Cities seeking to encourage citizen involvement take note — the Center for Active Design has just received an $115,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to fund a set of design guidelines encouraging civic engagement through architecture and urban planning.

The center’s “Designing for Robust Engagement” initiative aims to foster social connections, political participation and resident involvement in creating vibrant public spaces and community assets, according to the Knight Foundation,

“We believe that design plays a key role in developing communities that are more civically engaged, and we want to understand its true impact,” says Reena Agarwal, Center for Active Design policy director. “Funding provided by Knight Foundation will allow us to initiate a collaborative process that explores design and its impact on civic engagement. Our goal is to help build communities that are stronger, healthier and more sustainable over the long run.”

Agarwal wrote that communities with high levels of civic engagement foster residents who feel empowered to be part of the political process and feel pride and ownership over their public spaces. These communities have high levels of voter registration, stronger social relationships and improve health and well-being of residents. The partnership with the Knight Foundation will facilitate collecting available research, gathering an interdisciplinary group of professionals to advise the center and the creating a manual of practical design strategies to promote civic engagement.

“We want to start a new informative dialogue among designers, political strategists, researchers and community engagement professionals,” says Agarwal. “The hope is that this ongoing discussion will yield innovative solutions to the current lack of civic engagement that many communities experience.”

The Knight Foundation states that with its support, the center will build on its 2010 Active Design Guidelines to create a direct link between community design and fully-engaged community members as well as practical strategies and informative solutions for civic leaders, community members, planners, developers and designers.

“Citizens who are fully engaged in their communities are motivated to vote, contribute to their communities, shape politics and act as stewards of public spaces and activities,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “We hope the center can find ways to use the power of design to make it more likely that people will play active civic roles in their communities, in the same way the center developed guidelines for design to encourage healthy behaviors.”