The advisory committee helps guide the strategic direction of Detroit Design 139, offering feedback on work being completed by working groups. The group is comprised of city planners, design leaders and community advocates.
Director of Planning and Development, City of Detroit
Maurice Cox is the Planning Director for the City of Detroit. Before his current role, he most recently served as associate dean for community engagement at Tulane University’s School of Architecture and director of the Tulane City Center, a university-affiliated practice operating at the intersection of design, urban research and civic engagement throughout New Orleans. Maurice has taught at Syracuse University, the University of Virginia and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He also served as design director of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from 2007-2010, where he led the NEA’s Your Town Rural Institute, the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, and oversaw grants to the design community across the United States. He was named one of “20 Masters of Design” in 2004 by Fast Company magazine for his experience merging architecture, politics and design education. In 2013, Cox was named one of the “Most Admired Design Educators in America” in the annual ranking of Design Intelligence.
Chief Design Officer, Bedrock
Melissa Dittmer serves as Bedrock’s first Chief Design Officer and is responsible for coordinating both short- and long-term design strategies throughout all aspects of Bedrock’s real estate portfolio. In her role, she utilizes design-thinking to ensure that every physical, spatial and urban experience is well designed for all of the people who live, work and play within Bedrock’s footprint. A licensed architect, Melissa has co-authored all of Bedrock’s master planned projects including Rivereast, Douglass Site and City Modern. Recently, Melissa collaborated with Detroit’s civic leaders on the city’s Amazon HQ2 proposal. In this role, Melissa led the creation of a 242-page Vision Book that illustrated Detroit’s unparalleled opportunity for growth, the city’s unique lifestyles and development strategies. As a design advocate, Melissa also co-led the organization, design and curation of a 17-day architecture exhibition called Detroit Design 139, which resulted in 16 special public events, 5,000 exhibit visitors, 19 published design articles, and three media outlets declaring Detroit as a top-10 tourist design destination. Throughout all of her work, Melissa strives to demonstrate the importance of utilizing architecture and design as urban regeneration strategies.
Managing Partner, Renovare Development
Jill Ferarri is a Managing Partner at Detroit-based Renovare Development, where she leads the transformational mixed-use development projects located in opportunity zones in urban neighborhoods and rural main streets. With 25 years of experience in catalyzing urban redevelopment, Jill’s background includes private real estate acquisition and development, legal practice, consulting and community development. Jill has served as Chief Executive Officer at both Shelborne Development and Michigan Community Resources, where she focused on neighborhood revitalization and affordable housing, and supporting economic development in low-income areas across the state. As Director of Community Development for Wayne County, she funded hundreds of multifamily and supportive housing units for domestic violence victims, homeless veterans and youth aging out of foster care. Jill was named a 2017 “Woman of Influence” by the Wayne State University Council on the Status of Women and the 2016 winner of the Melvin Simon Award from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Foundation. Currently, she is the co-chair of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Michigan District Council, and the founder of ULI Michigan’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, designed to promote leadership for women in the real estate industry.
Architect & Project Manager, SmithGroup
Marta Gazda-Auskalinis is a licensed architect and Project Manager at SmithGroup in Detroit. She relocated to Detroit in 2014 from Chicago where she was a principal at SMNG-A Architects and worked for 16 years on adaptive re-use projects that contributed to the revitalization of neighborhoods such as Logan Square, Back of the Yards and Pullman. The projects she has influenced have varied in type and program, from medical offices, schools, childcare and community centers, residential and mixed-use developments, among others. Marta was a longtime BOD member for the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago before moving to Detroit, where she continues to serve in advisory capacity. While in Detroit, working as a senior architect for QEA, Marta worked on adaptive re-use projects that include the Checker Building project in Corktown, where she helped turn a parking garage deck into a 52-unit apartment building, and the Element Detroit at the Metropolitan Building project, which transformed a 14-story commercial high-rise to a 110-room hotel. Marta joined SmithGroup in 2018 and has been engaged as a Project Manager with Workplace Studio and Detroit Urban Design Studio. Recent projects include the newly opened LinkedIn Detroit office and new facilities for specialized engineering firms.
Executive Director, Detroit Future City
Anika Goss is the Executive Director of Detroit Future City, a think- and do-tank focused on land use and economic development in Detroit. In her role, Anika leads a team of experts who implement the DFC Strategic Framework, a comprehensive, 50-year guide to decision-making and investment in Detroit. Since joining DFC in 2016, Anika has developed a strong focus on equitable implementation of its community and economic development, land use and sustainability, and research priorities through robust programs and several significant research studies. Notably, Anika led the DFC staff to bolster vacant land revitalization in Detroit through mini grants and coalition building efforts, developed a city-wide strategic approach to single-family rental housing, and publish the recently released the “Growing Detroit’s African American Middle Class” report, which created a benchmark for equitable economic development. Anika joined DFC after nearly 25 years of leadership in national and local roles in community development and nonprofit management at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the City of Detroit.
Professor & Chair, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Sharon Haar, FAIA is professor in the architecture program at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College. Her current research investigates the role of entrepreneurship, design innovation and globalization in the transformation of architectural practices devoted to social activism. Her publications include: The City as Campus: Urbanism and Higher Education in Chicago and Schools for Cities: Urban Strategies. Her articles and book reviews appear in journals including: Journal of Architectural Education, Journal of Planning Education and Research, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Architect’s Newspaper and Architectural Design. Her book chapters appear in: Urban Ecologies Reader, Embodied Utopias, Shanghai Transforming, and On Location: Heritage Cities and Sites. She has presented her research across the United States, Latin America, Asia and Europe. Sharon is the recipient of grants from institutions including: Graham Foundation, Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Fannie Mae Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and American Architecture Foundation.
