Vision Quest

The inaugural DesignRVA event asking young people to build interactive Richmond neighborhood.

All too often, community voices aren’t included in the design of places where people live, learn, work and play. But it’s precisely those voices, especially young people’s voices, that Storefront for Community Design is seeking at their first ever DesignRVA event. Planned as a free community day, children and their families will be able to imagine and build an interactive neighborhood to create the Richmond spaces they seek.

The goal of incorporating younger voices and vision – those of potential future community leaders – is that ultimately, we all benefit from their imagination and creativity. “DesignRVA was created to help children imagine what the communities they live in can become,” says Shawn Balon, Storefront for Community Design’s executive director. “By visioning, designing, and understanding how cities are planned and developed, residents can become active participants in what Richmond becomes for future generations.”

Storefront for Community Design is a nonprofit design center founded in 2011 to make design programs and resources accessible to all, as Balon puts it, for the love of the city. “We inspire equitable community-driven design in the built environment through innovative programs and resources that engage the next generation of designers,” he explains. “That includes professions like architecture, engineering, urban planning, and construction.”

Editor’s note: Full disclosure, VPM, which owns Style Weekly, is a media sponsor of the DesignRVA event.

Based on DC’s Big Build

The inspiration for DesignRVA came from Balon as part of his vision to engage a new generation of children in Richmond in a hands-on community imagining activity. It’s based loosely on the Big Build, hosted annually by the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. SFCD’s eight-person advisory council, established in summer 2022, has been involved in all aspects of the event planning, as well as volunteering on the day of the event and the interactive map art exhibition.

At DesignRVA, children ages 8 to 14 and their families will have the opportunity to interact and engage in hands-on activities with businesses, municipalities, community-based organizations, and nonprofit experts, in the built environment. The event is intended to raise awareness about four critical needs as identified in the Richmond 300 plan: health and wellness, housing, land use, and transportation.

Attendees will interact with professionals to learn about opportunities to create an idealistic, imagined community. Children will take their built elements to an “imagined” interactive neighborhood map that will evolve throughout the day, building a shared vision of a more equitably built environment. “DesignRVA is an immersive approach to creating awareness and providing education about equitable design to the region’s future leaders,” Balon explains. “It encourages their voices and civic engagement in their neighborhoods and communities.”

The goal is to provide children who attend with education and awareness and cultivate reflection and sensitivity about the built environment. “Doing so allows them to use their voices to offer answers how they would design a fairer and more equitable neighborhood,” Balon says, adding that Storefront for Community Design will then “share their answers with those in the community who have the power to incorporate the observations and imaginations to create change.”

Morphing interactive map

An interactive map will offer spaces and serve as a place holder for the elements the children create throughout the day. Volunteer professionals and exhibit hosts will offer 11 hands-on activity stations, each representing one of the four focal areas: health and wellness; housing; land use; and transportation. “The map will morph throughout the four-hour event day as children bring additional ideas, images, models, and elements to the imagined community,” says Balon.

Following the event, the interactive map will be relocated to Storefront for Community Design’s office on East Broad Street. An art exhibit will be curated and installed using the interactive map and images and voices of the young creators. A video will include interviews with some of the participating children, event hosts, and others.

The installation at SFCD’s office will be on display during First Friday Art Walk during the summer. City leaders, design professionals, schools, and the public are invited to come view the map and watch the video to hear first-hand accounts directly from the voices of the children involved in the exercises.

Balon anticipates the information and knowledge gained through hosting the day’s activities will help shape future City Builders Design Workshops, a semester long program for teenagers. ( as well as the Design Richmond Interactive Guidebook (

The inaugural event should provide a lesson plan that informs next year’s planning. They’re aiming to engage even more young Richmonders in imagining their community while boosting the number of advisory council members, volunteers, sponsors, and venues in support of enhancing their innovative programming. “We want to make DesignRVA so successful in its first year that the community-at-large, exhibit hosts, sponsors, and community leaders will be vying for a place at next year’s event and willing to support future DesignRVA events and other Storefront initiatives,” Balon says.

Bottom line: It takes a village when you’re talking about reimagining Richmond’s built environment. DesignRVA wants to be a part of that process.

“Making places that have been created through thoughtful community dialogue provides opportunities for more neighborhoods where all can be safe, thrive and grow, ultimately creating stronger and more vibrant communities.”

DesignRVA will be held on Saturday, June 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, 2501 Monument Ave., Storefront for Community Design, 205 E. Broad St.


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