Agnieszka Gasparska, Mara Gittleman, Rupal Sanghvi, Philip Silva

Photo: Sam Lahoz

20 years, 20 champions. Each instrumental in Design Trust's lasting impact on NYC's public realm. Each another journey. 

Hear each champion's story, one every day here on our blog, culminating with a grand celebration on October 14, at Christie's. While enjoying a festive evening of music by AndrewAndrew, cocktails by Templeton Rye, custom photo shoots, hors d'oeuvres and a silent auction of art and design objects, you'll also meet the 20/20 Public Space Champions in person.

Join us to celebrate our champions, who have tirelessly been working to improve the daily lives of New Yorkers for two decades. Jumpstart the next 20 years of urban innovation by buying a ticket to the gala today.


Urban agriculture is a great way to produce food that is local, healthy, and sustainable. "Let's expand its practice" is easer said than done. Farmers and gardeners need to know – in numbers – all the good things growing in their plots, and demonstrate their groundbreaking impact for funders and policy makers. But how can we effectively collect data to tell the true story of our gardens?

Through our Five Borough Farm project series, team members Agnieszka Gasparska, Mara Gittleman, Rupal Sanghvi, and Phil Silva have revolutionized the way urban farmers and gardeners measure their success and communicate it to the larger public. 

During the initial phase of the project between 2009 and 2012, our Metrics Fellow Rupal Sanghvi and Graphic Design Fellow Agnieszka Gasparska perfected a framework to understand how the broad range of activities happening at NYC's farms and gardens contribute to social, health, economic and ecological outcomes

For the following second phase (2012-2014), our Outreach Fellow Philip Silva played a pivotal role in creating a data collection toolkit, and encouraging as many urban farmers and gardeners as possible to use it to set goals and evaluate their performance.  

Last year, we launched an online suite of tools for collecting urban agriculture data, in collaboration with Farming Concrete led by Mara Gittleman: The Barn allows farmers and gardeners to input and track their production internally; and the Mill provides public access to raw data and reports, derived from the Barn, for use of general public, policymakers and funders.

Let's start with a fill-in-the-blank question. Public space is vital because…?

Agnieszka: It's where we step out of our comfort zones, collide with others, and open ourselves up to new experiences.

Mara: Public space is vital because it allows for the possibility of community.

Rupal: Public space can act both as a barometer and change agent for critical transformations in health, social, economic, and ecological well-being.

Philip: Our imaginations are sparked and sustained by the surprises we find when we wander outside in the city.

Could you elaborate on these statements? What inspires your dedication to improve the daily lives of city dwellers? What does it take to become a public space champion?

Agnieszka: As the Kiss Me I'm Polish team, our collaboration with the incredible team of fellows on what was one of the most interesting and inspiring projects we have had the chance to participate in, continues to set our bar for how visual design can effect change not only in people’s minds and how they perceive information, but how they in turn use that knowledge to engage with the environment they live in, and experience the world around them.

That is visual design at its best and most profound. A tool not only for communication, but for action.

Rupal: What an exciting time – where opportunities to systematically address community health and wellbeing through design-decision making about the public ream are underway; 

  • when, together, multiple constituencies that represent the “makers” of public space in New York City are harnessing health and social science knowledge about what it takes to have community-level impact; 
  • when we agree that only a shared commitment to an “outcomes-based approach” with accessible metrics, tracking community benefits of public investments, can reveal how shifts in health inequity occur; and 
  • when true, close collaboration allows so much latent potential to become actualized.

Phil: I actually believe that every city dweller has what it takes to be a public space champion, whether it be through grassroots activism, hands-on stewardship, or just an everyday enjoyment of parks, plazas, gardens, and sidewalks.

What are you currently working on?

Agnieszka: We're wrapping up branding refresh work with the AIGA, the largest professional association for design in the U.S., and about to travel to California for the 2015 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, where the Stevens Institute of Technology's SURE HOUSE will compete for the top spot armed with a full-spectrum of communication and exhibition designs that our team has been working on for the last year.

I'm also juggling being an adjunct professor in the Cooper Union's undergraduate design department, and serving on the board of the New York chapter of the AIGA.

Rupal: I'm the founder and director of HealthxDesign. We work with extraordinary partners – leading design firms, community development corporations and other community-based groups to advance health and related social outcomes. Our current work includes figuring out predictors of short and long term population health, social, ecological, and economics outcomes for New York Restoration Project's initiative to revitalize the South Bronx waterfront.  

For that, we've developed a set of metrics, and data-sharing partnerships with City agencies and health systems in order to track progress against outcomes over the next five to seven years. 

We've also recently completed an evaluation of GrowNYC’s City-Wide School Garden initiative. The evaluation shows how the school garden as a design element can improve students' healthy eating and civic responsibility. A citywide strategy focusing on underserved neighborhoods can strengthen school learning environment, and reduce persistent inequity.

Philip: Right now, I'm helping to develop new curricula for the Central Park Conservancy and finishing up a Ph.D. in Natural Resources at Cornell University. I also serve as co-director of TreeKIT, an urban forestry initiative at the heart of TreesCount! 2015, the decennial census of every street tree in New York City. My work explores the many ways urban environmental organizations develop new and useful knowledge that helps them adapt and improve over time. 

I'm also an editor and contributing writer for the online publication Nature of Cities and consult for organizations throughout the New York Harbor region. 

I actually believe that every city dweller has what it takes to be a public space champion.

Philip Silva, Five Borough Farm II & III Outreach Fellow