HAWAIIAN CONSCIENCISM with Linda Tuhiwai Smith on May 2, 2013 at UH Manoa. She spoke on activism, feminism, culture, difference,...
After 666 comments, a friend of mine was kicked off Metafilter. That was ten years ago. He told me his old screennames over drinks a...
Aaron Shapiro, The Tactics That Be: Contesting Tactical Urbanism in New Orleans, Berkeley Planning Journal.
When local historian and long-time New Orleans resident Christine Horn asked whether anybody really wanted “parkettes” along the St. Claude corridor, the discussion was never really about the small, designer installations in themselves. For Horn, the most outspoken critic of the parkette program, along with her neighbors and fellow long-term residents, the parkettes serve as a stand-in for the much broader, amorphous, and rather uncritically-received tactical urbanism movement.
Whereas previous initiatives to attract capital to New Orleans’ downtown neighborhoods may have proceeded under the banner of cultural sensitivity, tactical urbanism ups the ante by explicitly affording the promise of ongoing community input and engagement in order to keep new design – as St. Claude Main Street manager Michael Martin puts it – “indigenous” and “born out of on-the-ground conditions.” At least, it does so in theory. Community support and indigenous design, the logic goes, might mitigate some of the tensions inherent in neighborhoods undergoing rapid social transformation by gentrification.
Carrying out this promise in practice, however, is much messier. “The community” must be conjured, constructed, and represented, through various practices and technologies, which range from the focus group to civic media platforms for participatory urbanism. Horn’s critique is thus not about the parkettes themselves, but rather about the failure to accurately represent and meaningfully engage with the community during the planning process.
Along with Ann Deslandes’ piece in Global Urbanist on “What do pop-up shops and homelessness have in common?” and Mimi Zeiger’s “The Interventionist’s Toolkit” series, Aaron Shapiro’s critique is a much needed reminder to pop-up/diy/tactical urbanism aficionados that we operate in larger contexts and can often replicate or even exacerbate existing power inequities.
Friends and colleagues have heard an earful from me this year about the need to problematize pop-up urbanism and its potential to truly extend democracy and access. I get worked up when the focus remains only on the aesthetic or the economic impact because the urban intervention folks are my folks: city-loving, community-minded, art-geeky. We have to look deeper.
The former Sheriff of Bombay had a vision of tree-lined boulevards, fountains and playgrounds. There will be no slums. The streets will be clean with wide pavements unencumbered by hawkers. People will stroll through pedestrian plazas. The night will be brilliant with majestic buildings and fountains (Seabrook, 1996, p. 48).
This vision in fact captures the aesthetic of the civic culture of the middle classes in liberalising India—one that attempts to manifest the image of the new Indian middle class by cleansing the urban city of any sign of the poor or poverty.
This drive has aimed at ‘cleaning up’ public spaces and land such as beaches, promenades, maidans and other public areas. For example, in the affluent suburb of Bandra, one such project spearheaded by Cultural Affairs Minister Pramod Navalkar focused on developing a jogging strip with plants and seats on the seaside promenade.
Consider the following description of the beautification and clean-up drive of Chowpatty, one of Mumbai’s most well-known beaches
Yes, its possible—to now take a relaxing walk along the Mumbai coastline at Girgaum chowpatty. Finally, the sand looks and feels like sand. Years of neglect and unsuccessful cleanliness drives later, the city’s most famed beach is free of muck, debris, urchins, beggars, lepers and hutments, thanks to state culture Minister Pramod Navalkar. The entire 1km stretch of the beach has been bulldozed and cleaned, illegal slums removed, fishermen relocated and dustbins installed (Sharma, 1998).
In this discursive construction, which is an instance of a broader set of public discourses, urchins, beggars and the residents of hut- ments are viewed as interchangeable with the “muck and debris” which must be “cleaned up”.
[Click on the images for their original sources]
Cornford & Cross: Camelot 1996. Public open space enclosed by steel security fencing
For a group exhibition titled City Limits, we chose to invite reflection and debate on the physical and social boundaries that often determine the patterns of city life — in this case by denying people access to some small, neglected fragments of public urban land.
Although the site we chose marks the entrance to Hanley town centre, it was defined only by three irregularly shaped patches of grass, flanked with sloping brickwork and cut off by traffic on either side. Rather than using a public art commission to superficially enhance the site, we decided to make an intervention that would engage with the very conception of ‘Public’.
