New recognition of the health and safety benefits of parks is changing how the public and leaders view green spaces.
Central Park in New York City generates $1 billion in economic benefits annually. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
For generations, parks were viewed simply as an amenity, a way to beautify a city. Whether they were planned for gardens, sports, or picnicking, parks were rarely seen as central to public safety and health. But that is beginning to change.
As cities around the world continue their growth, the role of parks is shifting. Parks are no longer seen as something nice to have, but rather as a vital system within the city’s overall network of infrastructure. These hard-working public spaces are probably the biggest untapped resource for cities in this century. Why? Livable, sustainable cities must balance density with open space for the health of their residents, their environments, and their economies.
From physical and mental health, to economic development, to resilience and sustainability, parks offer myriad tangible benefits. New York City’s parks, which attract more than 130 million visits a year, model those benefits to the world. For example, our parks are crucial to the city’s resiliency efforts: NYC’s shoreline parks in the Rockaways and Coney Island are being rebuilt since Hurricane Sandy to withstand rising sea levels, storm surges, and to protect waterfront communities. And thanks to our collaboration with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, our parks have become sites of crucial green infrastructure like rain gardens and storm water-collecting bioswales.
Alongside their environmental benefits, parks have demonstrated time and time again their ability to stabilize communities and drive economic development. According to the Trust for Public Land, well-maintained parks add 15 percent to the value of homes within 500 feet. Our experience in New York bears that out. For example, in under a decade the world-famous High Line has brought more than two billion dollars in new real estate investment to the surrounding community –an enormous return on investment for a $153 million park. An older but well-loved landmark can also drive value: Central Park generates $1 billion dollars of economic benefits annually.
Now we’re working to bring the benefits of well-maintained parks to all New Yorkers, with our $285 million Community Parks Initiative, which will completely rebuild more than 60 historically underserved parks across the five boroughs.
New York is the city I know best, and I am proud of the progress we have made. But as I have traveled, I have seen many cities begin to take parks seriously as part of their urban infrastructure. Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park, for example, was created a century ago to control the flooding of local waterways and to provide a recreational area for the city. Now, it is one of the nation’s finest urban parks –and a core element of Houston’s water management infrastructure. On the other side of the globe, Singapore’s spectacular Gardens by the Bay not only offer Singaporeans an awe-inspiring new public space, but they are built to clean and filter water and cultivate biodiversity of flora and fauna.
Lawmakers, designers, and planners the world over are learning that well-designed, well-maintained open spaces makes cities work. As our urban centers become more dense, let’s make sure that our investments—and innovation–in city parks matches their importance in our lives.
The City Manager and his leadership team were there and received the award. Apparently, they were all very taken with the keynote speaker, Jason Roberts of the Better Block Foundation. This is a group that is a leading practitioner of guerrilla Tactical Urbanism in Dallas, TX. They’ve got a wild story. Click here to explore: http://betterblock.org/
Here are some YouTube vids of Jason rapping about Better Blocks:
It’s easy to understand why cities will leap at the opportunity to invest in new structures: “Starchitect”-designed buildings, from the Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum to Brooklyn’s undulating Barclays Center, could add an iconic image to the cityscape and garner positive media buzz.
However, such massive public investments in permanent structures (what I’ve dubbed “concrete culture”) are bad deals and bad policy for urban economic development. Once the hoopla fades, cities can be saddled with millions in debt and mixed results. Take, for example, Charlotte’s NASCAR museum. Built in 2010 at a cost of US$160 million, the facility has not met attendance projections and, according to the Charlotte Observer, is losing $1 million a year.
Given the economic costs and risks, why do museums, stadiums and other “concrete culture” receive such a privileged place in urban development? After spending the past 10 years conducting research on the topic, I’ve found that this privilege should end; as an alternative, cities should champion music festivals as a cheaper, adaptable way to bolster urban communities.
From 1990 to 2010, over 100 sports stadiums opened across the country. Economists have long argued that these are dreadful public investmentsfor myriad reasons: they’ve been shown to stall economic growth, become underused eyesores and fleece local taxpayers. Billionaire sports team owners profit immensely from sports stadiums and – in many cases – don’t spend a dime on their construction.
While museums and performing arts centers are often nonprofits, they require cobbled-together funding from a variety of sources, ranging from corporate philanthropy to federal, state and local governments. These, too, have come at a cost. The University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center found that a whopping 725 arts and cultural facilities were built in the U.S. from 1994 to 2008. Construction didn’t just greatly outpace demand; it also overextended public resources. Though they cost over $15.5 billion to build, only 12 percent of the cultural institutions that were surveyed for the report saw increases in attendance.
