The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, February 03, 2020 1:00 am

Five questions for Zachary Benedict

Principal, MKM architecture + design

1 You've had a hand in practically every project aimed at transforming downtown Fort Wayne, from the riverfront, to the arts campus, to The Landing. What has surprised you most during all of this?

What has surprised me the most is how much work this community is willing to take on with the hope of improving itself. I don't know if there is another city of our size that has accomplished more in terms of planning, growth and development in the last 10 years.

These projects aren't easy. They are extremely complicated endeavors that require the dedication of countless people, ranging from finance and marketing to construction and operation, to get to the finish line.

And instead of relaxing and looking back at our accomplishments, this community keeps moving forward and asking, “What's next?”

 

2 What do you say to people who question whether all this metamorphosis is worth the time and money?

The discussion of defining an appropriate return on any investment can be complicated. Cities have always worked to invest in themselves when they could.

For many communities, the last several decades saw economic development dollars going toward suburban infrastructure (housing subdivisions, industrial parks, etc.). What has changed is the variables that result in a growing economy.

When you accept the notion that “place attachment” is a key factor in creating a prosperous community, neighborhood development and downtown revitalization become increasingly important on multiple fronts.

There is a much longer answer here regarding ROI when you consider the cost surrounding the health implications of suburban development and the socioeconomic benefits of prioritizing socially engaging neighborhoods where people can rely on each other.

For more, see the blog post at mkmdesign.com/single-post/2019/10/08/The-Petula-Clark-Postulate. 

3 What is the connection between architecture and healthy living?

The built environment plays an enormous role in a community's well-being. The majority of the social determinants of health aren't caused by good genes or quality health care. They are a direct result of the things that define our everyday routine. That's why someone's ZIP code is such an effective predictor of average life expectancy – where we live changes how we live. So as our understanding of the connection between place-making and well-being continues to grow, so does our understanding as to how architecture can provide a supportive platform for healthy living.

 

4 Part of your job as an architect is anticipating the future. Are you optimistic about this city's future? About America's?

I'm optimistic about the Midwest in general. We are facing some serious challenges surrounding community health, aging demographics and economic sustainability. But my hope, knowing the resilience and creativity of the average Midwesterner, is that this adversity will breed innovation – that we can illustrate to the rest of the country how to address these problems and redefine ourselves. Fort Wayne is already doing that, and I think we are just getting started.

For more, see mkmdesign.com/single-post/2018/05/02/Thinking-Upstream.

5 Developments such as The Landing also honor the past. What did the people who developed Fort Wayne over the past two centuries get right?

I think we have been at our best over the years when we see the built environment as a platform for people – a network of places that provide an opportunity to grow and prosper as a group. Neighborhoods and cities are wonderfully efficient communication tools when we do it right. They incentivize people to connect – to share ideas, stories and admiration. That's what has made places like the Landing special, then and now.

For more, see fortwayne.com/underfoot/fort-waynes-historic-landing-gets-a-lift/.


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