Hundreds of urban innovators came together at the Palmer House Hilton last weekend for Chicago's annual Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference.
The EDRA conference was already in full swing when I arrived Thursday
afternoon. Dozens of design professionals stood near the entrance of
the Palmer House, laughing and talking about industry issues. Many more
sat in the lobby, flipping through the various leaflets, pamphlets and
scheduling booklets they'd been givenâ€”struggling to decide which
presentation to visit next.
And what a struggle it was! There were no less than 47 group
presentation sessions at the conference this year. There were also 23
symposium sessions, nine intensive sessions, two plenary sessions,
several awards receptions, and one formal banquetâ€”to top it all off.
Armed only with an EDRA scheduling book and a makeshift map of the
hotel, I attempted to find my way, somewhat successfully, from session
I wandered first into a presentation entitled "The Residential
Experience of Rural Immigrants," by Yushu Zhu. A native of China, Zhu
was able to provide a firsthand account of life in a rural Chinese
community. Her perspective was refreshing, and I enjoyed listening to
her take on the rural immigrant experience.
Next, I made my way over to another floor of the hotel, where I
caught two presentations about community gardens. One, by Rutgers
professor Seiko Goto, was entitled "The Effects of Garden Design on
Quality of Life." The other, by PhD candidate Melissa Surratt, was
entitled "Approaching the Community Garden: How Physical Characteristics
Effect Impression." Both presenters were well-spoken and
well-researched. Both also seemed to stress the importance of aesthetics
in urban planning.
Later in the afternoon, I ventured into a wing of the hotel that had
been made into an impromptu poster display center. Titles like
"Aesthetic Evaluations of Public Transport Shelters" and "Ethnography as
a Design Tool: Reconsidering the Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club" caught my
eye, but the posters were all engaging, and I learned a considerable
amount about urban planning while reading them.
After studying a few dozen posters, however, I was a little fatigued.
So I took a minute to drain a cup of coffee and devour a sugar cookie
before I ventured into the last presentation I would attend that day, a
symposium lecture entitled "Environmental Design Research: Bodies,
Cities, and the Buildings in Between." The symposium lecture was led by
two professors: Professor Eleftherios Pavlides, of Roger Williams
University; and Galen Cranz, of U.C. Berkeley. Pavlides and Cranz spoke
to those assembled around them about the importance of environmentalism
in design education.
Pavlides and Cranz wrapped up their presentation around 6:30 pm, and
when I left them to make my way back home, I was exhausted but still
engaged. I had learned more about environmental design and city planning
in six hours than I would have thought possible. I was tired, yes. But I
had also enjoyed every minute of my EDRA experience, and I would love
to go back again.