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by Alexandra J Tohme and François Alexandre

With rapid growth happening in the urban cores of Jacksonville and Miami, local leaders highlight the need to bridge culture, arts, community knowledge and economic opportunities — for better outcomes for all, cultural celebration & thriving cities.

On Saturday, November 18, Future of Cities (FOC) in partnership with Stratosferica, held the first US edition of the city-making summit, Utopian Hours — hosted at our Climate + Innovation Hub. The “city-making festival” was dedicated to dynamic discussions and engaging debates on urban development, and strategies for cities and the built environment — gathering developers, placemakers, city officials, researchers and architects and more, from the United States, Italy and around the world.

Multiple panels were presented, ranging from the “feminist city” with urban anthropologist Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, to placemaking and citizen making in Turin Italy, to “maximizing public space’s potential in New York City” with Ya-Ting Liu, to National Geographic Explorer Alize Carrere’s “introduction to climatopias.” 

FOC held the Regenerative Placemaking Panel, moderated by Alexandra J Tohme —which zoomed in on local approaches to community uplifting development, challenges from brain drain to displacement and economic exclusion, and presented strategies for equitable growth. The speakers bridged global perspectives from Haiti to the Arab World to South Florida. 

Panelists: François Alexandre, Founder & Director of Tapari1804; Emily Moody, Director of Community Engagement, Phoenix Jacksonville Arts + Innovation District (PHX-JAX); Tanya Watts Director of Neighborhood Affairs PHX-JAX moderated by Alexandra J Tohme Director of Regenerative Placemaking FOC.

From left to right: François Alexandre, TAPARI 1804, Alexandra Tohme (FOC), Ya-Ting Liu (Chief Public Realm Officer, NYC), Tony Cho (FOC), Tanya Watts (PHX-JAX & FOC), Suzanne Picket (Eastside CDC) and Emily Moody (PHX-JAX FOC) Photo: VACO Studio

Overall, the community leaders stressed the importance of preserving the dignity of communities undergoing change: “the most important ingredient, to all our efforts is: dignity” said Alexandra. Dignity for the development of the project and its lasting impact, and for all those involved and at stake. This involves uplifting community members with decent services and decent housing. Projects should not jeopardize urban living and livelihood for local residents, but rather should provide, in the words of François Alexandre: “A hand-up, not a hand-out.”

Alexandra spoke to her experiences listening to local communities facing extreme hardship when she worked in refugee camps, and the humility required in this approach — as some of the brightest ideas and most innovative strategies are found within the community members and youth themselves. This extends to the local experiences of our Florida based panelists — with the community leadership of François Alexandre, representing Little Haiti, Miami and Tanya Watts and Emily Moody representing Jacksonville’s neighborhoods of North Springfield and the Eastside.

The Regenerative Placemaking Panel during Utopian Hours
Zulu Painter completing his final piece during the 48 Hour Mural Festival in Jacksonville, FL with PHX-JAX Arts + Innovation District

Emily Moody, third generation Jacksonville resident and Director of Community Engagement with PHX-JAX, has been a cultural pioneer and supporting the arts movement to gain traction and momentum by working with local artists, including through activations such as mural festivals and creating outdoor art galleries. Emily also highlighted the need for rent control of art studios to prevent the displacement of artists as property values rise — a point to which Alexandra emphasized that the attraction of new residents and visitors to Jacksonville should be coupled with supporting the existing arts scenes to flourish during this growth.

Among other initiatives by the PHX-JAX District, Tanya Watts discussed how property trainings and tax assistance help residents remain in their neighborhoods amid development.

Tanya Watts speaking on the Regenerative Placemaking Panel

Tanya Watts, Director of Neighborhood Affairs for PHX-JAX, echoed a sentiment raised by François Alexandre on the importance of the culture and the community of the neighborhood, “to make sure they are bridged together and not overlooked — partnering with existing community leaders doing important work, such as Suzanne Pickett of the Historic Eastside CDC — one of oldest historic black neighborhoods in Jacksonville, FL.” 

Tanya highlighted many important points including the need to be cognizant of which communities are affected by projects, and how to make sure growth is happening “not to the community, but with the community,’ a point emphasized by François in describing the needed shift in perspective to uplifting communities instead of imposing changes upon them.

We look forward to ensuring that our programming can then take off to build our arts & culture, youth job creation & food security and community initiatives. 

“Friends of Phoenix is a new non-profit we have launched,” announced Emily, and one of the pillars to support the mission is “to keep artists in the neighborhood, keep them working and hopefully provide a livable wage to support the flourishment of the neighborhood, and wider city of Jacksonville.”

FOC’s new nonprofit endeavors in Little Haiti and Jacksonville are currently raising funds to support the programming that these community leaders have developed thoughtfully and after deep engagements, consultations, and shared activations in the neighborhoods with local residents, artists, entrepreneurs, and youth.

The Phoenix Arts + Innovation District sponsored a neighborhood camp program in the summer of 2023. The team provided lunches and activities for youth once a week and also served as a water stop on their neighborhood wellness walks.
Outdoor art murals bring color and vibrancy to Jacksonville’s streets

François Alexandre drew attention to the 50th anniversary of the boat people’s migration from Haiti, and that the community takes pride in commemorating its resilience in its historical journey. François expressed his commitment to fostering positive change, understanding the needs of the community, and bridging gaps between various sectors.

Born in Haiti and raised in South Florida, he shared insights into the transformation witnessed in Little Haiti, Miami. The time has never been more crucial than now for co-creation of projects with and by people and groups within the neighborhood. He envisions a collective effort to create a future that caters to the well-being of everyone involved.

François gave a shout out to another speaker and legendary place-maker, systems thinker and practitioner, Scott Francisco, who spoke later that day on his own panel (check out our interview piece with him here about tropical timber harvesting.) What Scott is doing, François emphasized, is a tangible example of the efforts needed: 

“He is putting value into communities, indigenous and local family livelihoods, and then that values goes back into the market.

If we could do that in every area, in every neighborhood, then its not just putting value into a coin and turning it into a dollar, but putting value into people, into local businesses, and transforming that into equitable and sustainable lasting economic growth, growth that has resiliency built in and can better withstand shocks, because it puts people, residents and communities at the core.”

