encompasses HKS’ UN Global Compact agreements, Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) efforts, and Citizen HKS public interest design projects.

“Our ESG initiatives are so interconnected; they’ve become the soul of our drive to become the most influential firm in the industry. And you don’t do that by staying where you are, you do that by raising the bar to do better,” Adams said. Citizen HKS projects, she said, have become a testing ground for how the firm can successfully implement ESG in Design in real and measurable ways.

As Citizen HKS continues to expand, its steering committee envisions that public interest design will become “a way of thinking” for all HKS projects. The long-term goal is to increase access to meaningful and impactful design work by engaging as many community members as possible.

“We’re trying to make sure that there’s equity in our design process. We want these concepts and solutions to create an elevated human experience that design has the potential to bring,” Adams said.

Kristen Ambrose


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Ann Noble


Tactical Urbanism Forges Bonds and Strengthens Communities

Tactical Urbanism Forges Bonds and Strengthens Communities

Makeshift bus stop benches. Performance stages built in unused alleyways. Roads and parking lanes transformed into pedestrian-only zones. These are but a few examples of an evolving design trend known as “tactical urbanism.”

These tactical urbanism interventions — derived from city dwellers’ need for more usable public space — are often low-cost design solutions that address community desires and range in size and permanence. At its core, tactical urbanism is a design mechanism that empowers people to work together to enhance public space.

Citizen HKS, the firm’s public interest design initiative, is increasingly taking on new projects under the umbrella of tactical urbanism, most notably in Richmond, Virginia.

Local residents worked with HKS designers to create the elaborate wooden honeycomb structure for the parklet at Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar, learning design and building techniques they can rely on for personal projects and other public space improvements throughout Richmond.

In 2020, as COVID-19 created a prescient need for social distancing and outdoor spaces for dining and socializing, the HKS Richmond team partnered with Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar to create a pro-bono parklet design. Once completed, the parklet will offer space for patrons and others to gather, helping the small business foster community and stay afloat during the ongoing pandemic.

Building Capacity for Tactical Design

To learn how HKS can continue to work with communities and successfully implement tactical designs, HKS designers invited Dr. Jeffrey Hou, Director of the Urban Commons Lab at University of Washington, to share his experience and perspectives with us during the firm’s recent ESG in Design Celebration. The celebration is a series of educational events about environmental, social and governance topics such as equity and sustainability.

An expert in “tactical placemaking” — a broader term for tactical urbanism that includes design strategies in any public environment — Hou discussed the history and theory of tactical design. He said that while tactical placemaking strategies date back centuries, particularly in Asian cultures, professional design work and academic scholarship on the discipline has spread globally in recent years.

“In the past decade or so, nothing short of a revolution has happened in the field of planning, design and tactical interventions in the environment,” he said.

Hou described projects he’s been involved with that have yielded opportunities for people to create and participate in more enjoyable civic activities. In Seattle’s International District, for example, neighborhood residents transformed Canton Alley from a narrow, inactive space into a lively hotspot. Without resources to make spatial improvements, community members used what they already had access to when they sought to change the alley. They brought Mahjong tables out into the street and hosted social and cultural events there. An example of what Hou calls “placemaking by the people,” Canton Alley now features permanent physical design enhancements and regular community programs.

“Once people experienced the space, they kept coming back with new ideas of how to use it. There’s something about the alleyway space that makes people feel that they’re part of the neighborhood,” Hou said.

Tactical placemaking can be a vehicle for social change.

Beloved spaces like Canton Alley, Hou said, are created when tactical design is led by community members and incorporates a neighborhood’s existing identity and assets.

“By engaging and empowering people, by leveraging places in a neighborhood, turning limitations into assets, and by making connections between players who make important social and environmental changes, tactical placemaking can be a vehicle for social change,” he said.

Avoiding Tensions

Despite tactical urbanism’s many positive outcomes around the world, Hou has observed tensions in the development of tactical placemaking as a mode of design. For example, as pop-up shipping container markets rose in popularity, he said some corporate retailers and developers started to base their designs on them.

