A Conversation with Trinity Simons Wagner on the Mayors’ Institute on City Design

A Mayors’ Institute of City Design workshop held in Chicago in October 2022. Photo by Adam Alexander via Choose Chicago

With a belief in the power of city design to transform communities, the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD) educates mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities. MICD is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors. Since 1986, MICD has offered collaborative learning programs and resources to mayors in order to make a purposeful, positive impact on America.

Trinity Simons Wagner has served as the executive director of MICD since 2012. In this role, she works with mayors across the country on the nation’s most pressing urban planning and design challenges. She is also on the leadership team at the United States Conference of Mayors, and frequently speaks about the intersection of design and politics at universities, events, and symposia across the country. We spoke with Simons to learn more about MICD’s impact on mayors and communities across the U.S.

NEA: MICD’s focus is on equipping mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities. Why should mayors focus on gaining a better understanding of how to guide design in their cities?

SIMONS WAGNER: We believe that design is fundamental to shaping resilient, equitable, and thriving communities. Design impacts far more than how a city looks: it impacts the way it runs, lives, feels, and grows. And design is more than aesthetics: it’s a problem-solving tool. It’s a way to put people first and improve their lives.

We often hear from mayors that our programs help them reconnect with the reasons they ran for mayor in the first place: to make their communities stronger, more livable, more equitable, and to improve the lives of their residents.

NEA: How has the MICD program evolved since it began in 1986? What has changed? What has stayed the same?

SIMONS WAGNER: MICD is still going strong after 37 years and over 1,200 alumni mayors because our core program, the MICD Institute Session, simply works. We bring a small group of …


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