Events such as Utopian Hours are important, as François emphasized that gatherings such as this summit bring together “thinkers that envision and work towards what the future looks like for all of us, not just the haves or have-nots, but for all people to move forward. What does it look like collectively, to regenerate a society that we are all part of and cares for all of us?”


Become a Regenerative Placemaker and join us in co-creating the future of cities with us as we work together towards a more regenerative future.

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Future Of Cities Medium Blog. Learn more about the Tapari + Future of Cities Collaboration Project on youth empowerment, storytelling and Haitian culture.

To see the photo album from the Utopian Hours City-Making event, see the VACO Studio album here!
One of the initiatives TAPARI implements is a monthly food distribution to support 200–300 families in the most economically underserved neighborhoods of Miami
Tanya Watts, Director of Neighborhood Affairs, Photo: VACO Studio
Regenerative Placemaking Panel at Utopian Hours: From Left to right: Alexandra J Tohme Director of Regenerative Placemaking FOC; François Alexandre, Founder & Director of Tapari1804; Emily Moody, Director of Community Engagement PHX-JAX; Tanya Watts Director of Neighborhood Affairs PHX-JAX; Tony Cho FOC. Photo: VACO Studio
François Alexandre — Haitian-American social entrepreneur and international & community leader in South Florida with a focus on the black diaspora, rooted in his mission of “bridging community to better government.” He is founder of Konscious Kontractors, KLOTA (meaning “Conscious Leaders of Little Haiti”), & TAPARI non-profit working to empower and transform youth & scholars into future trailblazers and leaders of their community.
Jacksonville Arts & Music School (JAMS) students celebrating art and community — one of the community youth groups Emily engages with when developing and implementing the arts initiatives for PHX-JAX.
Alexandra J Tohme volunteering to support “Hoops4Unity” event which brings together foster children, adopted youth and children of law enforcement and the military together for physical and mental health programs. 
The PHX-JAX Team in front of one of the murals after the 48-Hour Mural Festival
From Left to Right: Suzanne Pickett (HECDC), François Alexandre (Tapari1804 and KLOTA), Reginald Charles (Tapari1804), Stervens Pauleus (Tapari1804)and Tanya Watts (PHX-JAX)

by Tanya Watts and Suzanne Pickett 

Culture Shifting Summit Miami Nov 16–18th, 2023

We recently had the pleasure of attending the Culture Shifting Summit held in Miami, Florida to represent our Regenerative Placemaking projects in Florida, and support Tony Cho, CEO & Founder of Cho Ventures and Future of Cities (aka Tanya’s boss and our fearless leader!) He was an esteemed guest asked to speak on one of the expert panels.

We were afforded this opportunity as part of Tanya’s current role as Director of Neighborhood Affairs for the Phoenix Arts and Innovation District (PHX-JAX), a neighborhood revitalization project in Jacksonville, Florida — and PHX-JAX’s partnership with Suzanne Pickett, President of the Historic Eastside Community Development Corporation (HECDC). These community partnerships are crucial to work collaboratively to create sustainable change through Regenerative Placemaking efforts.

Tony Cho, Suzanne Pickett & Tanya Watts attending Culture Shifting Summit Miami

During Tony’s panel, he shared his goal to impact the lives of 1 billion people through innovations in the built environment, namely real estate, which accounts for 45% of CO2 emissions. He discussed “climate change gentrification and inequality around how we currently build and develop communities,” and how this needs to be done more inclusively.

Through the Phoenix Arts and Innovation District in Jacksonville, Future of Cities is currently creating a prototype and urban laboratory for how we create equity in underserved communities in the real estate space through regenerative placemaking to co-design and invest in co-creating equitable communities of the future.

Tony Cho Founder & CEO of Cho Ventures & Future of Cities speaking on the “Future of Real Estate” panel which included “Future of Sports” and “Future of Healthcare,” at the Culture Shifting Summit on November 17th, 2023 in Miami

The Culture Shifting Summit is an annual invite-only series of deal-making events that takes place in Silicon Valley, New York, Miami and London.

These are the only events of their kind in the United States that unite over 400 accomplished Black & Latino tech executives, entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and social impact leaders in order to enable deals, collaborations and wealth creation.

Each Culture Shifting Summit event has a different format: Silicon Valley is the largest gathering of Black leaders in tech, innovation and social impact to narrow the inequality gap in entrepreneurship, on corporate boards, in venture capital, in tech and in the c-suite. New York is the largest gathering of Black and Latino Venture Capitalists to narrow the inequality gap in this sector. 

Miami and London are hybrids of the two. The event covered three full days of engaging, informative and collaborative offerings.

On Thursday we started off by attending “The House of Health & Wellness”, a gathering of hand selected innovators, investors, executives and entrepreneurs interested in addressing as well as sharing best practices on novel healthcare solutions for underserved communities. A gathering of innovators, such as Juan Pablo Cappello, Co-Founder & CEO at Nue Life Health, a next-generation mental wellness company committed to providing holistic therapy programs in the comfort of patients’ homes. Their mission is to address the root cause of the suffering of our patients by leveraging emerging digital and medicinal technologies to achieve extraordinary patient outcomes.

Women Investors Panel

We also heard from Jasmine Moore, PharmD. Manager, Medical Affairs & Research, Pack Health, A Quest Diagnostics Company. She presented findings from a study, entitled “The Impact of Goal Setting in a Digital Health Coaching Program for Participants with Type 2 Diabetes”. This study was developed to investigate digital health coaching (DHC) as a feasible support intervention for individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Next we attended “The House of Scale’’. This 3 hour workshop sponsored by Comcast NBC Universal, LIFT Labs and AWS, hosted entrepreneurs, investors and subject matter experts to help entrepreneurs sustain and scale their business. Topics covered getting money from venture and angel investors, money management, supplier diversity, international business development, as well as leveraging tech as a sales lead generator and more.

Future of… Panel: Sports, Healthcare & Real Estate

During this segment we experienced the phenomenon known as Tamara Loehr, Co-Founder & Growth Advisor, Beusail Academy & Concertina. Tamara Loehr is an Australian entrepreneur and businesswoman who is known for her work in helping small businesses scale. She has a “Buy and Build” strategy where she invests in businesses and helps them grow using her expertise in digital marketing and her commitment to ethical business practices.