Museums, stadiums and other permanent structures purport to revive deteriorating parts of the city. In some cases they do. In other cases, rosy expectations aren’t met. Museums struggle in recessions, while stadiums like Washington, D.C.’s Washington Coliseum and Houston’s Astrodome are left derelict. The New York Times notes that, with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles, St. Louis dodges a fiscal bullet by not having to sign a bad stadium deal. The city wins by losing.
Meanwhile, invasive “mega events” like the Super Bowl, the Olympics and the World Cup can be economic and cultural calamities for their communities as well. Economist Andrew Zimbalist’s book “Circus Maximus” notes that, beyond prestige and perhaps some tourist revenue, these events create concrete cultural infrastructure that monopolize scarce real estate, leaving spaces underutilized for decades.
A cheaper, more equitable path
There is a cheaper, more equitable path toward creating culturally vibrant cities, one that requires less public funding and much less steel and glass.
Festivals, both big and small, are becoming a more prominent feature of our cultural landscape. These events range from small street fairs to extravagant events that inhabit a city’s downtown area for a long weekend. They include Austin’s massive South by Southwest (SXSW), Boston’s smaller Jamaica Plain Music Festival, Manhattan’s mainstream Governor’s Ball and Brooklyn’s two-day AfroPunk Fest.
Music festivals have become popular for three reasons. First, musicians and music labels are eager to perform live to offset declining record sales. Next, today’s music fans are seeking out more and more live performances. And third, municipalities – in an era of intense urban branding and competition for tourists – are becoming amenable to developing music- and event-friendly policies.
Unlike permanent stadiums and museums, festivals are nimble; they’re able to switch venues and change up programming if necessary. They’re also much more inclusive. Many are free to the public, utilize existing public spaces and cultural assets, spark interactions among community members and nurture positive images of urban areas, especially neighborhoods that might need a boost.
A model for the 21st-century city
Recognizing the value in cultivating events, cities like Nashville and Austin have learned to promote a festival-friendly environment over the last decade. Both cities established entertainment zones that balance relaxed noise ordinances with affordable, mixed-use housing. At the same time, these cities champion their distinctive character and communities by embracing their festivals as “signature events.”
These cities have made it easier to hold cultural events by streamlining the permitting process and allowing public parks to be used. Even their city halls have designated offices devoted to culture and music that wield bureaucratic influence and act as liaisons with local arts organizations. Some cities have even established a new position: night mayor.
In New England, a burgeoning scene of club owners and musicians congregate each year at Newport’s Jazz and Folk festivals, where they leverage local resources to attain international notoriety. Up-and-coming musicians have a voice in the festival’s planning as members of the Newport Festival Advisory Board. They can also influence resource distribution by directing fundraising to targeted local groups.
Replicating these successes can be challenging. Research has indicated that festivals sometimes exclude local residents, and many events become vulnerable to overcommercialization. Brands, for example, often flood the visual landscape of these festivals. When I began conducting research at the Newport Folk Festival, it was the Dunkin’ Donuts Newport Folk Festival, and nearly every surface of the facility seemed to be sheathed in corporate pink, orange, and brown. (The festival has since become a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, and now brands have a more muted profile at the event.)
Carefully articulated policies around short-term events need to highlight community input and assessment, including greater representation of marginalized groups.
Some might wonder if it’s worth investing in something that leaves after only a few days. But the impermanence of festivals is a feature, not a flaw. Festivals are adaptable, using spaces that might otherwise go unoccupied, and they can act as platforms for existing local artistic groups.
The Downtown Oxnard Vision Plan Charrette was held in Oxnard between January 29th and February 2nd 2016. The Charrette was organized by the City of Oxnard, the Oxnard Community Planning Group (OCPG), and the Congress for the new Urbanism – California Chapter (CNU-CA). The Charrette, lead and created for Oxnard by the CNU-CA, was a resounding success – bringing together many stakeholders from the Oxnard community.
The Administrative Draft report is the culmination of 5 days of community input and dedicated and creative work by the more than 20 distinguished planning professionals of the CNU-CA.
A conversation with Jonathan R. Wynn on his new book, Music/City.
From Coachella, Glastonbury, and Stagecoach to Governors Ball, Lollapalooza, and Ultra, music festivals clearly play a role in the economies of cities. They bring in huge numbers of tourists and revenue, attract large audiences, create significant platforms for musicians, and help to build city brands.
In his new book, Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport, Jonathan R. Wynn—a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst—explores the rising “festivalization” of our culture. (Disclosure: I liked an early version of the book so much, I agreed to blurb it.) Wynn estimates there are now some 250-plus music festivals in the U.S. alone, which run the gamut from popular to niche genres. His book, however, focuses on three of the most iconic music festivals—Austin’s South by Southwest, Nashville’s Country Music Association festival, and Newport’s long-running Folk Festival, where Bob Dylan famously went electric.
