Malden Works receives Norman B. Leventhal Prize to improve access to the Malden River

Malden River (Photo by Khalil Kaba)

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misattributed quotes on the Leventhal jury process  to to Kathleen Vandiver; the quotes  should have been attributed to Marcia Manong. Neighborhood View regrets the error.


By Kevin Perrington-Turner

A Malden urban coalition has won a prestigious $100,000 prize from the Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that will be used to fund a two-year program of projects on the Malden River to create greater access to the river for Malden’s diverse population.

Malden Works for Waterfront Equity and Resilience, known as Malden Works, was named the winner of the first Norman B. Leventhal City Prize in September. Malden Works has formed a steering committee to ensure all communities are represented in upcoming projects.

The $100,000 triennial prize was established by the Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism to catalyze innovative, interdisciplinary urban design and planning approaches worldwide to improve both the environment and the quality of life for residents.

“The prize was a really difficult competitive event,” said Kathleen Mead Vandiver, a member of the Malden Works Steering Committee. “The grant is so significant — not [just] for the quantity of funds but for the fact that this Leventhal project will gain national and international attention for Malden over time. The LCAU plans to hold an International Urban Planning Conference two years from now and to feature Malden as the model community that implemented this project.”

The Malden Works team, from left: Evan Spetrini, Marie Law Adams, Marcia Manong, Gary Christenson, Kathleen Vandiver, Karen Buck and Amber Christoffersen. Photo by Jonah Susskind.

The Malden Works Team was among the five finalists for the prize; all five teams had to prepare to present the projects on one afternoon to a jury who would select the winner based on the presentation, Vandiver said.

The board of directors of the LCAU served as a jury; they were flown in to Boston for the event. Malden Mayor Gary Christenson was invited to be a part of the Malden Works team. “Gary was terrific and his answers were important for the jury to hear,” Vandiver said.  “[Team member] Marcia Manong’s speech was truly memorable and I think carried the day for all of us.”

The two-year program will develop plans to design a public open space utilizing a  community Steering Committee, a six-member prize team (advisory), and many city organizations, such as the Malden Redevelopment Authority, City Councilors, and Mayor Christenson’s office.

“We are just getting started,” Vandiver said.

The Steering Committee lead is Marcia Manong, one of six Malden residents of color on the committee. Other members are: Souad Akib (representing the Arab community) Iodiah Henry (African American), Emmanuel Marsh (Haitian American), Ramon Noralis (Hispanic community) , Laura Le (Vietnamese and Chinese community). Khalil Kaba was appointed as a resident photojournalist for documentation.

Four other positions on the Steering Committee represent professional work or interest; the DPW is represented by Bobby Knox; the MRA is represented by Evan Spetrini; the environment advocate is Karen Buck, President of the Friends of the Malden River; and the City Council is represented by Barbara Murphy, chairperson of the Waterfront Access Committee. “We intend to engage a Youth Team in the project, as well,” Vandiver said.

Steering Committee members from left to right: Evan Spetrini, Amber Christoffersen, Emmanuel Marsh, Laure Le, Souad Akib, Ramon Norales, Kathy Vandiver, Barbara Murphy, Marcia Manong, Khalil Kaba, Bobby Knox, Marie Law Adams – Not included: Karen Buck. Photo by Khalil Kaba

The Malden Works Steering Committee was established with social equity and resilience as its foundation. Marcia Manong, Chairperson  of the Steering Committee said. “Let me share a quote from our proposal, ‘Malden Works will build a new coalition of leaders in action to realize transformative social and physical change.’

“The significance of this project for me centers not on what physical structure gets built, but the promise of an equitable project process,”  Manong added, “As I said in my presentation to the Leventhal jury, ‘Malden faces a range of complex and sensitive challenges in facing and empowering established and newly arrived communities of color. I believe Malden has the capacity to turn those challenges into transformative opportunities. This waterfront project can be the catalyst needed to help engage communities of color in a manner that builds long-lasting power built on trust and newly energized civic engagement.”

In a recent attempt to bring more attention to the Malden River, a “Cruise in a Canoe” event was held on Sept. 28.

All photos in slideshow below by Khalil Kaba. Story continues.

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“Dan Koff received funding from MAPC [the Metropolitan Area Planning Council] for this as part of a project called ‘Placemaking.’ The Friends of the Malden River, the Mystic River Watershed Association, and a team from MAPC, all wanted to host an event on the river to help bring Malden residents to see their river. Also to experience the magic of being out on water in a boat on the Malden River,” said Vandiver.

At least 60 people got into the free-of-charge flotilla of canoes tied up around the dock, and paddled out onto the river.  Youth volunteers assisted people on the docks,” said Vandiver, a experienced canoeist who taught and assisted with newcomers.

About 90 people in total attended. “Some came to watch, stroll about, view the informative MAPC posters about the river, and to help paint a large Welcome to the River sign brought by the GMAACC to the event,” Vandiver said. “It will be put up near the back of the Super 88 on Commercial Street, inviting people to see the river that is right there, but yet hidden to the eye of many passersby.”

There will be a public kick-off meeting on October 21, 6:30-8:30 PM, at the Malden Senior Community Center to begin the community conversation about the future of Malden’s waterfont. Organized by Malden Works, the event will feature a nationally sought-after speaker, Alexie Torres, a community activist of the Bronx River Alliance. She will share her story of creating a community-driven movement to revitalize parks along the Bronx River.

View the short video below produced by MIT for more information about the Leventhal Prize awarded to Malden Works.


  1. The Public Kick-off meeting SCORED well last night! Over 90 people shared this essential conversation about our natural resource! Thank you for this article and let’s keep talking and writing and photographing!!!

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