Loehr is a strong advocate for wellness and ethical business. She believes in “doing good while doing business” and promotes a balance of health, wealth, and relationships. She has written a book called “Balance is B.S.” where she shares how she balances her personal life with her entrepreneurial journey. In her teachings, Loehr often emphasizes the importance of digital marketing, ethical selling, and creating a strong brand. She also focuses on the importance of creating a sustainable business model that can adapt to changes in the market.

Next Michael Davis, Founding Partner of Olive Tree Ridge spoke about alternative financing instruments including stand alone, blended and special situations. Followed by a fascinating presentation given by York Eggleston, Managing Partner, Slingshot Technologies, LLC, where he has spent the last 20 years building a company that commercializes intellectual property!

Tanya Watts speaking at a different conference during that same week, Utopian Hours Miami: The First US Edition of the City-Making Festival. Tanya joined her colleagues and fellow community leaders to speak on the Regenerative Placemaking Panel.

We rounded out the first day with a private dinner by invitation only. The Tech & Society event was a private gathering, held at the Future of Cities Climate + Innovation Hub in Little Haiti, of leaders to address racial inequality, systemic change and explore the role athletes and entertainers have in this work.

The Tech & Society Dinner hosted at the Future of Cities Climate + Innovation Hub 

The goal of this event is to engage some of the nation’s top leaders to collaborate on solutions and transfer knowledge of what’s working and what else needs to be done.

We heard from X. Eyee, Founder, Malo Santo, an AI consulting firm on a mission to ensure AI helps more people than it harms. Her passion on this topic was strong, believing if technologies and AI can be used for wars and destruction it should also be able to solve humanity’s crises and create equality. Her background is unique: a high school drop out, served the Army in Afghanistan, was Microsoft’s first Blockchain Ambassador, and now is working with Google.

Malo Santo empowers companies to build AI that scales — across geographies, cultures, and within communities. The topic of skin tone recognition in AI is a significant one in the field of technology. AI and machine learning technologies are increasingly being used in a variety of applications, including facial recognition, beauty filters, and health diagnostics. 

However, these technologies have often been criticized for their lack of accuracy and bias when it comes to recognizing and accurately representing diverse skin tones. This is largely due to the lack of diversity in the datasets used to train these AI models.

If the datasets are predominantly composed of lighter-skinned individuals, the AI will be less accurate when it comes to recognizing and processing images of darker-skinned individuals. To address this issue, researchers and companies are working to develop more inclusive AI models by using more diverse datasets. They are also working on improving the algorithms used by these models to ensure they are less biased and more accurate.

A Private Dinner at Future of Cities Climate + Innovation HUB

The evening was filled with great company, good energy and shared vulnerability to have difficult yet necessary conversations.

The following day we attended a fireside chat entitled Capitalism in the Culture that discussed strategies on how capital can be deployed to have a positive impact in Black communities. This panel included Cedric Nash, “Your Millionaire Mentor”, serial entrepreneur and investor Interviewer: Leyonna Barba, Managing Director JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking and Jaime Montalvan, Vice President — Middle Market Banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Then it was time for the Future of…..Panel! which covered future trends in healthcare, sports and real estate. David Garcia, SVP & Managing Director at Hawks Ventures (Sports) described how sports teams are launching venture and private equity funds to invest in along with acquiring tech enabled solutions.

Future of …. (Sports, Real Estate, Health) Panel with: David Garcia, SVP & Managing Director at Hawks Ventures (Sports); Tony Cho, CEO & Founder of Cho Ventures & Future of Cities (Real Estate); Kahina Van Dyke, Operating Partner, Advent International (Health); Nicole Walker, Venture Advisor & Board Member, Venture Forward.

Overall, it was an amazing event with amazing people and some pretty impressive titles and resources to boot.

But for us the biggest take away was the camaraderie, open and free exchange of ideas and information, and engagement in the difficult but necessary conversations. The information, advice and lessons learned shared by all of the presenters and panelists was truly priceless! We hope to continue this productive partnership with Culture Shifting Summit Miami, and certainly will attend next year.

Tanya Watts speaking alongside Emily Moody, Francois Alexandre, Tony Cho and Alexandra J Tohme during Utopian Hours

Tony with Kwasi Asare media visionary legend and CEO of Feedia, Co-Founder Esaiyo, Executive Board at Fast Company
The Jacksonville female leaders! Emily Moody, Suzanne Pickett + Tanya Watts

Tony Cho, Tanya Watts & Suzanne Pickett

by Emily Moody 

Rawsol is busy creating his colorful work. He incorporated a train as a reference to the old tracks that ran along where the murals were being painted in old Jacksonville

“As an artist, I’m always looking for ways to create opportunities that include other artists or allow for collaborations, and being familiar with the Phoenix Arts District and the work that they are doing, I realized that they had the perfect space for a project like this.” Jason Tetlak, Jacksonville artist, told our team after the 48 Hour Mural Project was complete at the Phoenix-Jacksonville Arts+ Innovation District (PHX-JAX).

For us at Future of Cities and PHX-JAX, we believe in Regenerative Placemaking as the approach to urban development that fosters more equitable, just, sustainable and resilient communities for a future that celebrates and brings opportunities for health, artistic expression, culture, and education for all.

Toneism, Trevor Locy & Boob Boom Franzi honored the late Paten Locke, Jacksonville hip-hop legend, with their work.

Our local teams engage regularly with Jacksonville community members and artists to transform our ideas and projects into reality for regenerative placemaking: “I was excited that Emily and the folks over at Phoenix saw the value of bringing the arts community together and jumped on board to and did a lot of work to bring this idea to life.”

At the PHX-JAX Arts + Innovation District, the concept came about to partner with the 48 Hour Film Project but make it mural focused, as opposed to film — and use the same framework of an international film project as a model for visual artists.

The idea came to life over the weekend of September 29 to October 1st, with the first ever 48 Hour Mural Project held at PHX-JAX, in a celebration of art, community, and culture. 