And as local governments realize the economic and social benefits of parklets and open streets, they have begun instituting programs and offices for formalized spaces and activities. While not inherently bad ways to improve cities, Hou says that these trends could compromise the core purpose of tactical design.

“If tactical urbanism becomes a narrowly defined professional activity, the potential for wider engagement with the public and opportunity for it to become a community-driven process becomes quite limited,” he said.

Hou believes that important work and discovery can still happen in all types of contexts and organizations, including at large design firms like HKS. He encouraged HKS designers to engage with communities and use tactical placemaking as a way demonstrate the potential benefits of projects.

“There are a lot of opportunities to facilitate change,” he said. “Reach out to community stakeholders…and be part of the changes that happen.”

HKS Brings Tactical Urbanism to Three Cities

In 2021, Citizen HKS also launched a firm-wide tactical urbanism design competition encouraging the firm’s global employee base to pitch tactical, sustainable projects that will improve public life in their cities. The ESG in Design Celebration concluded with a showcase of the competition’s finalists.

Zach Wolk, an HKS designer who moderated a discussion on the entries, said the competition rounded out conversations from the ESG in Design Celebration about carbon, the pillars of the circular economy, and being good stewards of social justice in our communities.

“In my mind, tactical urbanism can be an incubator and catalyst to study and promote these ideas in our communities,” Wolk said.

During the showcase, six HKS teams from Chicago to Singapore shared how they plan to deploy design concepts in their own communities and activate unused spaces. A jury comprised of designers from across the firm selected three of the teams’ designs to become a reality as official Citizen HKS projects, which comprise 1 percent of HKS’ billable hours each year as public interest design work.

Chicago-based Actspace intends to work with women entrepreneurs to give Uptown Chicago’s “junk spaces,” described as underutilized spaces under train tracks and between buildings, a newfound sense of purpose. The project will convert the junk spaces into “act scapes” with branding stations, book benches, hospitality tables, learning kiosks, and a yoga deck that will help businesses grow their clientele.

Design concept for ActSpace, which aims to convert small unused areas of Chicago into engaging multi-use spaces.

“Act scapes become objects scattered in the public realm that encourage the residents to interact both mentally and physically by introducing learning and wellness to everyday objects that you pass by on the street,” the Actspace team said in its presentation.

The team hopes their interventions will become symbols of activism across Chicago and inspire more entrepreneurs to work together to make their streets safer and more inclusive.

Bringing Communities Together

More than 1,000 miles away, members of HKS Houston plan to transform a tennis court into a dynamic community gathering place after discovering that there is little interaction between the various ethnic groups that live on Quitman Street just west of Houston’s Greater Fifth Ward.

Called Entrelazar, the project derives its name from the Spanish word for “interlace” as a symbol of bringing together people from different backgrounds. In a pilot program, the team will strip away the court’s fencing for a short period of time and invite the community to participate in outdoor socials, art installations and games there. If residents agree to a more permanent intervention, the Entrelazar team will selectively demolish portions of the court and add greenery around it. A local artist will reimagine the court’s surface, transforming it into a mural that offers visitors a new way of experiencing the space.

The design for Entrelezar centers on a tennis court transformation which will open up the space for cultural activities and building connections within Houston’s Greater Fifth Ward.

“The hope is that once all of this is done, we’ve established a [new space] for various modes of activation and occupation,” said HKS Senior Architectural Designer Jason Fleming. The HKS team hopes the center will become part of the community’s diverse daily routines, with students practicing soccer after school and community members sprucing up salsa dancing skills in the evenings.

Creating a Ripple Effect

Into the Light focuses on addressing Singapore’s housing crisis, with the goal of humanizing an issue that often falls under the public radar and calling attention to the challenges that homeless individuals face in their daily lives.

Singapore HKS plans to place its tactical urbanism intervention – a parklet with potted plants, a couch and facts about the city’s homeless population – just outside its office to highlight its commitment to addressing homelessness.

“Individuals and families slip through the cracks,” the HKS Singapore team said. “It is up to the social services, private entities and most importantly, the community, to step in as safety nets.”

The Into the Light parklet will be located outside of HKS Singapore office, raising awareness about the country’s homeless population and showcasing solutions.

