Building Community with Food
Inspiring Design: Creating Beautiful, Just, and Resilient Places in America

Hosted in partnership with the Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy as a part of its 2021 Spring Myra Kraft Open Classroom, Inspiring Design: Creating Beautiful, Just, and Resilient Places in America explores the role of design in cities.

The series is presented in partnership with the Association of Architecture Organizations, Association of Collegiate Schools of ArchitectureBoston Society for Architecture, and the Boston Society of Landscape Architects.

Like many cities, Chicago’s existing food supply chain is long and fragile, with a massive carbon footprint. In 2019, Wheeler Kearns Architects (WKA) floated a proposal to establish Chicago’s first Food Innovation District on the West Side, building on neighborhood assets like Inspiration Kitchens—Garfield Park (2013 RBA Gold Medalist). Other investments include the Hatchery, a food business incubator, and Sweet Beginnings, a social enterprise sustained by honey harvested at six apiaries located throughout the City. Join WKA Principal Larry Kearns and North Lawndale Employment Network/Sweet Beginnings’ CEO Brenda Palms Barber for a discussion about how growing, preparing, and processing food creates jobs, improves public health, and revitalizes neighborhoods, ensuring that every dollar Chicagoans spend on food benefits local communities while decreasing the City’s carbon footprint.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand and describe how investment in urban food systems can address community welfare and affect economic, environmental, and social change.
  • Discuss the value of engaging in collaborative partnerships in the planning, design, and development of inclusive, community-based projects.
  • Identify and describe examples of food-focused initiatives that increase access to healthy food, create jobs, and revitalize neighborhoods.
  • Describe the components of a Food Innovation District using case studies and reference materials.

This session was recorded on Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 as part of Northeastern University’s Myra Kraft Open Classroom 2021 Spring series. ASLA and APA continuing education credits are available thanks to partnerships with Boston Society of Landscape Architects and the American Planning Association, Ohio Chapter.


Larry Kearns, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal, Wheeler Kearns Architects. As a Wheeler Kearns Architects principal since 1990, Lawrence Kearns pursues projects with ambitious social, economic, and environmental goals. Beyond architecture, he has won thirteen InnoCentive Challenges and was a finalist in the DoE’s 2020 Solar Prize for developing TrackerSled, which simplifies solar farming for rural areas. In 2008, the Chicago Tribune named Larry as Chicagoan of the Year in Architecture. In 2010, he presented to eight sitting US Ambassadors in Paris on the greening of US Embassies. Larry served as Project Principal for The Momentary, a sister facility to Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas that opened in 2020.

Brenda Palms Barber has served as President and CEO of the North Lawndale Employment Network, an urban workforce development agency, since its founding in 1999. in 2004, Brenda founded Sweet Beginnings, LLC, a social enterprise using urban beekeeping to create jobs for those with significant employment barriers. She launched Sweet Beginnings to ensure its hardest to employ clients could get jobs and gain an employment history. Under Brenda’s leadership, NLEN has grown from two to 53 employees and generates an annual budget of over $5.2 million. Today, NLEN serves more than 2,500 people per year.

Christopher Bosso’s areas of interest include food and environmental policy, science and technology policy, and the governance of emerging technologies. His newest books are Framing the Farm Bill: Interests, Ideology, and the Agricultural Act of 2014 (University of Kansas Press, 2017) and Feeding Cities: Improving Local Food Access, Sustainability, and Resilience (Routledge, 2017). His 2005 book, Environment, Inc.: From Grassroots to Beltway, received the 2006 Caldwell Award for best book in environmental policy and politics from the American Political Science Association. He also serves as associate director for academic affairs for the Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, and coordinates the undergraduate minor on food systems sustainability, health and equity.

Anne-Marie Lubenau (moderator), FAIA, is the director of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence at the Bruner Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An architect, educator and writer, she is an advocate for engaging people in the design of the built environment and increasing awareness of its impact on our lives. She contributes regularly to national and international publications and forums on design and urban development and is a member of the Boston Civic Design Commission, Harvard GSD Alumni Council, and the Association of Architecture Organization’s board of directors. She holds a BArch from Carnegie Mellon and was a 2012 Harvard Loeb Fellow.

Ted Landsmark (facilitator) is a Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs; Director, Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University. Ted is an architect, attorney, academic, and civil rights activist who serves as one of five members of the Boston Planning and Development Agency.




Inspiration Kitchens Case Study (2013 RBA Silver Medalist)

  • Inspiration Kitchens-Garfield Park repurposed a former factory in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods into a restaurant. The fresh, healthy food in the 80-seat restaurant is prepared by students in IKGP’s award-winning food service training program, which provides a life-changing opportunity and counseling and support services for people, including formerly incarcerated citizens, area residents struggling with homelessness, poverty, and access to employment opportunities. The restaurant also offers vouchers for free meals to local low-income residents. For more information about Inspiration Kitchens check out the Rudy Bruner Award case study to learn about the project’s urban context and history, leadership and vision, collaborative partnerships, design and development, financing, operations and programming, and impact.

Growing Food to Grow a Neighborhood

    • In 2019, Wheeler Kearns Architects expanded a proposal drafted a year earlier to establish Chicago’s first Food District on the West Side, building on neighborhood assets like our Inspiration Kitchens project that won the 2013 Rudy Bruner Award Gold Medal. In the intervening years, projects like the Hatchery, a food business incubator, were built nearby in what was formerly the City’s largest food desert. By dramatically shortening the supply chain, every dollar Chicagoans spend on food will circulate locally within a decarbonized economy. Read about the proposal and how social enterprise can build resiliency through better food choices here.

Sweet Beginnings

  • Sweet Beginnings is a social enterprise sustained by honey harvested at six apiaries located throughout the City. Colocated with North Lawndale Employment Network‘s new headquarters, Sweet Beginnings will supply fresh honey to a new sister-establishment called the Worker Bee Cafe. In a full-circle gesture, the Cafe will serve pastries made by Inspiration Kitchens, mutually building both organizations’ capacity. Read about how social enterprise is build resiliency through better food choices here. Watch: BeeLove | A TEDWomen 2016 Short Film by Kristi Jacobson as she captures the story of Sweet Beginnings where they hire citizens returning from incarceration.

North Lawndale Employment Network

  • The North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) serves under- and unemployed residents of the North Lawndale neighborhood and surrounding communities. Our clients include citizens returning from incarceration and others who face the day-to-day hardships of living without enough income to support themselves and their families. The North Lawndale community is rich in history and was once a major industrial corridor that was home to Sears, Roebuck, and Co. world headquarters. The non-profit recently launched The Campaign That Works where they share their vision to create a new campus for NLEN.


  • AgriFlats recombines a business incubator with Dutch-style Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) to provide fourteen aspiring growers with a one-acre greenhouse and an attached live-work unit where they can launch new businesses while creating year-round jobs in the community. Supported by a newly created Cooperative, AgriFlats includes support for the community, with spaces for meetings, learning, and housing to benefit the residents.

Feeding Cities: Improving local food access, security, and resilience