This one-of-a-kind event showcased the talents of nine artist teams who embarked on a whirlwind journey to produce stunning murals from inception to completion within the timeframe of 48 hours.

At the 48th hour mark, artists place down their paintbrushes.

Elena Ohlander hopped in to help Zulu Painter finish his piece. His portrait is of beloved Jacksonville artist, Chris Clark.

Each team of artists brought their own unique perspective and style, showcased in the diversity and rich meaning behind their works, as they embraced this challenge with dedication to their craft. The results were a testament to their passion and skill, as they breathed life into the walls along 14th Street between Market and Hubbard Streets in North Springfield.

The amazingly talented artists teams included Grace Bio, Shea Slemmer & Jimmy Butcher, Jacksonville Arts & Music School (JAMS), Toneism, Zulu Painter, Toi Drayton, Barbara Hionides, Heart, Dosar, and RawSol.

After 48 hour mural painting marathon, the artists and PHX-JAX team cheered their completions!

Throughout the 48-hour period, the Phoenix Arts & Innovation District buzzed with excitement as locals and visitors witnessed the murals’, and the street’s, transformation.

Regenerative placemaking came to life as we collectively co-created new vibrancy into the neighborhood.

The JAMS students worked together to create an amazing piece that celebrates the beauty of Jacksonville.

The event served as a catalyst for community engagement, bringing people together to celebrate creativity, culture, and the unique history of Jacksonville.

The final piece by Zulu Painter

“It was a joy to see people coming together,” said Emily Moody PHX-JAX Director of Community Engagement:

“The neighborhood residents and community members at large, driving by, getting out of their cars, walking around and engaging with the artists. It is powerful and inspiring to not only witness muralists in action but also share a conversation with them and hear the story behind their work of art.”

Final works by Toi Drayton (left) and Barbara Hionedes, Dosar and Heart (right).

“I loved seeing mural artists working side by side. I know from experience that painting in public is often a solitary job, so providing a festival atmosphere for local artists to have a shared experience where they were able to engage with each other while creating was amazing.” Jason added.

Shea Slemmer and Jimmy Butcher lay the foundation for their collaborative work on Day 1!

“Seeing the different interpretations and approaches was fascinating. I was surprised to see how nine different artists and teams took the same prompts and came up with so many different designs.”

Prompting artists to add in biophilic nature and elements of Jacksonville history is helping foster cultural identity and a sense of belonging from residents of different backgrounds, while also contributing to a safer, more vibrant neighborhood.

Jacksonville Arts & Music School (JAMS) students celebrating art and community!

Stay tuned to see the announcement of the winners from this artistic competition — on October 24th during the 48 Hour Film Project Awards at WJCT Studios!

by Alexandra J Tohme

At New York City Climate Week & United Nations 78th General Assembly — project leaders from Future of Cities, Far Away Projects, Tapari and Alive-in gathered our friends and network together to announce an exciting new project in our pipeline for the FOC Climate + Innovation Hub in Little Haiti.

To set the scene, I opened the evening by challenging the common narrative on Haiti, which describes the country as “the rose that grows from the concrete,” — why not make a garden!

From left to right: Brian Conley (Alive-in), Reginald Charles (Tapari), Francois Alexandre (Tapari), Alexandra J Tohme (FOC), Tony Cho (FOC), Doc North (Shiftwave), Desiree Tavera (Far Away Projects), Zoe Red (Creatives for Climate) and Sean Lee Davies (Awethentic Journeys)

Ti Ayiti News & Awareness — TANA — is a storytelling program designed to serve two objectives: to amplify young Haitian and other black voices to debunk stereotypes and demonstrate the resiliency and vibrancy of indigenous cultures, and: to create jobs for youth living in economically disadvantaged areas through multimedia and journalism skills training.

Your donation to TANA project will have multiplier lasting impact: creating jobs for youth and contributing to the production of grassroots storytelling that combats discrimination and promotes authentic voices to a global stage. Photo: L’Heure Productions
Francois Alexandre, Reginald Charles & Alexandra J Tohme — TANA Project Leaders

Through a robust training program, youth from underserved neighborhoods in Miami will go through cohorts of videography, photography, cinematography, editing, podcasting, journalism ethics, writing and more — at the Future of Cities Climate + Innovation Hub in the heart of Little Haiti.

As Miami’s first and only aspiring net-zero office, our facilities are equipped with a state-of-the-art podcast room, solar powered energy, a biodiverse garden with native Florida flora, upscaled and recycled furniture, and more. The building itself is an adaptively repurposed warehouse space, perfect for hosting events and programming of this kind.

Future of Cities (FOC) Climate + Innovation Hub — The Garden

The video, photo, audio and written content created by the young trainees will be published and shared across FOC’s platforms: from YouTube to our newsletters, to photo exhibitions and social media. This provides a unique opportunity for the youth’s creativity and storytelling to reach a wide audience, and open the door to employment paths.

Further — some of our interested partners to collaborate can offer trainings on covering environmental news and climate reporting, which can translate into Haitian Kreyol and English news sources from the ground.

FOC Podcast Room

“We are not asking for a handout — we are asking for a hand up.”

~ Francois Alexandre: Local community leader, Entrepreneur, and Public Speaker, Inspiring those within his community and around the world in his active efforts and engagements

The words of Francois Alexandre exemplify what we are collectively fundraising for and looking for your support. Each donation will have a lasting impact, not a one-off contribution: Because this program will graduate groups of 120+ trainees a year to become published, embrace artistic expression, and receive career support to interview for jobs in Miami.

This is the kind of social equity impact projects we lead and are seeking support for, together in powerful partnerships.

Tapari, our local partner, believes in the power of science, art and culture to promote critical thinking and transform youth and scholars into the future trailblazers in their community.

“The ability to suffer trauma and turn it into positivity” is how Francois described dealing with his experiences, including police brutality,

“and ever since then that’s what I’ve been doing with my life — looking for a better community, and country — to uplift one another, economically, socially, and spiritually.”

