Tag Archives: Placemaking

Turning a Highway into a Public Plaza is Possible


Streets are for people. People on foot, on bike and in motor vehicles. But, at the end of the day they are all just people regardless of what mode they are using. We have forgotten this fact in the planning of our streets. It is so refreshing to see that communities such as Poynton are using the design of their streets and major intersections as the foundational elements for the renewal of their economy.

Now, many of you might be thinking that the above video is about the UK and that shared space is not in the character of our towns and cities here in the States. Plus we love our cars so why would we not put them as top priority. However, in a number of projects over the past five years I’ve advocated for the use of shared space and included shared space in the urban design plans. Alas, only one of them has been built… and its an alley so that doesn’t really count. However, the story in Poynton has convinced me even more that shared space is a key solution for not only traffic safety and efficiency, but economic development.

However, there are several hurtles that these projects will need to jump when being implemented in the States:

  1. Finding an engineer that will put their professional stamp on the project drawings.
  2. Negotiating with the “science” of modern day traffic models to convince the powers that be that shared space can increase traffic efficiency.
  3. Ensuring everyone that these spaces can be designed to accommodate the impaired and as the above video conveys even improve mobility for the disabled.
  4. Figure out how to work around the “if it is not in the guidelines it cannot be built” mentality that so many DOTs are limit by in regards to shaping our built environment.

There are several projects in the States in addition to the one in Providence that I know about that have been able to pull of the impossible (Montgomery, Cambridge, etc.). However, what we all have forgotten is that shared space was the only way streets were built in the U.S. less than 75 years ago. Jason King from Dover Kohl reminded me of this fact when he sent me the image below of Madison Square.

I applaud Ben Hamilton-Bailie and all those involved with implementing Poynton on what was surely a giant hill to climb in order to get this project built. If you know of any shared space project on the drawing boards in your area please do leave a comment with the details. Thanks to Chuck at Strongtowns for sharing this video with me.

Madison SquareShared space in Madison Square, New York

Poynton Shared SpacePoynton Share Space. Image: Hamilton-Bailie Associates

 

The Great Cultural Shift by Shaheen Sadeghi

What are Little American Businesses? Shaheen Shadeghi makes a compelling case for why American’s are in search of the authentic more and more today. Through an introduction from the talented Andrew Consigli, we were able to have a chat with Mr. Shadeghi earlier this month. It was fascinating to hear about the early days of developing the Lab and the Camp. For those interested in how to nurture a locally oriented  and people friendly destination there is much to learn from Mr. Shadeghi and the 20 years of Lab Holding‘s work. I have been reflecting on several of his placemaking concepts since our conversation that I will certainly be expanding on in future posts. Here is a preview of some of that wisdom he dropped on us:

  1. America is maturing as a country and the palette of taste’s throughout is becoming more varied. Truly authentic places are picking up on a local cultural and tapping into that culture to make their businesses distinct.
  2. American’s are more interested in paying for a $6.00 latte and sitting at a cafe with friends then buying a $7.99 pair of jeans from a national retail chain. Real places include a social experience.
  3. Don’t be afraid to do it yourself. If there seems to be a market in a place for a barbershop that doubles as a bar and no one wants to open one then just go ahead and open one. (This is also a great example of the “Micro-mixing” trend we pointed out in the latest version of Tactical Urbanism.)

There is definitely an art as well as a sciences to what LAB Holding’s is working on. More on creating authentic places to come. Have a great weekend.

Placecraft: The Art of Shaping the Built Environment to Create Value

This term, Placecraft, is new. My friend Jen Krouse coined it while producing a month long planning event Imagining North Adams that is happening now. I need to thank Jen for asking me to participate in, as far as I know, the first Placecraft Summit happening this Friday in North Adams. She has defined the term as:

Placecraft = the careful art of shaping the built environment to create value, strengthen community, and protect the ecosystem. The term encompasses like-minded movements such as Placemaking, Smart Growth, and New Urbanism, among others.

I have been looking forward to this event because it is opening up the dialogue for how we can go about crafting great places. This is very much linked the Tactical Urbanism effort currently underway. There are several questions that keep coming up for me that I hope to discuss while in North Adams:

  1. How does local culture inform the building of authentic places?
  2. What role does the public have in the building of authentic places?
  3. More importantly, what role should the public not play?
  4. And, since we’ll be near Mass MoCa, what role should art have in the shaping of our towns and cities?

This month long series of events and Tactical Urbanism installations is a wonderful model for smaller towns and cities to explore for how to move big planning ideas forward. North Adams is very lucky to have Jen volunteering her time to make this all happen. If you are looking for a reason to visit the Berkshire Mountains stop by the Placecraft Summit or the Tactical Urbanism Salon this weekend.