Jurors for the tactical urbanism competition said each team’s desire to share local stories and inspire people to walk away with a call to action, resonated with them as they evaluated the finalist projects.

“The audience comes and goes, but a story is powerful because it can carry on,” said HKS Art Director and competition judge, James Frisbie. “A story passes from person to person and for that reason, [these projects] are very powerful.”

Architect Amanda Rosenfeld, who is active in HKS’ sustainability initiatives, added that all the finalists get to the heart of what tactical urbanism is all about.

“All three of these projects are so dynamic; they’re not just located within one space but the creation of them has a ripple effect through the community,” Rosenfeld said.

From Shingle Mountain to Floral Farms: Citizen HKS Helps Turn Southern Dallas Eyesore into Park

From Shingle Mountain to Floral Farms: Citizen HKS Helps Turn Southern Dallas Eyesore into Park

For nearly two years, a southern Dallas neighborhood was a dumping ground for roof shingles that piled up higher than — and often adjacent to — the houses nearby. Residents worried about the health risks that the heaps of toxic waste posed for their families. Some constantly wore masks to mitigate the effects of what became known as “Shingle Mountain,” on their lungs.

City officials cleared out the neighborhood eyesore in early 2021 and the plot of land is on track to become a new city park, thanks to a community-led effort. Residents say planting a scenic park where Shingle Mountain once stood will help them reclaim their identity as a neighborhood.

They’re partnering with HKS through the firm’s Citizen HKS initiative; local activists; the Dallas Regional Chamber; and the Dallas Stars Foundation to bring their vision to life. For HKS, the project is an example of how architects can partner with their local communities to solve their most pressing challenges through impactful design.

“As a country, we have recently been talking about infrastructure and how we can invest more in it,” HKS Architect and Design Researcher Erin Peavey said. “I hope this project serves as an example of environmental justice and what it means to invest in communities that have been overlooked in the past.”

I hope this project serves as an example of environmental justice and what it means to invest in communities that have been overlooked in the past.

From Environmental Injustice to Activism

Before it became known as the home of Shingle Mountain, this neighborhood just outside Dallas’ Great Trinity River Forest was known as Floral Farms for its proximity to nurseries in the area.

Floral Farms is one of few agriculturally oriented neighborhoods in Dallas. Barns dot the backyards. Horses, goat, sheep and chickens roam the front yards. And many of the neighbors have known each other for generations.

The notorious shingles started appearing next to longtime resident Marsha Jackson’s bedroom in January 2018 after a recycling company moved into the land solely for the purpose of piling and grinding shingles there. In a matter of months, the pile grew into 70,000 tons of shingles towering above Jackson’s single-story home. Shingle dust coming through the family’s air vent gave Jackson headaches. Other neighbors started having issues breathing and were diagnosed with asthma.

“I needed to look out for my family and neighbors. It wasn’t right for us to be suffering down there,” said Jackson, a retired AT&T manager who now works at Dallas Area Rapid Transit. “Our community deserves just as much as any other community.”

Marsha Jackson and her neighbors, many of whom have lived in the area for decades, gather at a community meeting to discuss the Floral Farms park plan.

Calls to the city didn’t solve the problem so Jackson went to a meeting in a different neighborhood experiencing similar issues to find help for her neighbors. She soon got in touch with Evelyn Mayo of Downwinders at Risk, a clean air advocacy organization in North Texas.

Mayo said she was dumbfounded when she first saw Shingle Mountain, which she described as an “egregious” sight that needed to be addressed immediately because of the health risks it posed for residents.

The Dallas Morning News broke the Shingle Mountain story in December 2018, drawing local and national attention that pushed city officials to clear out the dump and acquire the land where it stood. The movement has evolved into a bilingual partnership between residents, grassroots organizations like Downwinders at Risk and the Inclusive Communities Project, Friendship West Baptist Church and local businesses. The next step, residents say, is to build a big and beautiful park for their families and other Dallas residents to enjoy.

Righting a Wrong

Former HKS Senior Urban Designer Vince Tam heard of Shingle Mountain while teaching a class on how to visualize planning through multimedia techniques at the University of Texas at Arlington. Mayo, who was taking Tam’s class at the time, reached out for guidance on how to develop the park; Tam brought Citizen HKS, the firm’s social impact program, on board to collaborate with the neighborhood’s residents and design a park for them.