In preparation for Music/City, Wynn developed his own participant observations by visiting these cities and festivals and conducting over 100 interviews with musicians, festival promoters, city leaders, and more. To delve deeper into his findings, I talked to Wynn about music festivals and what they mean to cities.
Your book centers on the “festivalization” of cities and society. How big of a phenomenon is “festivalization,” and what seems to be driving it?
Spectacles in cities have ancient roots, from seasonal rituals to exhibitions of corporal punishment. Festivals have likely been around just as long. However, there does seem to be a newfound need for cities over the last three decades to offer consumable experiences: short term events often drawing heavily from the images and cultures of local communities. Festivalization is the idea that urban placemakers develop event-based cultural policies in response to increasing post-industrial consumption, urban tourism, intense inter-city competition, and place branding. I argue that the success of festivalization is in the impermanence of events: Ephemerality is a feature, not a flaw.
Why choose to focus on three music festivals in three cities? What is special about these three, and what in particular can we learn from them?
Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles are three exceptional American cities, with robust economies and a surfeit of culture. I was interested in comparing a triad of slightly smaller metros and their festivals because they seemed very different in their histories, culture, and senses of place. (Austin is the 35th largest metro in the U.S., Nashville is 36th, and Providence—which incorporates Newport—is 38th.) At the same time, these cities were each working to leverage their local cultural communities into distinctive signature brands. Many cities can learn from the successes and missteps of a mid-sized city like Nashville as compared with the more unique and complex cultural economies of a place like Chicago.
You note that certain types of music are deeply rooted in certain cities—blues in Chicago, jazz in New Orleans, country in Nashville, and so on. But from what I can tell, only a few festivals reflect the musical history and tradition of their city. To what degree do festivals showcase local artists as opposed to big name bands and acts?
Many festivals try to be of two minds in regard to local versus national acts. Marquee-level headliners draw outsiders and sell tickets, while local talent keeps a festival symbolically tied to place. (Booking local acts has a more practical function: they cost less.) Music can be deeply rooted, sure. But music is also wondrously mobile and adaptable. Jazz, for example, moved from Harlem to Shanghai with ease. Similarly, there might be something valuable about the Chicago Blues Festival—some would call it authenticity. But is that event truly better than a more intimate, yet less rooted, Blues festival in a place like Calgary? I wouldn’t say so.
It’s often said that there is little money left in selling recorded music, and that musicians either live or die on the road. How do festivals fit in with this broader shift in the music industry?
Musicians, record executives, talent bookers, and festival organizers all told me that festivals, with their sizable guarantees, serve as “anchors” along a tour. Interviews with mid-career and up-and-coming musicians repeatedly highlighted another key feature of festivals: They are opportunities to win new fans and, importantly, gain national or even international media attention. High-paying festivals might allow a band to book gigs in smaller venues in the hopes of broadening audiences in new markets.
You talk about three kinds of festivals—“citadel” festivals like Coachella, which consolidate events within a single space; “core” festivals like Nashville’s CMA Fest, which span convention center sports stadiums, large and small music venues, and include both paid and free events; and “confetti” festivals like Austin’s SXSW, which span multiple venues across a city. It would seem to me that a confetti festival might be the best kind to showcase a city.
In the book, I try to highlight the costs and benefits of each. “Confettied” festivals like Pop Montreal or Fête de la Musique creatively embed events in curious and varied places. Such a pattern of activity increases accessibility and spontaneous and unscripted interactions, but might lack the large media impression of a more focused event. Conversely, a “citadel” festival has the potential for high impact, high visibility, and manageable risk, but also lacks accessibility. The “core” festival might be the “Goldilocks” of the three, being neither “too hot,” nor “too cold” by holding smaller, more intimate events as well as higher profile spectacles.
Your book focuses on the connection between music festivals and city-building. Who are the local groups that push for music festivals? Are they the same boosters and growth coalitions that argue for stadiums and tax breaks? Or are they part of the arts and cultural establishment, i.e. the board members of the symphony, arts, and ballet?
Festivals arise due to different constellations of actors, and flourish or fail thanks to a variety of factors. Newport’s Jazz and Folk festivals were founded by wealthy benefactors and managed and sustained by a strong-willed impresario from Boston, George Wein. That case might best echo the cultural boosterism you are thinking of. Ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, more than wealthy benefactors, support the other two events I studied. The CMA Fest (once called ‘Fan Fair’) was founded and is maintained by the country’s first genre-based trade organization, the Country Music Association, after fans kept infiltrating their annual DJ convention. A few of Austin’s local alternative media and music people founded SXSW as a way to encourage label reps from Los Angeles and New York City to come see local musicians. Then there are festivals that use public funds, more like Canadian or European festivals: Chicago’s Blues Festival and Seattle’s Bumbershoot (which started as the “Mayor’s Arts Festival”).