Image Credit: Imagining North Adams Facebook Page

 

Tactical Urbanism: The Official Guide Now Available


After many months of work, the 2nd edition of Tactical Urbanism is complete. A big thanks to Mike Lydon for inviting me to contribute to the effort. If you have an interest in placemaking or improving your community I would recommend you give a few of these tactics a try. The Atlantic Monthly summarized the wisdom collected in this guide nicely:

The tactics in the guide are those that have gone through this process. They’ve had enough iterations in sometimes very different places to know what works and how to maneuver through the realities of municipal governance to make something stick.

If your community is in the process of deploying some Tactical Urbanism please let me know in the comments. Work on the 3rd edition is already underway.

I would also like to thank Ellen Dunham-Jones for bringing me down to Georgia Tech as a guest critic. The work I saw from the Tech architecture students was inspirational. Ellen’s studio focused on helping Lethonia, a small town East of Atlanta, with their redevelopment plans. What was exceptional about the studio’s approach to this task was that they crafted not only a long term, visionary, proposal for the town, but also implemented several Tactical Urbanism interventions. The resulting excitement from tactics are captured in the video above. This effort has confirmed my assumption that long term plans are more believable if they are coupled with short term action.

Greater Kennedy Plaza Receives $200,000 for Placemaking

The National Endowment for the Arts has award $200,000 to the Greater Kennedy Plaza effort. This is incrediable exciting. I have worked on this placemaking project for close to four years now. The Our Town grant funds will be used for a variety of arts and placemaking related activities:

Providence’s Our Town grant will support the Creative Capital Hub project. The project will use arts programming and new urban design plans to transform Greater Kennedy Plaza from a bus terminal with disconnected parks to a grand plaza and central gathering place for the city’s residents, tourists, and workers. Project activities include developing a master urban design plan to guide capital improvements and programming of artistic performances and festivals at the plaza. The project activities will offer an improved public transit experience for the 71,000 individuals that utilize the Greater Kennedy Plaza daily.

Not too long ago I wrote about the long term vision plan that I helped develop for Kennedy Plaza, and thanks to the support of the NEA planning and urban design for phase one work will be able to move forward. A big thanks needs to go out to Buff Chace, Lynn McCormick, Cliff Wood and the entire grant writing team. I also need to thank Fred and Ethan Kent for encouraging us to be zealous nuts when it comes to transforming a public square.

I am glad to see that a division of our federal government is seeing how investing in the creation of a high quality public realm can effect economic development and livability.

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Life & Urbanism has been neglected the last few months due to a host of new projects. News on those efforts will be posted soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your weekend by visiting one of your city’s great public squares.

Tactical Urbanism

Tactical Urbanism Final

What do street fairs, pop-up retail and chair bombing all have in common? They are low cost, high impact “tactics” for improving a neighborhood. Every city planner, developer or active citizen should start to think about how they can execute short term experiments that help build momentum for a project, change the perception of a place or energize support for bigger plans in your community. We have started doing this in Providence, and I plan to write about them in the coming weeks under the new topic of “Tactical Urbanism”.

My friend Mike Lydon defines Tactical Urbanism over at Pattern Cities as:

- A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;
- The offering of local solutions for local planning challenges;
- Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;
- Low-risks, with a possibly a high reward; and
- The development of social capital between citizens and the building of organizational capacity between public-private institutions, non-profits, and their constituents.

For more info on this emerging set of tools you can download the report here, read about the idea here, here, and here. Hope you are enjoying your weekend, and, perhaps, heading out to enjoy a Pop-Up Cafe or an Open Street.

Paris Inspires Rebuilding of Bridge in Providence

Cities are for people. How often do you think of a city as the human habitat? Do you ever look at your daily routine and how it could be improved if the environment you lived in were different. Lions live in the Serengeti because the habitat provides them with what they need for life. Does your habitat provide you with what you need for life?

There is a project just taking off in Providence that has the potential to improve the habitat and in turn the daily lives of many citizens. On Wednesday the City and RIDOT will be unveiling the final design proposals for the pedestrian bridge that will be replacing the original 195 highway. My hope is that at least one of the design proposals will provide Providence with a bridge for people. My gut seems to be telling me that we will mostly be getting proposals for a semi-functional “icon” that will look “sexy” or “modern” on a postcard, but once constructed will provide a dismal environment for humans. I’ve spent a little time thinking about what this new bridge should do with the hopes that those in the position to select the winning design give more thought to what the bridge needs to do for the humans who will be using it.

A quick aside, I placed my order today for Jan Gehl’s new book Cities for People because of his firm’s great commitment to building comfortable cities. I am noticing more and more good work happening in places like Copenhagen, New York and San Francisco and hope that places like Providence will get it soon as well.