Reginald Charles, community leader and Tapari project manager, spoke from his heart to a crowd full of entrepreneurs and innovators — many of whom also are parents. As a father of five, he expressed how important it is to engage this initiative for the future of the next generation:

I have five kids. Growing up we didn’t have programs to improve our lifestyles, livelihoods or education — to be able to come back to our community and circulate the economy. That’s what I want to do differently and bring back to the neighborhood.”

Francois Alexandre & Reginald Charles speaking at NYC Climate Week
Children and youth engaging in events during Haitian Heritage Month in Miami

#Partnershipsthegoals was evident on that Tuesday evening in September, and throughout the NYC Climate Week. Desiree Tavera, Founder of Far Away Projects, talked about how she started these initiatives by bringing together people with a vision, which became the core of Far Away’s work to connect organizations in partnerships to achieve common missions.

Desiree Tavera, Executive Director of Far Away Projects

Zoe Red, the founder of “Creatives for Climate” opened the evening with remarks about how if we take a moment to look around us in the room, “the person next to you may be your next collaborator.”

While she mentioned the complexity behind some of our environmental and social challenges, she also expressed that the solutions are out there, and “some of those solutions are right here in the room tonight,” emphasizing that it is all about communication, “we need to know about it, we need to connect, we need to collaborate. How can we start the solution if we do not know what the regenerative future looks like?”

To conclude with an inspiring action-orientated quote from the evening by Francois:

In order to regenerate the Earth, restore our waters, and revitalize our communities — we must do it together. That’s the opportunity today — to support not just this initiative, but other initiatives by environmentalists & community leaders, by people protecting the Earth and restoring our dignity.”

Francois Alexandre, Reginald Charles & Alexandra J Tohme — TANA Project Managers

At Future of Cities we extend a special thank you to our sponsors at Far Away Projects and Sean Lee Davis with Awethentic Journeys — and to all those who attended the magical evening as we continue our mission to empower, regenerate and co-create our common futures on this planet.

We are currently seeking donations, if this project resonates with you, consider making a contribution here.

To increase your impact, you can check with your company to see if they match employee donations! Help us spread the word by sharing this post with your community ❤

With love, Future of Cities

A Conversation with Scott Francisco on a new NY State Bill & tropical deforestation

Regenerative Placemaking Demonstration Series

by: Alexandra J Tohme

A “youth visioning workshop” in Madre de Dios, Peru, part of Scott Francisco’s “Future of Forest Work and Communities Program”, which gathers young people from forest landscapes around the world to explore nature-positive innovation and opportunities.

As the world faces complex environmental challenges so interlinked to production and consumption, the conversation around deforestation has gained significant momentum. Future of Cities sat down with Scott Francisco, the founder and director of Pilot Projects Collaborative and co-founder of Cities4Forests, to discuss the New York State Tropical Deforestation Free Procurement Act, the main causes of deforestation, our consumer choices, and how cities can actively engage with forests and forest communities for a regenerative future.

Our conversations began in Switzerland, at a small conference called the Klosters Forum that brought together built environment practitioners, designers, architects and academics in a collaborative setting high up in the mountains outside of Zurich.

As Future of Cities connected with new strategic partners, I decided to follow up on a post that caught my attention on Scott’s LinkedIn, about the New York Bill S 4859.

Interviewing Scott gave me insight into a fascinating market and unique global network connecting indigenous and local family-run forest harvesting communities — to major cities. From Guatemala to Gabon, Mexico and the US — there are regenerative practices being implemented to offer timber as a low-carbon substitute for construction and architecture, while supporting the biodiversity and forest restoration of tropical landscapes. 

The discussion in this article seeks to bring light to the cross-sector cutting issue of tropical forests — of prominent importance to demonstrate innovative solutions that hit many positive outcomes for people and the planet. 

Long-term relationships are being built across borders and continents — connecting rainforest communities with scientists, architects and city-planners. We hope the new New York State Bill takes this into account.

Scott Francisco’s 30+ year career and passion for Wood and Forests

Scott working with students in Michigan on conservation timber management plans and uses.

Scott Francisco introduced himself as an architect with a deep passion for wood as a construction material. He remembers how his undergraduate thesis involved creating an all- plywood house, a concept seeming bizarre at the time in the 1990s but foreshadowing the current excitement for mass timber buildings.

Scott Francisco leads a community visioning session with local ejidos (forest communities), conservation organizations, the private sector and government officials in Mexico. The Selva Maya region is the second largest intact rainforest in the Americas, and is under intense development pressure.

His love for wood led him to consider the larger role of forests in urban development: Can we use wood as a low carbon substitute for concrete and steel, and at the same time protect larger areas of forest from deforestation? Think of a park bench or office building made of wood, instead of concrete, and the forest supplying the timber given a secure future as a result. This opens many possibilities for other architecture & construction using wood to become investors in the future of forests and cities. 

He co-founded Cities4Forests, a global network of cities working towards integrating forests into their climate action plans. 

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Aquarium Boardwalk on Coney Island, New York, made with conservation timber from Uaxactun, a community in the rainforests of Guatemala.
Scott meeting with one of the few female Community Captains in one of Suriname’s forest conservation concessions.

The New York State Tropical Deforestation Free Procurement Act: Explained

Francisco dove into the New York State Tropical Deforestation Free Procurement Act, a bill aimed at curbing deforestation’s negative impacts. The bill prohibits government procurement contracts from including any products associated with deforestation. However, there was a crucial issue — the bill treated all tropical timber equally, regardless of its source or regenerative practices. Poor timber management practices, including illegal and high intensity logging and some monoculture industrial timber plantations, do drive deforestation in many tropical forests. But it’s not the whole story.

“The main drivers of deforestation are the industrial-scale production of beef, soy and palm oil,” said Francisco, primarily in tropical regions, highlighting the growing global commodity and demand for palm oil over the past 15 years, which has resulted in large areas deforested in Indonesia. Beef and soy are similarly destructive in the Amazon. 

We at Future of Cities are big advocates and practitioners of biodiverse, small-scale family farming, social forestry, regenerative soil agriculture. The way in which we grow our products and crops deeply affects so many other areas of our lives, health and the planet.