It’s no secret that festivals bring their own set of problems to cities: traffic congestion, garbage, drugs, crime, to name a few. At times, this can lead to conflicts between festivals and neighborhood groups. Which cities and festivals are best at dealing with this? What are the best ways to cope with these inevitable tensions and conflicts?
When a young man drove through a SXSW crowd in 2014, it refueled arguments over the excesses and scale of the festival. SXSW developed some strategies for dealing with the unintended consequences of their success. For example, they recently offered free concerts with high-profile acts across the lake and away from the smaller venues. This reduced the pressure on the business-side of the festival, lessened congestion in the downtown area, and “gave back” to the community.
Concerns aren’t just logistical. There is often apprehension over what these “signature events” can and should represent. Nashville’s festival is a great example of this: In interviews, local bluegrass and folk musicians bristled when I asked about the CMA Fest because it showcases a relatively narrow view of what country music is, and in so doing obscures the more robust music scene in “Music City, U.S.A.,” which includes alternative rock (e.g., Black Keys, Jack White) and a large Christian music industry.
You argue that music festivals are often better at revitalizing communities than other kinds of initiatives. “Festival programming,” you write, “can more fluidly respond to the changing needs of the city, its residents, and the audience that attends.” I’m sure our readers will want to know more about this.
I compare contemporary festivals to two similar cultural forms. The first is the “mega event” like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the World Cup—most of which are economic and cultural calamities for their communities. The second is what I call “concrete culture”: the museums, performing arts centers, and sports stadiums. A report from the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center notes that our construction of such institutions over the last few decades has far outpaced interest. I propose that events like festivals, so long as they are sufficiently responsive to their communities, are much better investments due to their comparatively low cost and high malleability. One way to ensure this kind of responsiveness is significant public funding of the events, as they do in Canada and Europe.
You argue that festivals are collective, placemaking events. Some festivals like Burning Man even erect temporary cities. What forces in our culture and society are behind this desire for community and place?
The drive towards connection and co-presence is certainly deep in our social unconscious. People love sharing experiences and seeing performances. I’ve seen even the most cynical music executive become spellbound by a great performance set in place. The recorded music industry, as you mention, is in trouble, but musicians will always perform, and people will always be there to listen.
At the end of the book you argue that festivals are part and parcel of an age-old human inclination for “occasions.” Whether it is a wedding or a music festival, these are rituals that people not only participate in, but remember, recall, and talk about long after. Why are festivals such an important part of our occasions today, and what does this mean for cities?
Occasions are transcendent, wherein people become more than themselves either in celebration or in anger. They become effervescent landmarks in memory. In my book on tour guides in New York, I suggested that our stories about cities are a series of events, like pearls on a string. More than anything else, I would say that we think about cities through those effervescent experiences.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group has assembled some of the best video on walkable community and sustainable downtowns. If you have a suggestion for a video that might be included here – click the contact link above – and let us know.
A new book offers case studies and tips on creating quick and effective urban interventions.
Guerrilla gardening. Pavement-to-parks. Open streets. These are all urban interventions of a sort – quick, often temporary, cheap projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable. These types of projects have grown in popularity in recent years, and they even have a new name: tactical urbanism, as in tactics used to improve the urban environment. These tactics tend to be replicable across cities, and in certain instances have become worldwide phenomena.
A newly updated guidebook seeks to spread these good ideas and to give more people the know-how to bring them about in their own communities.
Tactical Urbanism 2: Short-Term Action, Long Term Change [PDF] was created and offered for free download by the Street Plans Collaborative, an urban planning, design and advocacy firm. Mike Lydon is one of the firm’s principals and lead author of the guidebook. He says that despite its fancy, academic-sounding name, tactical urbanism is not particularly exotic or extraordinary.
“Really, tactical urbanism is how most cities are built. Especially in developing nations,” Lydon says. “It’s step-by-step, piece-by-piece.”
These small-scale interventions are characterized by their community-focus and realistic goals. Maybe the most widespread of these tactics is the annual Park(ing) Day, in which parking spaces are turned into temporary park spaces.
The first iteration of the guidebook was released free online in the spring of 2011, and quickly hit the 10,000 download limit of the web service hosting it. Since then, Lydon and his colleagues found new ways of sharing the document, and also found new projects worth mentioning. “The point of the first one was ‘Hey, look: here’s all these cool things that are related to this longer-term change that’s happening.’ It was very appropriate with the way economy was,” says Lydon. “In this second volume, we’ve decided to go deeper into the history of the movement, creating a continuum of different types of interventions.”