Now on to the criteria for a great bridge:

It is All About the Water

If a pedestrian bridge is going to be vibrant it must be about experiencing the water. Being on the water. Looking across the water. Watching the objects upon the water. This natural connection can be accomplished in various forms. The Passerelle des Arts is perhaps the best example of a successful pedestrian bridge that I have experienced recently. As you can see from the photo above, the bridge connects directly to the quay below allowing for folks to stroll right on down to the water. Another important detail connecting the bridge strongly to the water is the use of wood planks as the surface material. The cracks between the boards allow you to feel the water passing below you. I also enjoy how the structure of this bridge seems to disappear giving way to the river beyond.

Simple & Durable Details for Comfort

A pedestrian bridge is everyone’s and no ones’. People will take photos on it. People will sit on it. People will have a picnic on it. People will even get engaged on it. Yet, none of this will happen unless they feel comfortable on it. The bridge needs to feel like you are the first person to sit in that spot, ever. This is how a bridge becomes everyone’s living room. So how does a bridge do that? The design cannot be too complex. The materials need to be durable, and simple so that if they do need to be replaced they can be quickly and easily. The bridge needs to be clean, and have the receptacles to encourage cleanliness. The bridge needs to be warm. People will sit on anything, but they will enjoy sitting on certain materials more then others. Pick those. The structure needs to be firm and realistic. People understand their living rooms. To be comfortable, they need to understand their bridge as well.

Not Too Much Room

If a pedestrian bridge is going to evolve into more then just a way over the river then careful attention needs to be given to width. Too wide and people will lose their connection to the water. Too narrow and there is no room for leisure. The best pedestrian bridges have three zones. The center is for clustering. This is the area for bigger picnics, benches, ping-pong, and all sorts of small group activities. Moving outward, the main travel ways need to be wide enough for two people to pass each other comfortable or for a strolling couple and a stranger to pass without discomfort. If the proportions properly sized, then this area should also handle nicely the frequent bicycle. At the railings of the bridge is the most important zone. The railing needs to not only protect you from a fall, but also be a coffee table, a leaning post and a writing desk. All manner of activity will take place in this zone, and the rail is the key to making it prime real estate. Think of the bridge’s cross section like a great boulevard where activities mix well with the passing people. Particular attention needs to be given to each of these zones. A foot here and six inches there can put this dance way off balance.

Something is On the Other Side

You would think that all bridges have something on the other side. However, they don’t. Humans love to know that something, anything, is worth crossing over to the other side. A visual indication that there is life across the water is good. In Providence, there will be two new parks on both sides of the new bridge. What will people find in these new parks on each side of the bridge? Will you be able to see it form the other side? Principally, a bridge is a transit connection. It provides access for travelers to get to and from their destinations. Will these new parks be great destination in their own right? If not, what are the other destinations that this bridge will serve and how can its design help make it fun to go over the bridge to get there?

Leave Room for Traditions

Flexibility is a key ingredient to all successful public spaces. A framework needs to be created that not only provides a comfortable environment for the citizens of a place, but also supports its evolving culture. A design needs to leave room for these living traditions. The Love Padlocks of Paris have a place. These tokens give life to this bridge. They are a powerful ornament, but a simple little detail that would not have been possible unless the design of the railing was flexible. When two people come out onto a bridge, kiss and leave feeling more alive their city is providing for them in more ways then modern planners can count. This is the art of city building. This is the alchemy of creating authentic place for people.

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The Public will have an opportunity to view the proposed bridge designs of 11 finalists competing in the Providence Pedestrian River Bridge Design Competition at a special reception on Wednesday, November 3rd from 5pm until 7pm at Providence City Hall. (via Greater City Providence)

A New Vision for a Public Square

Cities often overlook their forgotten public squares and parks as key economic development tools. Providence is slowly rediscovering this fact. I have had the pleasure of illustrating the redevelopment vision for Kennedy Plaza. Currently, the square is mostly know as a bus transfer center. However, it is the planning groups aim that one day this space will house New England’s largest, outdoor public market. I am particularly excited about this goal considering my bike ride to and from the office passes right through the square.

It has been a pleasure working with all the partners on the creation of this vision. It represents the best ideas the Friends of Kennedy Plaza have today, and they are looking for ways to improve upon it. Visit www.kennedyplaza.org to submit your comments.

The film would not have happened without the skills of Ben Chace. Check out his award winning film Wah Do Dem on Hulu. If you would like to know even more about what is in store for the future of Kennedy Plaza click here.

Artistry is Missing in Planning Today

Artistry is needed in today’s cities and towns. I am completely sick of statistics and computer models for city planning. Yes, I agree that enough water must be provided, and capacity for waste measured. However, these are not the issues that make cities great. The meaningful relationship of buildings, the vistas and views, and the beauty that enlightens those citizens blessed by being residents of a place built with artistry are minor points in the planning of cities today. The goal of a street must be more then moving cars. You must ask more of your urbanism if a place will be resilient, and even more of it to be competitive. Artistry is a powerful, and forgotten, tool for the building of our cities and towns.