Art for All

As ridiculous as it might seem, I fell in love with a poster exhibit this past weekend. The posters are from one of the most ambitious campaigns to encourage people to use public transport and staged by London Transport. Original art was commissioned and the results are an amazing exploration of consumption and place, and the creation of a strong civic identity. (The title of the show was taken from a 1948 show at the Victoria and Albert Museum that exhibited the original artwork for the posters.) The Yale exhibit site has a slide show of some of the posters - I highly recommend the book. The graphic design and art are truly beautiful. Below is a favorite by Tom Purvis. Can we do a poster contest, MTA? WMATA?


Idea #2: Public Service Announcement

I have a Los Angeles bestie who I get to see about once a year. She's involved in the public space scene there - on the board of the LA Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, works at Getty, super talented, etc etc. Every time we get together, we show each other the latest in our respective cities, then inevitably get going on all the fun projects we want to do. Above is a little snapshot of one of those sessions from 2007. I love that we got so excited about this (you be the judge of the merit of the ideas). We were going to call our bi-coastal collaboration "Public S.A." - for Public Service Announcement. I still love the name.


About this blog

Not sure where this came from...happy to credit it...

This blog started back in 2004 as a way to track public space issues that interested me. Way back then, Curbed was the reliable neighborhood development blog (rather than a hack for realtors). Jen Bekman of the eponymous gallery used to gather us design, city, urbanist, architecture bloggers together for drinks every so often. Today, it would have to be a large bar to fit just the architecture bloggers out there.

I felt OK with amateurly covering this space back then because there weren't too many others covering it. Obviously, things change, and this space changed. Tracking news stories became more about how public space gets won (markets, streets, parks, etc). It got more personal as I managed to talk my way into working at a few favorite organizations - Project for Public Spaces, Transportation Alternatives, ZGF - who were tackling the issue in their own ways. Still amateur, but different.

Fast forward today. It's amazing how much the proliferation of media and free tools has led to such great coverage of space, design, architecture, urbanism, planning, and everything in between. I stopped tracking articles about public spaces, development, and cities because so many places did it so well (and much better than me).

My interest in public spaces started broadly. I came to focus on transportation (i.e., 80% of NYC public space are its streets). From transportation, I opened up to climate change and energy (i.e., 70% of our oil is consumed for transportation purposes). And now I've come full circle back to cities (i.e., metropolitan regions take up only 2% of the earth's land mass but are responsible for 70% of global emissions).

Over the course of the next few months, I'll be developing ideas and activities around cities, energy, and climate change. After being able to work on a variety of different scales, with various communities, and in design, planning, and policy, I feel that tying this broad, long-term, global issue - climate - to a very tangible, rooted perspective - cities - is a good way to try. The point is not to duplicate the wonderful work that so many organizations are doing on urban policy. The point is to advance energy and climate policy by examining opportunities and challenges in governance, policy, innovation, systems, and participation, through the lens of cities. The second point is to amplify the work that others are doing on urban policy and in elevating the profile of cities more generally.

I'm really excited about this. I've thought a lot about whether I should shut BttN down, since it really no longer is a place to come and look at public space ideas, but I think I'll keep it up for the rare occasion that I find something worth sharing. It's a chance to continue noting a couple of things important to me: the smallest scales (that's why I love little urban interventions) when working on big policy. And signals of cultural shifts afoot - hence the inclusion of art on this site.

That's where things are in 2011. Let's see how this goes!

Idea #1: Adopt-a-Stop

I was cleaning out my files today on the train and found a bunch of short documents squirreled away all over my laptop (not the most organized filer here.) I guess I used to sit down and write out a random public space idea, then save and forget all about it. Below is the first one, exactly as I wrote it a few years ago. It's silly and ingenuous and not well-developed - but I did laugh.

Small, interstitial public spaces are the best opportunities to improve the experience of a city dweller. Though New York City has lately paid much attention to reclaiming public space such as pop-up cafes, new public plazas from underutilized street space, the bus stop – and the bus layover space, with its 15 feet of curb – is an underutilized space as well. And of all of New York City’s residents, the bus rider’s experience is one given the least attention.

This is a campaign to provide to bus riders a truly magnificent experience, one that equals the benefits they provide the city by not driving a car, polluting the air, and endangering its citizens. Historically, bus riders have been viewed as second class citizens. This is perhaps illustrated by the way Charlotte, NC, in the 1980s encouraged the development of skywalks, pristine walkways that protected privileged citizens from the weather as well as providing access to retail. Down below, on the messiness of the street, no shelter was provided for bus riders. They were forced to stand up to climate and few amenities.

The campaign will identify popular bus stops – those with plenty of riders but with very few amenities. (Though NYC has launched a new street furniture system with new bus shelters, the shelters are expensive enough and sidewalk space scarce enough that not all bus stops will have shelters.) Adopt-a-Stop would pair the bus stop with a local civic organization. On a designated day of the year, the group will design an experience for riders alighting the bus at that particular stop. This will draw attention to the highly utilized bus stop system and greatly underserved bus ridership in NYC. Why shouldn’t bus riders receive the same high quality experience as other people on the street?

Yes, why the hell not?? And to get your creative juices going, here's a set of amazing bus shelters.

Soviet Style

Beat the cold in Minneapolis

In Unst

This one is famously community-oriented.

Tons more on flickr...

Towns and stadiums suffering together

Image from NYT

Ah, the dream of stadiums as a driver of economic growth. It does happen. But it's not a quick fix.

The NYT has an interesting article today, "Company's Arenas Leave Cities with Big Problems." The article describes the pain several smaller towns in more remote locations are experiencing because of their stadium strategies. They are now left with the high costs of maintaining the building and paying back the initial debt without the expected revenue. Other city services are being cut to keep the stadium afloat. There are few available buyers for stadiums, though I do recall a moment during the real estate bubble when there were quite a few international buyers for unattractive real estate.

(Apparently the cities bought into the sales job from Global Entertainment, promised. Full list of stadiums this company helped build, pdf.)

[I've written a few times about stadiums at BttN and interestingly, this post, A stadium round-up is consistently one of the most popular pages on this site. (Probably because sports fans trying to find a nearby stadium vastly outnumber urban nerds.)]


Who is making progress on cities, climate change, and policy?

images by Vera Frankel, rehearsals for String Games: Improvisations for Inter-City Video, 1974 from here

I'll ask it once again, who (person or organization) do you think is making good progress on cities, climate change and policy? It can be on any scale - urban intervention, city-wide, sectoral, regional, state, national, supranational, bilateral, multinational...you choose. I want to know who your city-climate change heroes are. You can define action, who does it, how much, what success is, etc. The only caveat is that your nominee should deal with policy somehow - effectively, the rules that allow multiple actors to engage with one another while avoiding public harm (btw, this is such a low bar that I feel it needs a disclaimer - this should not be a standard for public policy!)