American Roundtable will shine a spotlight on 10 overlooked communities across the country

A Seat at the Table

American Roundtable will shine a spotlight on 10 overlooked communities across the country

Mobile, Alabama's historic Africatown district is one of 10 communities that will be profiled in-depth as part of the Architectural League's American Roundtable project. (Amy Walker/ Wikimedia Commons)

The ten commissioned reports that will comprise American Roundtable, a new initiative headed by the Architectural League of New York, have been announced. Earlier in the year, AN put out a call on social media for editors who were interested to apply for the program.

Selected by a special committee from a pool of nearly 125 total submissions covering 40 states and territories, each report, spearheaded by an editor or editorial team, will focus on an overlooked small or mid-sized American community and its unique set of struggles, strengths, needs, and wants. Geographically, economically, and culturally diverse, these are places that to many Americans are just obscure points on a map, but in actually have untold stories to tell. Through essays, mapping, video, photography, graphics, and other forms of media gleaned from on-the-ground reportage, American Roundtable will tell these stories and give voice to places that have been largely left silent and unnoticed.

“The hope for American Roundtable is to highlight, in all their complexity and nuance, communities too often overlooked and to provide platforms for individuals and organizations to share their stories and work imagining, understanding, and improving their local built environments,” reads a press statement, which also pointed out that these are the type of communities “often reduced to caricature and oversimplification.”

The commissioned reports will be published online and in print this coming November and be followed by a series of thematic conversations (exact timing is pending due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The focus in each will revolve around five key topic areas: public space, health, work and economy, infrastructure, and environment. “Now, it is even more of an imperative to give voice to local places to envision a better, collective future,” said Paul Lewis, president of the Architectural League and Selection Committee member.

a panoramic view of a mill in Rumford, Maine
The small city of Rumford in Maine’s paper mill-heavy River Valley region. (Chris M. Morris/Flickr)

The 10 communities to be profiled as part of the American Roundtable project are: Africatown, a historically rich yet underserved neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama; the oft-forgotten Appalachian communities of West Virginia; Brownsville, Texas’s poverty-stricken southernmost border city; South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Reservation, home to the Lakota people and the fourth largest Indian reservation by land in the United States; the small city of Clarksdale, Mississippi, often credited as the birthplace of the Delta Blues; New Mexico’s Lower Rio Grande Valley; Maine’s working-class, natural resource-rich River Valley region; the climate change-vulnerable South Beach communities of Washington’s Pacific coast; North Carolina’s agriculture-dependent Southeast Good Food Corridor that spans Robeson and Scotland counties, and Ohio’s Youngstown-Warren-Lordstown metropolitan area, a former industrial hotbed that has experienced stark population and job losses since the 1970s.

“The proposals reflected the tremendous richness and diversity of America’s small cities, towns, and rural regions, so often collapsed into stereotype or dismissed altogether in our national narratives, said Sue Mobley, a New Orleans-based urbanist and activist and member of the American Roundtable Selection Committee member, in a statement. “For every proposal we received there were dozens of stories contained in it: of natural spaces, economic histories, unique cultures, and incredible people that I wanted to hear more about.”