“We don’t bring our own answers to the problem… We find new answers within the problem.”
To say that everything Civitas, Inc. touches turns to gold may be hyperbole, but it is entirely fair to say the urban design consultancy leaves places better than it found them. Founded by Mark Johnson and Ann Mullins in 1984 out of a passion for design and love of cities, Civitas began as a name scribbled on a cocktail napkin. The word “civitas” suggests civic-mindedness, citizenship and civility – a sense of shared community purpose that the firm embodies both in the urban places it reimagines and in its own collaborative culture of design experts.
On first meeting, Civitas founder and president Mark Johnson is likely to invoke the firm’s philosophy that design must meet three criteria: creating a genuine sense of place, arising out of a problem, and ultimately being “about them, not us.” Put into practice through an energetic process of listening, questioning and analysis, the philosophy challenges assumptions and looks to unveil the myths of a place. In recent years, Civitas has transformed abandoned brownfield, featureless greenfield – even a decrepit shopping mall – into vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods; reimagined blighted riverfront as a community centerpiece driving economic growth; envisioned the true face of the American museum 100 years in the future; and even conjured plans for a full-blown culturally anchored city out of an Afghan desert.
Because its city-centric work can easily become bogged down in politics and bureaucracy, Civitas has become adept at connecting with local leadership and helping them move their agendas forward, including meeting the real people of the community where and how they live. The firm’s core desire to make a difference – not with monuments to itself but through creating genuinely useful and necessary places – fosters deep friendships and professional collaborations in cities across the U.S. and around the world. Civitas invests itself in the future of places that in turn come to welcome its team as part of their communities.
Working as a creative collective led by a group of thought-leader principals who have been together more than 20 years joined by younger principals who bring a new creative energy and understanding of the ever-changing culture of cities, Civitas approaches problems not by looking for answers, but rather by raising new questions that reframe the starting assumptions. This approach of looking for questions and ultimately answers within the problem itself has allowed the team to create solutions with the potential to last, designing urban places that evolve even as communities – and the technologies that can drive them – change.
“We want to find deep meaning for people, so we have to ask instead of tell,” says Johnson, who explains the firm’s goal of creating design legacy that is protected over time not because of dollars spent or big names involved, but simply “because people love it.”
Founded in 1984 with the core purpose of “creating healthier cities,” Denver-based Civitas, Inc., is an idea-based practice of urban designers, architects and landscape architects engaged in strategic planning for urban change and project design for built works. A consultancy and a design studio, Civitas advises clients on a wide range of strategies for re-imagining city conditions, and designing the ideas, craft and implementation of built spaces and systems at the scale of infrastructure.
Civitas uses design thinking, design form, critical inquiry and political acumen to make meaningful change in cities. Taking an “It’s about them, not us” approach, the firm listens, analyzes and then reframes assumptions into new propositions with an eye to asking questions that provide entirely new – and ultimately more useful – perspectives on the issues presented.
Mark Johnson, Founding Principal; Craig Vickers, Principal; Scott Jordan, Principal; Chris Parezo, Principal; ilana Fowler, Director of Business Development & Marketing
- Denver, Colorado – more than 100 projects evolving Denver into an example of the best in urban living for the U.S., including reclaiming airport brownfield to create thriving, historically anchored Stapleton neighborhood, reinventing defunct shopping mall as walkable Belmar neighborhood and design of coming public-transport community Aviation Station
- New York, New York – create community connection to the Harlem River with socially stable incremental redevelopment at Sherman Creek; and re-envision a people-friendly Atlantic Avenue for Brooklyn
- Los Angeles, California – new vision of iconic LA River as living, active green spine linking 32 miles of parks, trails, rain gardens, habitat, recreational spaces and private reinvestment
- Greenville, South Carolina – historically anchored “fabric of innovation” redesign of downtown piazza
- Calgary, Alberta, Canada – Civitas selected by International Design Competition to redesign/revitalize St. Patrick’s Island
- Miami, Florida – transform high crime area into a 26-acre park on Biscayne Bay, including the Art and Science Museums
- St. Louis, Missouri – Leading a large team toward an integrated and sustainable plan for the regeneration of one of America’s most blighted neighborhoods – the Northside of downtown St. Louis.
- Salt Lake City, Utah – strategize new civic and cultural spine connecting to Civitas-designed Library Square Park and Utah Arts Festival site
- San Diego, California – North Embarcadero waterfront development; restoration of historic Balboa Park; San Diego’s Convention Center rooftop and waterfront park
- Memphis, Tennessee – Riverfront Master Plan connecting downtown and neighborhoods to the Mississippi River including relocating industries and finding opportunities for new investment and living along the riverbank
- Raleigh, North Carolina – vision plan to extrovert the North Carolina Museum of Art into Museum Park with new active venues for social engagement with the arts
On December 7, 1984, Mark Johnson wrote the word that would become the firm’s name on a cocktail napkin. “Civitas,” with a definition of “a body of people constituting a politically organized community, a state, especially a city-state,” embraced both the firm’s mission of bettering cities through design and a focus on the common good. The firm’s cooperative “community of equals” comprises an idea-driven culture of designers from multiple disciplines and approaches to urbanism.
1200 Bannock St., Denver, CO 80204. The Civitas offices are in a turn-of-the-century brick former automotive building, anchoring the corner of 12th and Bannock in the heart of Denver’s burgeoning cultural center with an up-close view of the outsize Dan Ostermiller bronze Scottish Angus Cow and Calf sculpture. The firm’s offices are a co-work collaborative including other creative firms in architecture, lighting design, and architectural photography.
LOCATION (VIRTUAL) www.civitasinc.com
Ilana Fowler, Civitas Director of Business Development & Marketing, firstname.lastname@example.org, 303.571.0053 x120; Darla Worden, WordenGroup Public Relations, email@example.com, 303.777.7667
Aviation Place, a mixed use retail street, stretches two blocks into the development connecting the 61st and Pena Station to the heart of the neighborhood.
Integrated into a north/south linear park, Aviation Station Plaza provides station identity and is the gateway to the neighborhood.
Civitas Receives AIA New York Urban Design Award for St. Patrick’s Island
The proposed topographic changes to St. Patrick’s Island will bring people closer to the water while linking them visually to the downtown.
The new ONE City Plaza in Greenville, SC. The project’s simple elements – including urban sofas, trees, water and shade structure – combine for maximum impact in creating an outdoor experience that attracts pedestrians for shopping, dining or just strolling in the city’s central downtown district.
Prairie Meadows Aerial Render
Prairie Meadows Birdseye View
Mews Perspective Garden
For high resolution images please contact Civitas at firstname.lastname@example.org.