HKS donates 1 percent of its billable time each year to public interest design work through Citizen HKS. That means the Floral Farms residents will not need to pay HKS to design their park.

Vince Tam, who used to work at HKS as a senior urban designer, and Citizen HKS member Mariana Santiago present one of three park concepts to residents at an August 1 meeting.

The team meets every week to brainstorm potential concepts for the park, taking into consideration what the community has expressed a desire for during past meetings. The designers come from a variety of disciplines and experience levels, ranging from senior leaders to newer employees who have been at HKS less than two years. Tam no longer works at HKS but continues to volunteer her time for the project because she is passionate about it.

The HKS members and community organizers don’t refer to the park project as Shingle Mountain; they call it Floral Farms, as a symbol of hope and change.

“This is about grace, optimism and respect – it’s restorative justice for the community,” said Mayo, who works closely with Jennifer Rangel of the Inclusive Communities Project to keep community members engaged in the project.

This is about grace, optimism and respect – it’s restorative justice for the community.

In early August, Citizen HKS presented three concepts at a community meeting held in both English and Spanish to get feedback from residents before coming up with a single plan.

Jackson and her neighbors eagerly took notes on each concept and shared their feedback in small groups, thinking through how the park will be used by different segments of their neighborhood from young children to older adults. They say they appreciate being involved at each juncture of the process, instead of only being looped in for a final concept.

Floral Farms residents review three park concepts before providing feedback on elements that they would like to see included in the final park concept. Many of them brought their children and grandchildren to the meeting, so they too could have a say in the process.

“It’s just amazing that the HKS designers have taken their time to collaborate with us and listen to how we can work together,” Jackson said. “They listened to the community first, and then they went to work on their designs.”

On the table: a soccer field, equine therapy center, play areas for young children, places of respite for parents, plaques commemorating the history of the park, and more. Many of the residents own horses and were thrilled by the possibility of sharing their love of animals with the greater community through an equine therapy center.

“I have been so inspired by how much joy in work is possible through creating strong equal partnerships with community organizations, activists and members,” said Peavey, who serves as HKS’ liaison for the project. “Hearing directly from the voices of the community, I’ve loved getting to hear their wisdom and incorporating it into our ideas.”

HKS Design Professional Carolina Almeida said she enjoys working on a project outside her usual Commercial-Mixed Use projects and collaborating with HKS employees she would not otherwise get to work with. As an Argentinian native, she also has helped translate for the Spanish-speaking residents during brainstorming sessions – which helps bring them into the decision-making process.

“This is a beautiful project that will make the community better and recognized, and it’s something that marginalized communities really need,” Almeida said. “This is also something that can be translated to other communities, here in Dallas and in other cities in the U.S.”

High levels of lead remain at the former Shingle Mountain site and residents are waiting on the city to remediate the land so construction can begin on their much-awaited park. They’re also hoping the city will acquire a neighboring two-acre parcel of land, which would open the door for an even larger park for Floral Farms.

Residents participate in a break-out session with community advocates and Citizen HKS members to discuss the park plan.

Meanwhile, the HKS team is developing a two-phased design for the area: Phase 1 will be a four-acre park and Phase 2 will incorporate two additional acres with additional features to form a larger park. And the residents are working to get more local businesses and community organizations on board so they can raise funds for the park’s construction later on.

Jackson is used to telling her younger grandkids not to come over to her house because of the poor air quality in the neighborhood. Now she’s looking forward to the day she will be able to stroll over to the luscious green park to make new memories in the neighborhood with her family.

“We’re just all excited,” she said. “We’re so excited for people to come out and help us after being turned down so much and not getting as much support in the past. I don’t have the words to express those feelings.”

Photography by Shirley Che

To support and learn more about this project. 

