Center for Communities by Design


Citizens from Del Paso Heights, Sacramento work with design team members to identify keep revitalization opportunities in the neighborhood.

For the last 50 years, our Center for Communities by Design has had a profound impact on some of America’s most prominent places, sending national teams to partner with local communities in need.

Whether it’s rebuilding after a disaster or helping a community envision its future, we bring the power and resources of a customized team of multi-disciplinary experts to partner with and transform communities.

Our work includes:

  • serving 200+ communities with pro bono design assistance and community-driven planning processes
  • providing technical assistance and training on process design, public engagement and other community-based sustainability issues
  • developing resources for communities, partner organizations, government agencies and others
  • convening experts and community members to discuss community design and sustainability

A record of success

Vibrant neighborhoods such as Portland’s Pearl District and Downtown Austin are the result of collaboration with Design Assistance teams. We helped Birmingham bounce back stronger after a devastating tornado and helped Port Angeles, Washington redefine its downtown and waterfront in keeping with the community’s evolving needs.

Communities gain economically and socially—and they gain attention and recognition. The program is internationally recognized and has received several awards.

The team approach

We assemble volunteer teams of experts from around the country to help establish and achieve communities’ visions. Transportation, disaster recovery, energy, green building, density, environmental mitigation—more than 30 disciplines have participated on the customized teams.

Through visits and events, we get to know your history, culture, priorities and needs. And we engage experts in your community to help build capacity that lasts beyond the project.

From community charrettes to youth workshops, activities directly involve diverse voices and perspectives at every point in the process.

Design Assistance Team programs

Regional/Urban Design Assistance Teams (R/UDAT)

This highly flexible program works for communities of all sizes, from small towns to districts in major metropolitan regions. Together, we find design solutions for communities experiencing struggles such as affordable housing, vacant storefronts, unfocused growth and neighborhood decline. Through a series of community activities and evaluation, our team creates and presents an action plan with phased, implementable recommendations for the future.

Learn more about R/UDAT >

Sustainable Design Assessment Teams (SDAT)

Sustainability helps ensure a community’s ecological, economic and cultural survival. Our teams assess current conditions and help the community to envision future possibilities. After a focused team visit, we provide an initial presentation of our findings with a subsequent final report with more in-depth analysis and recommendations.

Learn more about SDAT >

Design and Resiliency Teams (DART)

Many communities across the country are struggling to build strategies on resilience. In response to this need, the AIA has collaborated on an innovative partnership with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network to provide Design and Resilience Teams. Each DART team is composed of an interdisciplinary mix of professionals customized to the local issues in a community.

Learn more about DART >

Image credits


Joel Mills - Senior Director, Communities by Design