The first edition includes 12 tactics like the aforementioned guerrilla gardening and open streets projects. The new edition includes an additional 12, including intersection repair, ad-busting and depaving – a Portland-born volunteer project to improve storm water treatment by removing unneeded driveways and concrete ground cover.
“We’re noticing more and more of these tactics that are popping up and leading to longer term change, so we wanted to keep that conversation going,” Lydon says.
Of course, not every tactic is a world changer.
“When you’re yarn-bombing something, it’s a really cool and interesting piece of public art and it can have some social and political commentary that goes along with it, but the intent generally is not to create a longer term physical change,” Lydon says. “Most of the things that we include in the guide generally are aiming at doing something larger. They’re not just for the sake of doing it. And of course in a lot of ways, to make that work, you need to have whatever you’re doing to become sanctioned or supported, either with funding or with being allowed by the municipality.”
And this is a key element of the guidebook: making things work. The goal is not to simply do a cool project that will get cleaned up by the city or thrown away, but to make something – even something temporary – that will change how a place works and is perceived. And once that change has been made, to figure out how it can be made again or made permanent.
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.
“For every one of these tactics that’s in here, you probably have several failed versions,” says Lydon. “But when you hit a nerve at the right time with the right group of people and you have enough people watching, you can really help transition these things into larger initiatives.”
And though many of these projects can and have worked in cities across the country (and world), Lydon cautions that not every project is right for every place. What’s needed and wanted in one neighborhood can be wildly different from what would work or be accepted in another. Knowing and responding to locals needs is paramount.
“When it comes down to it, you’ve got to figure out what these projects can mean, and how you can do them yourself or with your government or with your neighbors,” Lydon says.
If the community is where you start, a good second step could be within the pages of this guidebook.
The Ahwahnee Principles for Resource-Efficient Communities, written in 1991 by the Local Government Commission, paved the way for the Smart Growth movement and New Urbanism. These principles provide a blueprint for elected officials to create compact, mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented developments in their local communities. Cities and counties across the nation have adopted them to break the cycle of sprawl. If you like the newly emerging downtowns across the nation – full of people, activities and great public spaces – that’s the Ahwahnee Principles in action.
Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to roads and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and the present, we can plan communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to certain fundamental principles.
All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of transit stops.
A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought tolerant landscaping and recycling.
The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.
The regional land-use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than freeways.
Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting a continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.
The general plan should be updated to incorporate the above principles.
Rather than allowing developer-initiated, piecemeal development, local governments should take charge of the planning process. General plans should designate where new growth, infill or redevelopment will be allowed to occur.
Prior to any development, a specific plan should be prepared based on these planning principles.
Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.
Authors: Peter Calthorpe, Michael Corbett, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Stefanos Polyzoides Editor: Peter Katz, Judy Corbett, and Steve Weissman
The Oxnard Community Planning Group advocates for visionary practices in planning, design, and development that will lead to a more livable and prosperous city.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group envisions a city that grows wisely, preserves farmland and open space, drives smart economic development, welcomes vertical density, cherishes our past, and boldly anticipates our future.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group believes in a city that works to meet the needs of all our residents: young, old, people with disabilities, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists; even people who don’t go anywhere. We strive to be open-minded, welcome thoughtful discussion, and are willing to invest our time and efforts towards bringing these beliefs into being.
Oxnard’s little leftover flyover (East Channel Islands Blvd) can become a wonderful South Oxnard park and civic amenity.
The OCCTIP consultants are suggesting that the city demolish the East Channel Islands Blvd bridge. The Oxnard Community Planning Group would like to see the flyover bridge become a South Oxnard park. Different from but not unlike the amazing High Line in NYC.
Our little leftover flyover can become a great South Oxnard civic amenity. Go Oxnard.
Of course it won’t look like the High Line but with excellent local landscape design it can be a winner. Let’s have a competition for the design of the park. When the city is a bit more flush – it might consider a small stipend to offset costs to several world class landscape architectural and urban design firms to design us a little world class city park. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
With a little imagination and quality design we can have our own version of the High Line. A park for bicycling and walking connecting neighborhoods – A New Vision for Oxnard.
If you are interested in making Oxnard a better place you MUST watch this:
Published on May 23, 2014
Jeff Speck is a city planner and urban designer who, through writing, public service, and built work, advocates internationally for smart growth and sustainable design. The Christian Science Monitor called his recent book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, “timely and important, a delightful, insightful, irreverent work.”