Exploring Cloud forest conservation zone in Andean Ecuador. The Quito Bridge project was a demonstration project for how non-native eucalyptus could be put to work in local infrastructure and fund the restoration and conservation of these vital native forests

Conservation Timber: A Sustainable Alternative by Local Communities

Scott explained the concept of “conservation timber,” wood harvested sustainably in low volumes from community-managed forests. This approach offers local communities an alternative to deforestation while ensuring biodiversity conservation. 

As we focus on regenerative placemaking solutions at FOC — it is so powerful to learn about these methods that allow the forest to regenerate, through active community engagement.

Recognizing and promoting conservation timber and other forest products by local communities is critical for healthy ecologies and economies.

Thousands of families rely on a sustainable harvest of timber as their primary livelihood, to support their children and communities. It didn’t seem right or logical to draft a bill that blanket-prohibits all kinds of timber in government contracts regardless of whether or not they are good for the communities and the forest, or what the outcomes will be.

Ejido community leaders in the Yucatán Peninsula’s “Selva Maya” explaining their vision for conservation timber as a pillar of a sustainable local economy — and an alternative to land conversion.
Conservation timber logs are harvested sustainably, approximately one tree per acre, every 25 years.

He suggested an amendment to the Bill that specifically states criteria based on management practices that maintain healthy biodiversity, and are economically productive so that those same communities have an alternative to having their forest completely cut down.

One example of such a definition for this criteria could be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, the broadest and most robust global certification program for timber. FSC certified timber could be a requirement that is added and adjusted in this Bill.

Community meeting in Bigi Poika, Suriname, to discuss the future of the community forests, and achieving the gold standard of FSC certification through Cities4Forests’ “Partner Forests” program.

He emphasizes that we can look at timber harvest the same way you would for chocolate or coffee production — two wonderful commodities that also come from tropical forests. There are two ways to harvest: clearcut monoculture that destroys biodiversity and nature-based livelihoods, or regenerative models that rely on shade and rich biodiversity and therefore keep forest landscapes intact.

Imagine if the State of New York decided to purchase only shade-grown bird friendly coffee for government employees that comes from these biodiverse landscapes?

“Just like coffee can be terrible or wonderful for a forest landscape, so can timber be terrible or wonderful.” Francisco said, his passion clear throughout his thoughtful analyses.

Working with students across the US to build awareness of forest values and conservation innovation.

Advocacy at NYC Climate Week + A Guidebook for Developers

“So what can we do?” I inquired, asking about the tools for advocacy and awareness to protect these indigenous-model systems of local and regenerative forestation for construction and urban development. While this bill is still sitting with the governor, he encourages people to engage in constructive discussion and connect to government representatives, notably with NYC Climate Week coming up next week. He encourages engagement with his LinkedIn post, welcoming comments, revisions and feedback to the points he outlined in a letter to the Governor.

Francisco has also co-created useful tools such as the Forest Footprint for Cities, which helps cities track their tropical forest (and climate) impact, and invites us all to check on our cities and use data tools like this in our work, education, and policy advocacy.

Pilot Projects has developed a Sustainable Wood for Cities — a detailed guide for city governments, and private sector group (architects, engineers, developers) to evaluate the sustainability of their wood options, the source and production process, “we call them pathways that can guide you towards higher level of sustainability in your wood choice.”

It’s free to use and anyone can access it at

Francisco and I ended the conversation recognizing the value of activating a positive relationship between the rural and urban landscapes to mutually support each other:

“We have to activate cities to be proactive with their rural counterparts.”

To conclude with an excerpt from Scott Francisco’s message:

“Time, science (and satellite photos!) have clearly shown that management by local community residents is the best way to ensure that these forests are intact and healthy decades and centuries later. The businesses that these communities create keep the brightest, most dedicated young people working in these forests, and allows for generational knowledge-transfer over the long term.”

Major conservation organizations like Wildlife Conservation Society, Rainforest Alliance, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, U.S. Forest Service, USAID, The Nature Conservancy, and hundreds more, support community-led conservation timber enterprises.

We hope that the great State of New York will too.

Scott passing down knowledge to next generations in the rainforests of North Queensland Australia
Benoit Jobbe-Duval from French conservation timber organization ATIBT, discusses forest management plans with community foresters and Rainforest Alliance in the Selva Maya.

Join the regenerative placemaking movement: Subscribe to our newsletter at to get involved, email me at: and follow us on Instagram.

Get in touch with Scott Francisco: to learn more about tropical forests and forest communities around the world and follow @partnerforestprogram and @cities4forests.

Future Of Cities

A Regenerative Placemaking Demonstration Project

by Alexandra J Tohme

Nestled in the heart of central Florida, ChoZen Retreat Center opened its gates to the local community for its inaugural ChoZen Discovery Day on Saturday, August 26th, 2023. This event provided a unique opportunity for attendees to explore the bountiful landscapes, savor farm-to-table culinary delights, and connect with the ChoZen community.

The opening of ChoZen 2.0 is an invitation to be a part of a regenerative movement, to enjoy and explore the offerings for immersive experiences, innovative healing & wellness, luxury off-grid eco-living, and more. The grounds at the retreat illuminate this grand opportunity for the future of regenerative and sustainable systems.

Exquisite and unique native flora and fauna on ChoZen nature paths

ChoZen was created in 2020 by Ximena & Tony Cho during the pandemic, and has since evolved into a magical place that celebrates and embraces ecological abundance, with 25 endangered species on site, regenerative farming practices, and provides a refuge and sanctuary for every visitor to reconnect with nature, find community, and reunite with your inner self, amidst it’s biodiverse rich lands to heal, meditate and care for your wellness.

ChoZen Retreat is on 40 acres of nature preserved land and the St Sebastian River in Sebastian, FL

Booking a retreat or event with ChoZen reveals a plethora of opportunities to engage collectively and individually in a spiritual journey, relaxation and reflection, and an exciting nature bound getaway. Join and contact us to learn more about this transformative approach and engage in revolutionary regenerative practices.

“What we are doing here today is a model for wildlife corridors around the world,” said Founder and CEO of Cho Ventures, Tony Cho, emphasizing that we are sitting on a “real Florida safari, a camp for the humanity of the future.”

