Whom Does Design Really Serve? | Project for Public Spaces

Looks cool, but why is no one using it? From pps.org.

This post from Fred Kent points to the sort of dissonance that can arise between designers and end users. Pictured above is Sherbourne Common, which is an award-winning park that no one uses. It is award winning, and built, because it appeals to other designers, which make up the juries both for selecting which projects are built in major cities and win major awards, but nobody uses it because regular people don’t care if it won awards, they care if it’s pleasant and fun to be in. Kent shows pictures on his post of two swings 20 yards apart. He contrasts this with Dufferin Grove Park, which he says isn’t “designed” so much as it is “cultivated;” the park has a little bit for everyone, thoughtfully arranged to maximize it’s usefulness, not it’s coiffed appearance.

This is a problem I have seen in the design fields; design is not art, because it is not simply an expression of the designer, but something made for a different user’s ease and enjoyment. Designers designing for other designers, and not for the public, are doing the public a disservice. That is why public involvement, as well as emergent DIY and tactical urbanisms, are so important; it assures that the users get what they want, regardless of the designers notions of what a place should be.


12 Innovative Ways to Rethink Our Cities From the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale : TreeHugger

The Red Swing Project. From treehugger.com.

Jennifer Hattam brings us more DIY urbanism from the US pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Some of the things this post covers I have already discussed, such as community gardens, parklets and DIY bike lanes. Some new things from this post include the Red Swing Project, where a website tells people how to build this simple swing and mount it somewhere in the city; a seed bomb vending machine, which for 50 cents will give you a ball of compost, clay and seeds to toss into the derelict lot of your choice and grow flowers; and New York’s dumpster pools, where dumpsters are cleaned out and lined with a waterproof barrier to become temporary swimming pools. Other interventions find innovative ways to incorporate technology into the urban design process. There are a lot of good ideas on show at the Biennale, and I hope that this will lead to more innovation in the future.

Great New Plaza Turns Street into a Public Space in NYC’s Queens : TreeHugger

This quick post from Michael Graham Richard details a new plaza in Corona, Queens. I find this place really interesting, because it’s users are not the sort of well-to-do 20-somethings using these things in West Chelsea, but immigrant families who are eating, playing, and reading here, and then at 7:00 PM, volunteers take down the tables and chairs and sweep the plaza because they haven’t found a maintenance contractor yet. A really great example of a community taking advantage of underutilized road infrastructure to make something better.

Parklets and Rec | Cassandra Daily

Softwalk. From citysoftwalks.com.

This post from Cassandra Daily shows some DIY urbanism ideas that I’ve discussed before, as well as some new ones. It discusses the City of San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program, which I discussed in an earlier post. It also covers designer Matteo Cibic’s Tree Trolleys, which are mobile green spaces, benches and wifi hotspots that can be placed temporarily in a paid parking spot. This was covered by Treehugger earlier this month, and is having somewhat of an internet echo around now. One thing that is entirely new to me, however, is the idea of Softwalks, pictured above. The idea is to take the ugly-sidewalk-interrupting scaffolding that goes up in cities whenever someone wants to so much as paint the exterior of their building, and placing seats, small tables, and other furniture on the scaffolding itself to make it more pedestrian friendly. Really cool idea.

Open Source Urbanism: Venice Biennale Puts Spotlight On Renegade Redesigners – Cities – GOOD

Bike Lane brought to you by Anonymous. From good.is.

Gordon Douglas, who write this post for Good, is part of a group that put together an exhibit of “Spontaneous Interventions” at the Venice Architecture Biennale. He discusses the emergence (or re-emergence) of the field of DIY/guerrilla/tactical/pop-up urbanism, to the point where the movement may be going mainstream. There are websites and blogs devoted to it (which, despite the density of posts on the subject recently, mine is not expressly one of those blogs), and guides like Tactical Urbanism can be downloaded for free. It’s almost ironic that an “underground” movement like this is being featured in such a major event as the Biennale, even when many of the works have no one to be attributed to. It’s interesting to see cities like San Francisco and New York adopting and formalizing the idea of a pop-up park. Whether sanctioned or not, these measures are iteratively improving cities.

Do-It-Yourself Urban Design in the Help-Yourself City – Design – Architect Magazine

San Francisco Park(ing) Day. From designobserver.com.

Continuing the DIY-urbanism kick I’ve been on, this article from Gordon Douglas explains the emergence of the DIY urbanism movement. He tracks it historically through the period where, day to day, cities were largely self-built, through the 20th century when planning and design became more professionalized, through the neoliberal period where investment became concentrated in certain parts of cities leaving others to fend for themselves, to the present period, where neighborhoods are circumventing the formal planning and design process to create their own solutions to local problems. There are a number of arms to this movement, from graffiti to guerrilla gardening to operations like the Project for Public Spaces and their Great Neighborhood Book. This movement suggests a changing role for planners and designers in the process. The question is, what is that new role?

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