By reinforcing the boundaries of these grass verges with an excessive display of authority in the form of steel security fencing we allowed the public to see but not to walk on the grass, raising the status of the land through its enclosure. In the context of the contemporary debate around security and access within town centres, Camelot explore the political notion of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ in which resources not under private ownership fall into neglect.
“What defines a character of a city is its public space, not its private space. What defines the value of the private assets of the space are not the assets by themselves but the common assets. The value of the public good affects the value of the private good. We need to show every day that public spaces are an asset to a city.” — UN-HABITAT Executive Director Joan Clos i Matheu (from Placemaking and the Future of Cities, a 2012 draft report by Project for Public Spaces)
Public space is a City2.0 darling, which is good, but what would be great is if public spaces come become/remain actual places of encounter and difference and dialogue and not merely the playgrounds for the smartphone set. In other words, I love that PARK(ing) Day is worldwide (hell yeah temporary parks! my love/hate relationship with parking meters! I spent so much money on parking tickets in San Francisco I should have my name engraved on a parking space!) but I doubt any city would also embrace the notion of modular pop-up housing occupying those same parking spaces. You know — tents, tarps, and shopping carts. We are allowed to play in public but not live in public.
The feature documentary This Space Available began as a discussion between a corporate branding guru, Marc Gobé, and his daughter, Gwenaëlle Gobé, a filmmaker who is passionately against advertising in public space. The debate blossomed into three-year investigation of outdoor advertising and its effect on communities, from São Paulo to Toronto, and what activists, street artists, and cities are doing to stop it. (via Atlantic Cities)
Just read the Design Observer post on little libraries and tactical urbanism. The mammoth post (but well worth reading even if you aren’t a child of a librarian) ends with the UNI project in Boston.
We “started with the space,” Sam Davol said; we “didn’t really have an agenda about books.” Yet their neighbors had been hoping for decades that the Boston Public Library would replace their branch, which had closed in 1956. The Davols saw an opportunity; they found a 3,000-square-foot storefront on Washington Street, partnered with design students at Harvard to create shelving and furniture, drummed up local support and attracted volunteers and accepted donations — and the Chinatown Storefront Library was born in 2009. The group shelved 4,100 books, issued 540 library cards, hosted community meetings and offered innovative programming, including a Drawing Lab and zine-making workshops led by the Papercut Zine Library. Because the space was small and community-focused, and because the Davols were present to oversee the space and the collection, they were able to adapt and improvise. As Sam Davol puts it, “The Storefront Library was R&D” for what came next. Appreciating the potential extendibility, flexibility and portability of their creation — and inspired by the Project for Public Spaces’ call for “lighter, quicker, cheaper” urban development — they hatched an idea for the Uni.
The Davols knew they wanted to create small public spaces for urban neighborhoods, but they weren’t sure what the space would be. Perhaps a portable community center or a library — although they were reluctant to carry or imply the weight of either institutional type. While they wanted to partner with libraries and other public entities, they were reluctant to call themselves a “library.” So they chose the name Urban Neighborhood Institution — or Uni, for short.
The Uni structure consists of 144 open-faced, trapezoidal cubes stackable in various configurations depending upon the site and program; thus far the Uni has been installed at the New Amsterdam Market in Manhattan and at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Borough Hall Plaza. Each 16-inch cube can hold 10 to 15 books, and each is outfitted with a weather-resistant protective cover which, when removed, can double as a bench, a table, a podium, or a display surface. The design is always evolving.
Improvised or ambulatory libraries have a long history. (see Bookmobile) The best examples may be from South America.
Weapon of Mass Instruction (Argentina)
A genuine public space is a place where every citizen is welcome to be present and where the purely private is excluded or restricted… How sweet the promenading, the seeing and being seen. Everybody needs a promenade sometimes — a place to go when you want to announce to the world (not the little world of friends and family but the big world, the real world) that you have a new suit, or that you’re in love, or that you suddenly realize you stand a full inch taller when you don’t hunch your shoulders.
Unfortunately, the fully public place is a nearly extinct category. We still have courtrooms and the jury pool, commuter trains and bus stations, here and there a small-town Main Street that really is a main street rather than a strip mall, certain coffee bars, and certain city sidewalks. Otherwise, for American adults, the only halfway public space is the world of work.