Some of the ChoZen & Cho Ventures Team at the Harvest House

The Discovery Day began with a delightful Welcome Tea & Social Hour, followed by a breathwork to reset and focus on the day’s intentions. Attendees, including local artists and wellness practitioners, mingled and connected, setting the stage for an enchanting journey into the ChoZen world.

Moti Scotti, Director of Regenerative Agriculture, shared insights into soil health, food supply and regenerative practices. Despite the damages done to our soil, Scotti left us with an uplifting message. “The good news is,” she said, “if we go on a path of degradation, that means that there is a path for regeneration.”

It is a hopeful narrative that requires action, which is exactly what we are doing at ChoZen Retreat for medicinal, nutrient-rich and flavor-rich foods: “We are actually in a renaissance of soil science,” announced Moti Scotti. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog series dedicated to regenerative agriculture, to dive deep into critical questions and issues surrounding our current food supply and health.

A Feast for the Senses

Every ingredient for the meals on the ChoZen menu is locally harvested

“Farm-to-table” is a very literal experience at ChoZen, as the chefs introduced what we were about to share for lunch at the Harvest House: Each ingredient on your plate is locally sourced from the land and river. With an oversupply of swordfish caught by local fisherman, the ChoZen team bought at hefty supply at a good rate: demonstrating an example of the triple wins possible with the regenerative placemaking approach. “You see what happens when you are paying attention,” emphasized Cho, to your community surroundings and native ecosystems.

A buffet of true farm-to-table produce and fresh caught fish, along with gluten-free options by our ChoZen chefs and farmers

Expansion to ChoZen 2.0 Ximena & Tony Cho’s Vision: 40 Acres of an Eco-Luxury Haven

ChoZen 2.0, the expansion of the eco-retreat from 6 to 40 acres, promises exciting amenities, including networks of beautiful and unique nature trails, wetland boardwalks, integrated immersive activities such as: outdoor fitness and yoga, fishing, birding, meditation, wildlife viewing, and more, such as educational workshops in our living laboratory.

The future of this eco-luxury haven will be revealed this fall season, from fleet farming and wellness programs to a spa with various treatment rooms including cold plunge, infrared sauna and massages and innovative healing programs.

Founders Ximena & Tony Cho

Tours by ChoZen farmers and managers exhibited a glimpse of the diverse wellness activities, picking off starfruit from the edible landscapes, showcasing harmonious native flora and fauna, and exclusive amenities that ChoZen offers to retreat guests.

Luxurious off-grid living experiences with the camping domes

Unwinding by the Cosmic Fire Pit

After the tours, the evening’s focal point was the cosmic fire pit. To cap off the day’s enchantment, a closing circle convened. Participants gathered to reflect, express gratitude, and share their newfound insights. This closing circle marked a meaningful conclusion, leaving attendees with renewed energy and well-being to carry into their passions and visions connected with ChoZen.

Always a magical sunset on ChoZen grounds

The first annual ChoZen Discovery Day was a resounding success, providing an opportunity for the local community to connect with nature, food, and each otherChoZen Retreat’s commitment to fostering a sense of belonging, wellness, and transformation was evident throughout the event.

Come try a taste of our edible landscape

As ChoZen 2.0 continues to grow, it promises to be a sanctuary where individuals can nurture their souls and deepen their connection to the environment and one another. We eagerly await the next opportunity to invite new groups and individuals to explore the magic of ChoZen.

Contact us and follow us to book your retreat and learn more about ways to partner and connect with us on the journey!

A glimpse of some of the domes for luxury camping
Engage in immersive experiences from yoga to meditation and sound healing
Come try a taste of our edible landscape
Activities offering along the St Sebastian River include canoeing, boating, fishing and more
Fresh starfruit from the land

by Alexandra J Tohme

Why do we need a new approach to development? For many reasons, but a most apparent one is that taking a silo-approach dismisses the cross-sectoral nature of all policy domains — every effort aimed at one domain will affect another, intentionally or unintentionally. Secondly, because development needs to be done for, with — and by — the communities that they intend to serve, or even just operate in.

Regenerative placemaking is an innovative approach that takes into account policy interconnectedness, and focuses locally. Regenerative placemaking’s goal is to revitalize neighborhoods and natural ecosystems through active community engagement.

A Community Engagement Gathering at the Phoenix Arts + Innovation District — asks neighbors and residents what their aspirations are for the future of their city. What do they want, and don’t want.

In Jacksonville, Florida, the local FOC team is working hard on our ambitious project, the Phoenix Arts + Innovation District (PHXJAX) initiative to bring regenerative placemaking to life. Through community involvement and collaboration, PHXJAX is transforming underutilized spaces into vibrant, inclusive, supportive and regenerative places — places intended for empowerment and co-creation to happen.

Local community outreach, conversations and engagement are the first steps in regenerative placemaking. From initial conversations to understand challenges and dreams, regenerative placemaking projects must include speaking with residents, local businesses, families, artists, educators, organizations and more; and where relevant, involve them in the planning, design, and implementation of projects.

To take it one level further, it is ideal that those managers and project leaders are from the community itself — and for us, that’s the case. Our team leaders at PHXJAX are long-time residents and their family generations before them as well. No one understands the community better than those born and raised there. And especially those actively dedicated to see it thrive.

All projects — from energy and water to transport, housing, education or real estate — must engage the community before, during and after implementation.

There is only everything to gain by doing so. Local communities bear the greatest wealth of knowledge, resources, networks and assets that are needed in order to implement with success, and understand the risks that could upset any effort. No outside (or internal) developer or planner can achieve goals without this consultation and participation of local leaders and families, entrepreneurs and youth. In fact, the project risks failure if those views, needs, understandings and perspectives, are not taken into account.

Activating Public Space

PHXJAX, a notable example of regenerative placemaking, has transformed vacant lots and neglected areas in Jacksonville into vibrant community spaces. Through a series of collaborative efforts involving residents, artists, urban planners, and local government, PHXJAX is working to revitalize neighborhoods by creating gathering places — ones that enable conversations around the needs and desires of the community. From enhancing the physical environment to strengthening relationships, this approach direct everyone’s focus and attention together, to improve overall quality of life in the city’s districts. The interconnected nature of development and policies becomes apparent, and so do the solutions.