Designing a Better Future: Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

Aaron Jensen

Case Studies

StationSoccer: In Atlanta, a Multi-site Transit Oriented Development Initiative Takes on the Play Equity Gap

StationSoccer: In Atlanta, a Multi-site Transit Oriented Development Initiative Takes on the Play Equity Gap

It is said that sport is the great equalizer. But in low-income and underserved communities, equal access to sports facilities, fields and courts, green space, equipment, coaching – and even P.E. classes offered in school – is anything but a level playing field.

The root causes of this nation’s fragmented, long-standing equal access issues to youth sports are many. Decades of disinvestment in redlined majority Black and brown neighborhoods resulted in underfunded parks and recreation budgets that build and maintain facilities and youth programs. Existing issues have been compounded by the Covid-19-fueled economic crisis: city budget deficits and deep cuts to school enrichment programs like arts, music and sports will have a sustained and far-reaching impact on program offerings.

Pay-to-play sports programs have become a $17 billion industry according to Forbes magazine, allowing affluent families access to club sports teams, leagues, and private training for their kids. And while some clubs provide scholarships for those in need, many low-income youths are left on the sidelines.

From Greyfield to Playfield

In Atlanta, a coalition of public, private, and civic interests have joined forces to help close the play equity gap and build healthy, resilient communities through a unique urban development ecosystem that knits communities together through mass transit and the world’s most popular game – soccer.

StationSoccer is a burgeoning initiative of Soccer in the Streets, a not-for-profit organization that reaches children in underserved Atlanta neighborhoods through soccer, work-readiness training, experiential activities, and participation in youth leadership councils.

Billed as the world’s first transit soccer league, StationSoccer partnered with MARTA, Metro Atlanta’s public transit system, the City’s Department of City Planning, and the Atlanta United Foundation, the grant-making arm of the city’s Major League Soccer team. Together, they are building a network of 10 mini soccer fields infused with educational and community programming on MARTA’s underutilized space and vacant land around its train stations and under its elevated tracks.

Dubbed “The League of Stations,” the first field opened in 2016 at Five Points Station in the heart of downtown Atlanta – the first soccer field built inside a train station in the world. Fees collected from adult leagues and pick-up games support StationSoccer’s youth programs and facility maintenance, which makes the initiative self-sustaining. With the success of this pilot project, the project grew to West End Station and beyond where additional community partners like the Transformation Alliance  have also joined the project as they grow a footprint in equitable transit-oriented development work.

To date, four of the planned 10 soccer fields have opened – the most recent in October 2020 at Lindbergh Station, visualized by HKS through its public interest design initiative, Citizen HKS. In December 2019, a team of HKS Atlanta and Orlando designers began work on designs for three stations, beginning with the West End Station. HKS is collaborating with Atlanta City Studio, a pop-up urban design studio with Atlanta’s Department of City Planning that has led this effort from inception.

Extending far beyond recreational fields, each StationSoccer site is envisioned as a gathering place to build community and support youth education and development, mirroring Soccer in the Streets’ mission – as well as transit-oriented development that attracts new commercial and residential development, enhances the public realm, and serves as the foundation for healthy and more equitable neighborhoods.

“As additional soccer fields get added through Soccer in the Streets, they can spur the transformation of our public realm around MARTA stations – from unused space to a vibrant place that’s central to the neighborhood and community,” said Tim Keane, City of Atlanta Commissioner for City Planning. All project partners have remained focused despite obstacles spurred by the pandemic. “The collaborative effort with partners such as HKS has been instrumental in moving this project forward.”

“The collaborative effort with partners such as HKS has been instrumental in moving this project forward.”

Transforming the Public Realm

The HKS design team endeavored to craft a cohesive but distinct vision for its multi-site masterplan. Two key courses of action – an in-depth data analysis of each of the 10 existing and proposed SoccerStation sites, coupled with a deep community engagement process – is helping guide the design process and project solution.

“To gain a deeper understanding of each community’s needs, we looked at several layers of data using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping tools and visualized the gaps,” said Marwah Garib, an urban designer from HKS Orlando. The team studied data sets related to parks and open space, per-capita income, foreign-born residents, bike and trail infrastructure, access to healthy foods and other demographics to understand the unique make-up and needs of each neighborhood. “Such intricate analysis provided the design team with critical cues for programming that can distinctively cater to each StationSoccer location,” asserts Garib.

