Dowdell holds a unique perspective on cities, architecture, and real estate development. It is precisely through her lived experience and her family’s history that she was drawn to what she does today. Her grandparents, in 1947, were one of the first black families to integrate into their neighborhood in the east side of Detroit. That same house, when Dowdell was nine years old, was demolished after the government of Detroit designated her neighborhood as disinvested. This impacted Dowdell deeply and she quickly at the age of eleven saw architecture as part of a solution to prevent what she experienced happening to other families in the country and the world. As a renowned leader in strategic planning, design, project management, housing policy, and real estate development, it’s ultimately through a blend of academic and professional experiences that Dowdell learned what it takes to champion equity in the design process.
The City of Detroit is one of the country’s most famous examples of divestment, depopulation, as well as post-industrialization, and its future has become one of the main focuses of Dowdell’s professional career. For Dowdell, cities like Detroit, aren’t protected and residents remain vulnerable to private investment and government initiatives that fail to meet community needs.
Dowdell sees these policies as something that can be phased out and replaced by a development framework that is rooted in designing for equitability and inclusiveness. For Dowdell, this tension between private investment, which gentrifies, and inclusive bottom-up solutions to divestment is central to a growing dialogue about the character and intent of urban revitalization in the United States.
Education has been instrumental in how Dowdell has shaped her professional journey and she often cites crucial moments in her life where teachers, advisors, and mentors have all influenced her work. It reinforces her desire as NOMA President to increase access. leadership, and equity within architecture and design. As a practitioner she often emphasizes the key need to connect to the younger generations, through educational platforms, to pass down knowledge and support them as they rise up to become professionals.
At Century Partners, Dowdell focuses on answering the question of “How can real estate development and sustainable design be used to foster equitable and inclusive redevelopment in cities?” Century Partners sees sustainable housing development as the method of facilitating that revitalization. However, this approach must integrate a grassroots framework, creative placemaking efforts, and strong municipal support to be successful according to Dowdell and Century Partners.
This approach can be best seen in Century Partner’s Fitzgerald Revitalization Project, where they took a quarter-square mile area of the Fitzgerald neighborhood in northwest Detroit and explored urban planning approaches that centered the community’s voices in the planning process. The revitalization strategy that was developed addressed public space, housing rehabilitation, and the creation of open space in the community.
In addition to leading these progressive efforts in urban development and revitalization, as President of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), Kimberly is championing a robust campaign on raising diversity in the design industry. Entitled #ALLinforNOMA, her campaign is centered on three concepts: access, leadership, and legacy. For Dowdell access, leadership, and legacy are fundamental parts of sustaining the success of minority architects and designers.
More generally NOMA, under Kimberly’s direction, will begin to establish deeper relations with industry partners to grow a stronger network of organizations and enterprises that uphold NOMA’s vision. This is something she touched on when she gave Harvard’s 19th Annual John T. Dunlop Lecture, presented by the Joint Center for Housing Studies, where she spoke about the necessary steps architects, developers, and planners can make to create neighborhoods that welcome all people and paves the way for a more diverse and equitable built environment for future generations to live in and shape communally.
Kimberly Dowdell received her Bachelors of Architecture from Cornell University in 2006, laying the groundwork of her professional career in analyzing and changing the built environment. Her passion for architecture pushed Dowdell to become a lecturer at the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning in Ann Arbor, a city outside of Detroit. As an educator, Dowdell sees her role as that of a mentor, a person who can help aspiring designers understand not only the complexities of design practice but push them to see themselves as leaders in the profession.