Capacity Building Director, Community Development Advocates of Detroit
Akua Hill is the Capacity Building Director at Community Development Advocates of Detroit and has worked as a community advocate for nearly a decade in cities and with diverse populations. In her current role, Akua’s work focuses on strengthening neighborhood power through capacity-building efforts. This includes working with community organizations to increase racial equity through policy and practice, and improving approaches to youth engagement in a way that create spaces for youth to be leaders in community development. Prior to joining CDAD, Akua was responsible for leading educational advocacy initiatives in New York City and Newark, New Jersey. She worked with students, families, community partners and elected officials to achieve strategic advocacy goals that focused on the equitable distribution of educational resources. Akua’s involvement in the Newark community was instrumental in supporting K-12 schools – particularly in under resourced communities – through grant-making, collaborative projects with the district, and other citywide advocacy initiatives. A Harlem native, Akua is proud to now call Detroit home. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Human & Organizational Development and a Master of Education in Community Development and Action, both from Vanderbilt University.
Co-Founder, Artist Village Detroit
Alicia Marion-George was born and raised in Detroit and is the Co-Founder of Artist Village Detroit and President of The Old Redford Business Association. In 1998, she began working with John J. George of Detroit Blight Busters, a nonprofit housing organization, and her community and advocacy work has led to features in most major news outlets across Detroit and the Southeastern Michigan region. In 2000, Alicia dreamed of opening her own coffee shop in the neighborhood, an area void of many local businesses like coffeehouses, cafes and artist markets. After 10 years, about a quarter-of-a-million dollars, and a lot blood sweat and tears, it she opened Motor City Java House – a creative café – on Oct. 30, 2010. The café has been a catalyst for revitalizing and stabilizing the neighborhood, and people come from around the world to witness this project.
Senior Designer & Project Director, Detroit Collaborative Design Center
Ceara O’Leary, AIA, is a Senior Designer and Project Director at the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), where she leads collaborative community design and planning projects citywide. Ceara joined the DCDC in 2012 as an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow. She speaks nationally on DCDC’s work and community design and development. Ceara is also the Associate Director of the Master of Community Development program at the University of Detroit Mercy and teaches public interest design and community development courses as an adjunct professor in the School of Architecture. She is current Chair of the AIA Housing and Community Development Knowledge Community Advisory Group. In 2015 Ceara was named a “Top Urban Innovator” by Next City Vanguard and completed a fellowship with the ULI Larsen Center for Leadership. Previously, Ceara worked as a Community Designer with bcWORKSHOP and a Public Design Intern at the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio in Biloxi, Mississippi. Ceara graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with Masters degrees in Architecture and City & Regional Planning and she earned her undergraduate degree from Brown University.
Detroit Action Strategist, Ioby Detroit
Joe Rashid is a Detroit Action Strategist for Ioby Detroit. Born and raised in Detroit, Joe has spent his career dedicated to achieving equitable community development through authentic networking, social entrepreneurship and real estate development. As one of the founding Action Strategists for ioby Detroit, Joe trains community members on a unique model of crowdfunding that helps Detroit residents craft successful campaigns, fundraising plans, timelines, and budgets to realize specific neighborhood-based projects. Passionate about creating community-based solutions to address community-identified needs, Joe has launched several social enterprises including the E. Warren Tool Library, a partnership with Motor City Grounds Crew that will provide much needed home repair resources, workshops, and equipment to support neighborhood projects; and Restorin’ East Warren, a business and community association that recently acquired 40,000 square feet of retail along East Warren and is committed to facilitating continued growth along the East Warren commercial corridor from Mack Avenue to Alter Road. Joe holds a master’s degree in Community Development from the University of Detroit Mercy and lives in the East English Village Neighborhood with his wife Dana and their two Labrador Retrievers, Rosco and Peaches.
Executive Director, Design Core Detroit
Olga Stella leads Design Core Detroit, an organization that works to position Detroit as a global source of creative talent by supporting the growth of Detroit’s design-driven businesses and their market opportunities. In this role, she is applying her experience in economic development, public policy and coalition-building to Design Core’s work, which includes activating Detroit’s designation as the only UNESCO City of Design in the United States. Olga helped facilitate more than $200 million in investments in the city of Detroit through her work at the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, where she played multiple roles, including Chief Operating Officer. Her political experience includes serving under Mayor Dennis Archer as an Assistant to the Mayor for Economic Development and as Chief of Staff to former State Representative Steve Tobocman. Olga lives with her family in Detroit and is active in the community, serving on the boards of several nonprofit organizations.
Head of Architecture & Architect-In-Residence, Cranbrook Academy of Art
Gretchen Wilkins is the ninth Head of Architecture/Architect-in-Residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Prior to this, she was the Head of Department for Design at RMIT University, overseeing Architecture, Fashion, Digital Media and Design Studies programs at the Ho Chi Minh City campus. At RMIT Melbourne, Gretchen founded and directed the Master of Urban Design program and coordinated the Urban Architecture Laboratory. She was previously an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan and co-principal of Ply Architecture and Wilkins + Comazzi Design in Ann Arbor. Her design practice includes built work, awarded competitions, international publications and funded design research. This work focuses on contemporary approaches to density, industry and mobility in rapidly transforming cities. She earned her doctorate from RMIT University and Master of Architecture from the University of Michigan.