HKS’ deep dive data analysis has resulted in a decision-making tool for MARTA, the region’s developers, Atlanta city government and StationSoccer. Although the stations are all located in Metro Atlanta, the data indicated distinctions of adjacencies, demographics, walkability and more to provide cues for customized design solutions based on each location’s unique conditions.

Equitable Communities

The target audience for HKS’ three projects is predominantly underserved areas, but an analysis of the demographic data allowed the design team to connect population density with key community metrics like poverty, unemployment and health disparities. The project envisions that all children will have the opportunity to succeed on and off the pitch by affording access to soccer regardless of race, gender, religion, or socio-economic status. The design elements strive to integrate communities, intertwining efforts from corporations, education systems, government, non-profits, and community leaders to improve the lives of children through soccer.

“Station Soccer is inspiring kids both on and off the field through mentorship and encouraging them in their dreams. It is so much bigger than just soccer,” said Meggie Meidlinger, a design architect at HKS Atlanta who is part of the project team. “What StationSoccer is doing for kids in the community is incredible, and for us to get to be a part of something like that is such a privilege.” 

“What StationSoccer is doing for kids in the community is incredible, and for us to get to be a part of something like that is such a privilege.”

This aligns with the core values of the Atlanta City Design guiding document, championed by Atlanta’s Department of City Planning, that exhorts people-centric design, aspiring to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s concept of the Beloved Community.

Atlanta City Studio

Kit of Parts Design Solution

The design team developed a kit of parts solution for the League of Stations, replete with educational programming and community amenities. Paying homage to MARTA and sustainability in one central design gesture, StationSoccer now has the benefit to adaptively re-use decommissioned train cars, with exterior wrap designs suggested by the community’s children and families. HKS, through the research of possibilities, has recommended solar powered, WiFi enabled cars serve as learning spaces for children and adults for after school homework, mentoring, career planning and more: local residents can gain valuable life skills such as financial literacy, workplace readiness and job training.

“What we’ve begun to create together is a masterplan to grow the opportunities that can be found at MARTA Stations to further connect Atlanta’s diverse communities,” said Parker Stewart, HKS design architect and StationSoccer team designer. “Upon this research sits a new foundation for a unique kit of StationSoccer program parts to be laid onto each distinct area to best serve that individual community.”

Some ideas that the design team has recommended are amenities that could include shaded pavilions for soccer spectators and relaxation, community gardens, public art and farmer’s markets to create community activation zones that help cultivate healthy communities through sports-based youth development. At each field location, benches are built from re-purposed golden spikes that are autographed and driven into the field by fans to commemorate each Atlanta United home game.

Rendering by HKS

The Impact: Nothing but Net for Atlanta’s Youth

Participation in sports has a direct impact on children on and off the field: research shows that kids who play sports have higher GPAs, stay in school and graduate, have lower rates of obesity, and reap myriad other benefits socially and emotionally.

The League of Stations network of 10 stations is slated for completion by 2022. “The success of the StationSoccer project has relied upon meaningful contributions by the public and private sectors,” said Sanjay Patel, Director of Strategic Projects for Soccer in the Streets, who came up with the idea for StationSoccer back in 2013 while commuting to work on MARTA trains. “Partners like HKS bring some fantastic design elements that make our overall collaborative table have great synergy in our community.”

HKS believes its masterplan, coupled with the tremendous level of community, corporate and civic engagement, is the type of momentum needed to support a thriving, equitable and accessible sports program that is helping forge stronger, healthier, and more resilient Atlanta neighborhoods while boosting ridership on the public transportation system.

People from all over Atlanta are now coming together to play, learn and connect – and other American cities are taking notice, too. Soccer in the Streets has had inquiries and from Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco about StationSoccer and this unique approach to play in a community where the DNA of a community is at play.

“Sometimes a gratifying experience in the real estate profession does not involve a building, but it always involves people,” said Sheba Ross, StationSoccer project director for HKS Atlanta. “The StationSoccer project has given us a seamless platform to envision inclusive blueprints for the future through active engagement with game changers in our city.”

If you want to contribute to the Citizen HKS Foundation to help support the next phase of StationSoccer, donate here