Innovations in Public Space: Designing for Community

By Shaina Kandel

Shaina Kandel is pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. She has a background in Organizational Development and Healthcare Consulting. She is passionate about creating sustainable food systems and improving the health and wellbeing of our communities.

Oct 21, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

The physical layout of a city determines social interaction. American cities have limited public space, aside from green patches of parks. This means city dwellers exist inside cars, in apartments, in work buildings, or bustling to and from these places, eyes down at our phones. The result of this urban infrastructure is a sense of isolation, even when surrounded by millions of other people.  The isolation creates a yearning for human connection: enter the buzzword “community” and the rise of tech startups that “build community.” (i.e. Meetup, Airbnb, Lyft, Yerdle, Shareable, Skillshare, Feastly, etc.)

The good news is that we are shaping technology to meet our human need for social interaction. The better news is that this trend is not just secluded to technology. In increasing numbers, projects around the country are popping up to turn unutilized urban space into something public, shared, and social.

The projects below showcase transformations of previously unsightly urban spaces into beautiful public spaces, shifting the aesthetic and more importantly, human behavior.

Ballroom Luminoso

San Antonio, Texas

[margin10]

SXSE Eco presented Joe O’Connell & Blessing Hancock, Creative Machines Inc. the Transformative Design Award for their Ballroom Luminoso Project in San Antonio, Texas.

The designers constructed six large LED, color-changing chandeliers out of recycled bike parts and structural steel. Each light fixture casts detailed shadows on the underpass, transforming the underpass into a community space.

Soak

San Francisco, CA

[margin10]

San Francisco startup Soak is transforming urban spaces pending development into pop-up spas using shipping containers and ecologically sound design. The company partnered with Rebar Group to design a mostly off-the-grid urban bathhouse using solar power, rainwater, and photovltaic cells, and a grey water system.

Alley Network Project

Seattle, WA

[margin10]

In 2009, the city of Seattle commissioned Copenhagen-based Gehl architects to conduct a study on how to create vibrant streets and public spaces. The study identified alleyways as under-utilized urban spaces that can be reimagined to create green walkways, host public events, and invigorate local businesses. The Alley Network Project began doing just that and has transformed 4 alleys in Seattle, featuring art walks, movie screenings, and creating alleyway communities.

Pavement to Parks

San Francisco

[margin10]

Converting parking spaces into platforms with public seating, San Francisco’s Parklet Program “provides a path for merchants, community organizations, business owners, and residents to take individual actions in the development and beautification of the City’s public.” Since 2010, 38 parklets have been installed throughout San Francisco. These parklets create public seating and landscaped pedestrian walkways where parking spots once stood.

Impacts of Public Spaces

The Empirical Evidence:

The San Francisco Great Streets Project conducted a study on Divisidero Street before and two months after the parklet was installed. They found:

  • On weekday evenings, pedestrian traffic rose 37%
  • The host business of the parklet perceived a significant increase in customers after the parklet was installed
  • Among surveyed pedestrians strong community character increased from 80% to 90%


From the Divisidero study, we know that creating a public space creates more pedestrians, which means a decrease in crime, according to the US department of transportation. Local businesses flourish and there are stronger community ties. But these facts are just the quantifiable effects of something bigger that is happening with the reclaiming of public space – we change our relationship with our environment and our relationship with one another.  As Enrique Penalosa, the forward-thinking former Mayor of Bogota Columbia puts it,

Public spaces create a different type of society. A society where people of all income levels meet in public spaces is a more integrated, socially healthier one.

Reclaiming public space means making urban areas amenable to human interaction. It allows seemingly disparate individuals to find themselves in close enough proximity to converse, learn from one another, and create community. Participating in public space means giving ourselves permission to look up from our screens and connect with people of different generations or different backgrounds. It eases the isolation and anonymity inherent in urban areas. This isn’t about civic engagement or improving business, those are stories that can be used to support innovation. This movement to reclaim public space is about making our urban centers places for human connection.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.  

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.

What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.

We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This