Tell us about your role at LS3P.

I’m a Senior Urban Designer with the Urban Environments team. I have the immense pleasure of getting to work with this top-notch team not only to shape our relatively new practice area for the firm, but also to do brilliant work on behalf of interesting clients. In many ways, our team’s rather flat organizational structure means that we all share the responsibilities of growing the practice and advancing our work— with things like staffing, marketing, and professional development— but at the moment, my specific role is centered on the big-picture creative facets of strategy and design across several projects as well as the logistical efforts under client engagement and project management. (If this is not what I’m supposed to be doing, someone please let me know ASAP. Thanks.)

What’s inspiring you right now? 

Brilliant illustrators. My Instagram feed is dominated by them at the moment. It’s clear that the pendulum swung too far towards digital rendering at some point, and we lost so much of the magic of hand-drawing. But it seems to be swinging back towards analog drawing as a means to capture ideas and places, as there is a huge appetite and market for it everywhere you look. In the midst of that, I love that social media has given these super talented artists — who kind of used to live in the background — a new forum through which they showcase their work, express their viewpoint, win new clients, and build a more sustainable livelihood. I’m particularly blown away by these urban sketchers who are finding incredible ways to capture the otherwise elusive spirit of a place with unique tools and techniques. (IG: urbansketchers) They inspire me to further develop the possibility of character in the places I design. Even the hand-drawn compositions produced with digital tools are able to contribute to this exciting movement!

What are the greatest challenges we’re facing in the industry?  

Getting folks to think holistically about what it means to address clients’ challenges in unique ways. The industry seems to be so focused on delivery at the moment that we fail to think creatively about process. We work with efficiencies in mind, so we default to repeating old tricks and/or fine tuning shortcuts derived from advanced technological tools. We miss the means for the end, and in the end, we get a product that looks surprisingly (or not surprisingly!) like everything else that is coming down the pipeline with little relationship to the project’s context. In contrast, the opportunity exists to approach each new project in an opened-minded way without canned solutions. If we can listen to what clients are actually saying when it comes to their challenges, we can think outside of the box to consider a broad range of responsive and context-sensitive solutions that deliver a really special and bespoke product.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your role? 

Start taking note of the hundreds of things that add up to what we think of as great places. It can be easy to think of our industry’s role in design as trying to shape and control the entire experience of a user, but in reality, there are so many factors over which we don’t have control, and that’s beautiful. History, culture, people, time, education, etc. All of these non-physical elements contribute to the experience of place. Great designers find ways to play with these facets.

What is your favorite hometown restaurant, and what should I order if I go there?

Oh, this one is easy! Brent’s Drugs in Jackson, MS. My brother owns this quirky and charming 1946 soda fountain, and it’s something of a beloved institution in our hometown. (It was beloved before it was his, so I won’t give him too much credit. #lovingsiblingrivalry)  It’s the kind of place that just makes everyone smile. The food is good, but the frozen treats are great. You can’t go wrong with the Nutella milkshake!

What previous job outside of architecture taught you the most? 

I started my professional career doing set design for theater and film. It was a job that I loved. (It was the hours and demands that were bonkers and not sustainable!) But it certainly taught me the power of storytelling. If a play takes place in a living room, you can spend days searching for a sofa that fits the bill, hunting down the perfect fabric, and having the prop shop reupholster it, but it might be something as simple as adding a piece of duct tape to it that really completes the story. This seemingly insignificant move tells us so much more about this character or characters who call this place home. The job was also a powerful lesson in collaborative design. In larger shows with a big design team, the roles of various designers overlapped so much that it was nearly impossible to tell where one designer’s work ended and where another’s started. (i.e. Who drove the color selections— the costume designer, the lighting designer, or the set designer? Was furniture picked out by scenic or props? Was the flooring something purchased by me or painted by the scenic painters? etc.) Approaching the work with that posture sort of removes the potential for ego, and so it becomes 100% clear that the only way to make something great together is by working together seamlessly, which requires crazy amounts of creativity, communication, and humility.

What is your superpower? 

Continuing to find new iterations of the same joke and pushing it farther and farther to the point of ridiculousness. This is my quirky and messed up sense of humor. If you get in on the fun, I will love you forever. You’ve been warned.

What is your all-time favorite song? 

Eesh. That’s a hard one. I don’t think I have a all-time favorite, but Spotify tells me that Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own” is the song that I’ve listened to most in life, and I’ll totally get behind that. Amazing melody and fun beat sung over a rich and surprisingly tragic story about a definitive human emotion that we all know, and it’s queer canon— what’s not to love!

What place have you visited that changed you the most? 

My aunt and uncle lived in Amsterdam for many years, and there was a span where we went to stay with them somewhat regularly, starting when I was in middle school. Coming from suburban Mississippi where I wasn’t yet able to drive or navigate my own city accordingly, it was bizarre to jump on bikes with my cousins and have all of Amsterdam at our disposal. It was immediately clear that when a city it designed well and working well, it is much better at providing all of the things we crave in then places we want to live: safety, culture, activity, community life, etc. I think so much of my love for urbanism was taken from those really special family trips to that charming city.

Are you able to provide short answers on questionnaires like this one?

No. Well, maybe only at the end.

About Blake

Blake Reeves, AICP, is a Senior Urban Designer within LS3P’s Urban Environments Practice. In service of robust community building, he has led and advanced significant urban projects across the world. Blake specializes in master planning and strategy, where his proficiency for robust idea generation allows him to address complex challenges with innovative solutions that drive meaningful and effective change.

Blake is a champion for community development, and he has created a wealth of comprehensive plans and small area plans that employ regulatory frameworks to capture and enable the collective vision of a people. He is recognized for his inventive community engagement tools that respect each party’s role in the planning process. He seeks out opportunities where he can serve as a boots-on-the-ground advocate who makes a space for all people and their stories in a collective design. To this end, Blake’s work has been critical in shaping vibrant, inclusive, and welcoming mixed-use districts that provide more just and equitable outcomes for all.

An eager urbanist anthropologist, Blake always has his ear to the ground is keenly aware of the ways in which society and culture occupy the human built environment. As a storyteller, he sees urban design as the tool by which communities can creatively transcribe their history, ethos, and identity upon the public realm to create a sense of place and pride in that place. He has created many design guidelines that have been pivotal in shaping the character of one-of-kind settings.

Blake was born and raised in the Southeast, but before joining LS3P he worked with a global firm where he worked on prestigious international commissions. Through the Future of Places program, Blake also aided in crafting the public space recommendations for Habitat III, the United Nations’ third bi-decennial summit on cities, towns, and villages. He now brings that wealth of insight back to the region that he calls home, where is passionate about addressing the challenges that are unique to the Southeast with a sharp understanding of what makes for great communities the world over.

Blake holds both a Master of Science in Urban Design and a Master of City and Regional Planning from Georgia Tech, and he is actively involved with supporting those educational programs to cheer on the future urbanists that will shape this region.