Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
A People’s Park Re-envisioned by the People
What good is a park or any other kind of public space if you can’t find your way into it? While Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the former World’s Fair ground in Queens is one of the most diverse and heavily used parks in New York City, it’s also hard to find the entrance and easy to lose one’s way within the park. The Design Trust for Public Space joined forces with NYC Parks and Queens Museum to engage the local community in improving access, circulation, and connectivity to this flagship park.
Twenty-three community advisors, supported and led by the Design Trust fellows team, the NYC Parks administrators, and the Queens Museum, have developed ideas in a four month-long rigorous collaboration, called the community design school, as part of The World’s Park project.
Thanks to the efforts of our Community Organizing Fellow José Serrano-McClain, the project’s community advisors are comprised of highly enthusiastic individuals, ranging in age from 16 to 70, and diverse professional and cultural backgrounds. They are getting equipped in organizing skills, design, architecture and art in public spaces, and want to take part in choosing potential improvements for Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Some of the participants have been living in Queens for decades. Others called it home more recently, thousands of miles away from where they were born and grew up. Some speak Mandarin or Cantonese; others, Spanish; and some others Korean as their first language.
Design pedagogy was at the center of the ten-session workshop series co-developed by our Design Education Fellow Sarah Lidgus and Participatory Design Fellow Sam Holleran. The Park Administrator and Parks staff also planned the curriculum, participated in every class and workshop, and offered practical advice on the feasibility of design ideas.
From the get-go, Sarah broke down ‘design’ for everyone. “Design is both a noun and a verb. We’re going to be doing both. A lot,” she announced. “Design as a noun might be a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made. Design as a verb, on the other hand, is a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation in solving a problem.”
We tackled the design process next. “It starts with research to understand the problems and opportunities. Ideas are born making these concepts visual and tangible. Then other people are asked for feedback. The design gets refined; it evolves and ideas get eliminated to reach the best answer,” Sarah summed up.
The community design school precisely followed this methodology. Midway through the term, we held an initial forum where the community advisors shared their preliminary ideas with the larger public and received critical feedback to their design concepts. The advisors were encouraged to see the park from the perspective of others, examining different ways community members use and navigate the park, as well as how decision-making can align with the ideals of equality and inclusivity of underrepresented groups.
A final exhibition displayed the collective design concepts of the community advisors at the Queens Museum in May 2015 to help advocate for the design improvements in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The concepts on view ranged from information kiosks and art installations, to way-finding landmarks, and play areas for children with special needs. The advisors’ creative ideas targeted improving the connectivity between Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the neighboring communities, focusing on the access points and circulation patterns within and around the park.
This summer, members of the group have staged several family events with the Queens Museum’s Education Department to further develop a sensory play space in the park. Building on The World’s Park project with the Design Trust, advisors have also been working with a resident artist, as part of Studio in the Park, the Queens Museum’s new collaboration with the Parks Department, and ArtBuilt’s Esther Robinson, to prototype related concepts to improve connectivity.
The group is also providing their on-the-ground expertise to the NYC Department of Transportation for their initiative to install way-finding kiosks near major park entrances and surrounding transit hubs. We’re hoping that these initiatives point the way toward increased stewardship and decision-making roles for community members in shaping the park spaces that they use everyday.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.