More Jeff Speck:
How do we solve the problem of the suburbs? Urbanist Jeff Speck shows how we can free ourselves from dependence on the car — which he calls “a gas-belching, time-wasting, life-threatening prosthetic device” — by making our cities more walkable and more pleasant for more people.
In May (2013), the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a protected bike & pedestrian trail connecting some of Indy’s most popular cultural institutions, had it’s long-awaited public coming out with a ribbon cutting and celebration. It could be the biggest bicycling infrastructure achievement in North America and yet it’s still practically a secret. Hopefully after experiencing our Streetfilm, that will change.
As you’ll see it runs eight fantastic miles through the heart of the downtown and features beautiful stone work, green landscaping and bioswales for containing stormwater runoff. There is great signage and design with an eye for maximum safety. In many places along the trail, parking and/or a car travel lane was converted to fit the lanes in. But most importantly, the trail features ample room for both cyclists and pedestrians (most of the time in separate environments) to move about in a major city whether they are commuting, exercising, running errands or just going for a afternoon jaunt.
It’s fun and very safe and people of all ages using it. It’s the kind of thing Gil Penalosa’s 8-80 Cities organization preaches to the world.
Across the U.S. we have cities such as NYC, Chicago and San Francisco doing tremendous work installing many innovative miles of protected lanes with inexpensive materials. Although the Cultural Trail cost quite a bit, it’s nice to imagine that in the near future we’ll want to make these lanes more permanent and rideable. And for that we need not look to Europe, we can go check out Indianapolis.
Note: Please don’t miss our associated Streetfilm on Indy Mayor Greg Ballard AND a short looking more in-depth at the bioswales and storm water management system along the Cultural Trail.
For those that love cities and especially Los Angles – this is a feast for the eyes.
This is the city-wide follow up to my aerial exploration of downtown Los Angeles from last year (vimeo.com/101231747). And much like with downtown, I continue to be awe struck by how much of this vast city I have partially or completely overlooked before undertaking this video. And like most voyages of discovery, I’ve realize there’s so much more to find.
Packing it all into one short-form video has been nigh impossible and much didn’t make it for safety, privacy or simply because I couldn’t make it 30 minutes long! Notably missing are: LAX Theme Building, both Gettys, some Lautner homes, numerous beautiful buildings, the Gabba gallery, many murals that vanished before I got to them, and much of downtown featured in last year’s video.
Droning For Good
With all the controversy about drones, it’s important to remember that they can be (and often are) used responsibly. As with many emerging technologies, the laws struggle to keep up and we must employ a common sense approach to their use that is respectful to community, safety and the law.
My Drone Protocol
– Avoid busy periods, rush hours, special events, etc.
– Avoid sensitive areas or anything that can be misconstrued without prior permission.
– Avoid crowds. Small groups only from the periphery with ground spotters and two-way radios.
– No flights near airports, TFR areas and restricted airspace (FAA class B, C, D).
– Be prepared for local air traffic below 400ft including awareness of helipad locations.
– Operate at or below roof lines to assure separation from air traffic.
– Avoid “loitering” next to residential homes and apts.
– Respect residential areas for quiet and right to privacy.
– Eliminate any material that inadvertently reveals someone in a place of privacy.
For queries regarding my aerial filming, please contact me by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of us treasure our time in outdoor spaces. So why do we devote so little of our attention to their design?
As a designer in the site-furniture industry, I am always curious about the value people place on the outdoors. I like to ask people I meet to describe a great city like New York, Chicago, or Paris and what they most remember about being there. Or I ask them, if they won $25,000 to spend on a dream vacation, where they would go and what they would do. Their fond memories of a celebrated city or an escape into the wild often have little in common, except for one thing: Their most memorable and meaningful experiences almost always revolve around the outdoors.
We have studies showing that people tend to be healthier and happier, and can enjoy longer lives, in areas where they have access to nature, including green urban spaces. Outdoor spaces are some of the least expensive to create and can pay some of the highest returns on investment—in terms of community life, health and wellness, and the generation of economic activity in surrounding areas. As more people—from young professionals to retirees—move back into cities, green public spaces and vibrant streetscapes are often cited as key factors for attracting residents and businesses.
Despite this, we do not give outdoor spaces the same value and financial support that we give to buildings and interiors. We calculate the square-foot dollar value of buildings and interiors but don’t do the same for a square foot outdoors. We have not made a strong business case for designed outdoor spaces—we can and should be making this case. I also believe that design and innovation in public and privately owned outdoor space is lagging—and the first step to address that challenge is to better leverage the skills and talents of landscape architects, the professionals best prepared to design them.
In collaboration with landscape architects and other design professionals, all of us in the site-furniture industry can elevate awareness and promote greater investment in outdoor spaces that create memory and meaning.