Re-using existing buildings for community spaces (or other positive urban efforts) is the example we are setting in Jacksonville and at our FOC headquarters Hub in Miami. Rather than building something new, which would involve digging in soil or rivers and disrupting the natural ecosystems once again — why not refurbish and renovate an old warehouse?

By integrating environmentally friendly practices into the design and operations of these community spaces, PHXJAX has become a model for regenerative development. Our teams involve neighbors and families in child-friendly events that encourage education on important issues for environmental and public health. For example, our PHX plant swap brings gardening expertise and families together to share in community experiences.

Monthly artist meetups and networking events held at the PHXJAX are free to the community and bring together artists, creators and art enthusiasts in a supportive dynamic environment. It offers a platform for collaboration, business growth and forges meaningful connections for artists and entrepreneurs. This thriving network of talent is constantly evolving and growing and we look forward to watching it reach new heights and promote economic growth for the artist community in Jacksonville.

Stay tuned to hear about the latest updates in the regenerative design of PHXJAX, and ongoing exciting events and regenerative placemaking activations happening in this up-and-coming city.

Mural artwork is very popular among the local artists in Jacksonville, the PHXJAX program includes monthly artist meet ups as well as street mural paintings on the premises.
Community Engagement is the first and, most important methodology step in regenerative placemaking. For any development project to be successful or impactful — conversations with the community must be had. Find out the dreams and opportunities within any neighborhood.

Podcast with Dr. Weiselande “Yanui” Cesar of Tradiyson Lakou Lakay Dance & Alexandra J Tohme, Future of Cities

by Alexandra J Tohme

The water movement of our bodies — as we express it in the dance — is reflective of the water on the journey from homeland to refuge — represents the trauma experienced in that journey — and also, leads us to healing, as water is life.

This is one of the essences of Haitian Folkloric Dance, rooted in the West African traditions from the ancient empires of Dahomey, Oyó, and Kingdom of Kongo (modern day Bénin, Nigeria, Congo and Angola.)

On a Wednesday evening, colleagues at the Future of Cities Climate + Innovation HUB, with Haitian neighbors, women and non-Haitian Miami folks, came together to share this dance form and were encouraged to fully release ourselves in the dramatic movements: from feeding-the-earth hands and sweep-floor arm gestures, to warrior leaps and jumps, to throws of celebration and prayer to the moons. Reverberations boomed through the room with six live conga drummers igniting our movement.

Culture is at the heart of regenerative placemaking — to deeply engage in “place” and co-create experiences and projects that uplift and empower communities, attract impact investment, and regenerate the natural environment.

Dr. Cesar demonstrating the intense body movements for the group to follow, with spiritual meaning and expression. Photo: Raphael Jean

Dr. Weiselande “Yanui” Cesar, who completed her PhD in human services & public health, explains that Haitian Folkloric Dance first sets itself apart with live drumming, and begins with an understanding within yourself of the struggles that can be released and let go of — and joy takes over.

It is precisely this dance form that Yanui harnessed when deciding to work with children with disabilities, upon founding her non-profit Tradiyson Lakou Lakay, loosely translated into “hometown traditions.” “Sometimes in order to serve those in need” she told us, “ you must tap into your own skill and passion.” That is what she’s done with folkloric dance. To reach and engage these children, and give them expression and outlet from societal barriers, she catalyzed this unique art form that is as much spiritual health as it is mental and physical. This proved to be well received by the children facing the daily issues and stigmatizations from their community — it was the parents who were more resistant at first to accept it. She said that some members of the Haitian community were not too thrilled to see representations of their more traditional culture while trying to assimilate into a new society and modern country. Later, upon seeing their children perform with such joy, their mindset changed.

Unfortunately — these are not feelings unique to Haitian but rather many immigrant societies that feel a pressure to negate their homeland cultures, in order to survive and succeed. But is that true, or necessary?

We at Future of Cities believe in “community ● nature ● culture” as the keys to successful and equitable economic growth and as the vanguard of development. “Regenerative placemaking” involves looking at the vast and wonderful opportunities within local communities, natural ecosystems, and cultural vibrancy that unlock economic empowerment. Tradiyson Lakou Lakay is an excellent example of that — providing jobs to drummers and dancers and integrating into local schools to fill the educational gap for children with special needs. Beyond what is in front of a developer, regenerative placemaking encourages urban practitioners to look for the lesser known or “unseen” treasures; and offering a hand-up, not a hand-out, is exactly what is needed today. All stakeholders would be set to benefit, a win-win-win.

Oba, oba lémiye

Sa nou te pédi a se li nape chéche

Oba, oba lémiye

Live Drumming is what sets this dance form apart, among other elements. The bombastic sounds and beats ignite each movement and like a conductor to an orchestra, give direction and transition to the dancers. Photo: Ralph Jean

Back at our dance class event at the Climate + Innovation HUB, some twenty women of various backgrounds, American, Haitian, Latina, Arab, sit in a circle singing those poems and drinking fresh juices catered by the local family Haitian restaurant Cecibon, while a local videographer captures the scene. Circular economy can be achieved in every effort. Each time we put together an event or activity, we make sure to source from small local businesses. From the videographer, photographer, DJ, food caterers, and more, we focus on supporting local economic growth and jobs.

The twenty women sat and sipped juices and repeated those poetic songs together in celebration, laughing and sharing a tradition dating back four centuries.

While embracing heritage, we also recognize the importance of modernity. “Assimilation is critical, without losing our identity” emphasizes Dr. Cesar. It is empowering to learn new languages, technical skills, study in higher education — and connect with people of all backgrounds — that is the magic and beauty of diverse cities. Opportunities can be created for children and youth to thrive by mixing the old and the new. As Future of Cities continues our programs and efforts, it is resilient stories like Yanui’s — of overcoming struggle to celebration — that we will continue to share with the world as we co-create our common future on this planet.

The group of dancers and drummers, physically exhausted and mentally uplifted! At the FOC Climate + Innovation Hub
Women participating support and cheer each other on while going through the intense body movements, demanding much force and focus physically & spiritually.
Grandiose and expressive movements represent human relationships with the earth, water, sun and other elements, while also embodying resiliency & strength and channeling both trauma and joy.