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Alabama Innovation Engine: Outreach that Can

Idea generation

Entering its third year of operation, Alabama Innovation Engine is a design-based community development initiative that began as a partnership between Auburn University’s Urban Studio and the University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development. Engine’s mission is to improve Alabama through design.

Among the ways Engine accomplishes its mission is through organizing and hosting design summits that are action-oriented events that identify partnerships, mission overlaps, and potential in a non-traditional environment.   These summits create opportunities for designers to combine their skills with integrative thinking and design facilitation with the hands-on knowledge of local clients.

The Alabama Design Summit in Birmingham, hosted by the Engine on September 14–15, is one of three health-related summits taking place around the United States (others are in Seattle and New York City) as part of AIGA’s “Design for Good” initiative  supported by  PepsiCo Healthy Ventures. Engine is helping AIGA and local business, healthcare leaders and designers to identify, define, and apply design thinking to healthy lifestyle options and food distribution issues. 

The Alabama Design Summit will feature designers from the Birmingham area  working with community participants that include: the UAB School of Public Health (who provided their Edge of Chaos meeting space in the Lister Hill Library for the summit), the College of Health Science and the Center for Economic Development (University of Alabama), the Freshwater Land Trust, the Jones Valley Teaching Farm, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the Health Action Partnership, and the United Way.  Solutions that emerge from the summit will be documented and published on and may be disseminated to other community leaders for local use. Additionally PepsiCo Nutrition Ventures may also implement or help advance solutions over the coming months.

Engine also identifies and coordinates regionally based, long-term projects with potential to have broad social and economic impacts on Alabama. An example of this work includes an ongoing collaboration with the Nature Conservancy of Alabama and the Cahaba River Society on the Cahaba Blueway project.  A blueway is a water-based trail system that gives all types of users opportunities to engage with and enjoy a river―such as kayaking, picnicking, and hiking. The development of the Cahaba Blueway includes creating access points along the river and a consistent means of communicating ways to engage the river. Engine’s primary roles in this partnership are to provide leadership and coordination of the partnering organizations’ efforts as well as taking the lead in developing branding, marketing, and communications products for the Cahaba Blueway.  [link to Engine / SAAPI grantpress release on web]

Matt Leavell, a 2001 graduate of APLA’s dual degree Architecture and Interior Architecture program, is Project Director of the Alabama Innovation Engine.

[Borrowed liberally and directly from Alabama Innovation Engine: 24 Month Progress Report]