This is a time in human history when landscape architecture has something really important to say. We should listen. Landscape architects practice a discipline rooted in holistic thinking. They understand the natural environment, the built environment, and the interface between them. And they are ideally prepared to take leadership in shaping outdoor spaces and framing public awareness about them.
Recent high-profile projects such as the High Line and Millennium Park have achieved placemaking of the highest order, and the star landscape architects responsible for them have captured public attention. But there is a whole legion of talented, inspired landscape architects out there who should also be at the center of envisioning and designing outdoor space.
This is also a time when industry can play a constructive role. Those of us who provide the site elements that help shape and activate these spaces need to do our part, and I’m excited about taking on that challenge, researching methods to make the case for the return on investment for well-designed outdoor spaces measured in terms of community, identity, well-being, environment, and dollars spent. I am focused on driving innovation with new types of scalable solutions that go beyond the standard litter bin, bike rack, and bench, to help people enjoy great outdoor experiences. The outdoors starts only a half-inch outside the door, so we need new ideas for spaces adjacent to buildings. We also need to integrate technology in public spaces, but in ways that respect the special qualities of the environment.
I am excited by the work and believe that, in collaboration with landscape architects and other design professionals, all of us in the site-furniture industry can elevate awareness and promote greater investment in outdoor spaces that create memory and meaning. We can make a real difference in the urban landscape that is our future.
Kirt Martinis the vice president of design and marketing at Landscape Forms, leading the company’s creative teams for product development, marketing, and marketing communications. Martin is an award-winning industrial designer, and previously directed design activities at Turnstone, a division of Steelcase.
A new exhibit at the AIA New York Center for Architecture examines the changing function of parks and other open urban centers.
There’s a bit of a house-of-mirrors quality at Open to the Public: Civic Space Now, at the AIA New York Center for Architecture in New York City’s Greenwich Village through September. From the outside, at LaGuardia Place, you peer in and see an umbrella-capped hot dog stand, a Citibike, and a wrap-around mural of Times Square. Step inside, and you’ll find the perfect backdrop for a selfie that makes it seem like you’re on the crowded steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is an exhibit about public space, in a public space, with public space outside, all around. This reflection on an essential ingredient of cities requires a moment of orientation.
The very notion of public space, a subject largely reserved for design professionals until about a decade ago, is a hot topic today. The threshold event that pushed it into popular consciousness was probably 2011’s Occupy Wall Street encampment in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park—a privately owned public space, just to add another level of complexity. Worldwide, the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo that year also underscored the connection between place and public discourse, with all the mobilization power of social media mixed in. In recent years, the practice of guerrilla urbanism—taking over parking spaces or entire streets for mini parklets, spontaneous art displays, and chair bombings—has further changed the definition and understanding of public space and its function.
Cities are the story of the century, as New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman noted at a Radcliffe Institute lecture earlier this year, and public space is central to civic health. All of this new attention to the design and character of public space is thus quite welcome, but there are all kinds of thorny questions marbled in: rules and regulations, free speech, access and equity. Is the pedestrian zone of Times Square mostly for tourists? Who are the best new public spaces actually being designed for? A park is no longer just a park; as a stage for the theater of public life, it’s become more complicated.
The AIA New York exhibit attempts to make sense of its subject by organizing public space into three basic categories: congregation, circulation, and contemplation. The latter is perhaps the easiest to understand: The serene new Four Freedoms park at the tip of Roosevelt Island on the East River in Manhattan, a completion of a design by Louis Kahn, is open to anyone who can get there.
Anyone who walks the sidewalks of New York realizes how much of the city’s life is played out in public. The way that space gets used can seem accidental as much as intentional, from the High Line—the infamous transformation of an elevated railway into a linear park—to the benches at either end of the planted medians along Park Avenue. The steps of the Met were probably not specifically designed to accommodate the hundreds of visitors who hang out there every day, but that lingering has become a signature of the place.
No curator can cover everything in one show, but if this exhibit has one shortcoming, it’s the lack of recognition of guerilla or tactical or pop-up urbanism. From San Francisco to Dallas to Portland, Maine, that’s really where the action is lately regarding public spaces. It might have also been interesting to delve into the latest cutting-edge thinking on shared space espoused by such thought leaders as urban designer and movement specialist Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who takes former New York transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s Times Square model a step further by removing all traffic lights and warning signs. The implementation of the Dutch concept of the woonerf, which prompts a blending of automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian movement, turns streets into a new kind of public realm based on eye contact and common courtesy. The resulting ballet is seen in such places as Poynton and the Seven Dials intersection in England.
The exhibit looks back as well as forward, and includes the recently rehabilitated McCarren Pool, a New York City public works project of Robert Moses. And when you walk out of the center, the sometimes tortured history of placemaking is all around. The high-density towers of urban renewal are right across the street; the gardens and ground-floor shops of the Washington Square Southeast development are reasonably active. Then of course there’s Washington Square Park to the north—a public space functioning about as well as any urbanist could imagine. The park’s fountain is working (thanks to a private benefactor, the Tisch Foundation), people strum guitars, kids run every which way, and the park’s famed monumental arch lords over everything.
Nearly a half-century ago, Jane Jacobs fought Moses’ proposal to run Fifth Avenue through the greensward. Back then, nobody was openly talking about free speech or democracy movements or whether homeless people should be allowed to congregate there. It was more about mothers and strollers. But it was contested space, as so much of public space in the city was. And remains.
Top image (clockwise): Times Square photo courtesy Francisca Sumar, CityBike photo courtesy Stephen Mallon, Brooklyn Bridge Park photo courtesy Julienne Schaer, Bronx Community Garden photo courtesy Landgarden.
In Los Angeles, MOCA is modeling how institutions with huge collections should be thinking: Move artworks into underserved communities.
Everyone should be thrilled that the Underground Museum in Los Angeles is screening 7 Fragments for George Méliès. It’s an animation installation by William Kentridge, a fantastic artist, but that’s not the reason people should be pumped—or not the only one. No, what’s so great about 7 Fragments is that it’s a Museum of Contemporary Art show—featuring an artwork from the Museum of Contemporary Art collection—that’s not on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Let Carolina A. Miranda explain. In the Los Angeles Times, she details the unlikely collaboration between the Underground Museum and MOCA that has made 7 Fragments possible. MOCA is one of the most visible visual-art institutions in L.A., if not the nation. The Underground Museum, by comparison, is invisible.
“For the next three years, the Underground will feature a series of exhibitions, curated by [founder and painter, Noah] Davis, that will be drawn from MOCA’s permanent collection—placing important works of art in a largely working-class black and Latino neighborhood at the heart of Los Angeles,” Miranda writes.
There isn’t a city in the country that wouldn’t benefit from such a program: a non-museum space for showcasing museum-collection works. There isn’t a museum anywhere that couldn’t use to expand its reach and viewer base. A farm league for museum exhibitions and curators would do the entire art world some good. Experimental satellites are an idea whose time has come.
Around this time last year, Miranda was writing about the effort by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other leaders to lure a museum to the city that would house the art collection of George Lucas. Several cities—namely Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A.—were locked into a downward spiral to see who would give away the most to secure Lucas’ support. Miranda wasn’t on board, namely because Lucas’ art collection sucks. Against the prevailing sentiment (or at least the mayor’s), she launched the #WhyLucasNOTinLA campaign.
Arguably, L.A. has enough museums as it is—as do many cities. Over the past two decades, the nation as a whole has undergone an extraordinary cultural building boom. As Joanna Woronkowicz, D. Carroll Joynes, and Norman Bradburn explain in Building Better Arts Facilities, most large metropolitan statistical areas have erected new facilities within recent years. During one narrow window (2000–2002), 87 percent of MSAs with a population of 2 million or more launched new cultural buildings. About one-third of small MSAs (population 500,000 or fewer) did the same, per a report by authors for the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.
Not all of these projects have served cities well. For one thing, the costs for building museums, theaters, and performing-arts centers increased during the boom leading up to the collapse of the dot-com bubble. While those costs have since relaxed (more recent data aren’t available), the costs for building museums outstrips almost any other kind of building project. And in the wake of the recent recession, the construction industry as a whole is smaller, meaning construction costs in the U.S. are rising.
But there’s an argument to be made for launching satellites instead of adding expansions no matter what the cost of construction is, especially with regard to contemporary art. Any museum you care to name has more artworks than it can ever show and a challenge in reaching various communities—any museum.
The answer is right there: Take the artworks out of storage and put them into those communities.
While it might sound obvious in an era that has seen restaurants have to seriously compete with food trucks (and even launch their own), museums haven’t quite learned to see past the brick and mortar. The Museum of Modern Art boasts some 200,000 works of art in its collection, but instead of reaching further into New York City—the way it did when it absorbed MoMA P.S.1 in Queens in 2000—the museum is betting hard on its tourist-trap mall location in Midtown.
For most museums, the situation is even bleaker, since most of them can’t claim a P.S.1 of their own. Fortunately, the Underground Museum and MOCA in L.A. have shown the way: Hungry curator, disused space, underserved community, untapped artwork. There is no major city where this won’t work. There is no museum that can’t make bread with this recipe.