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A piece by Gregory Euclide

A friend sent over an old interview of me with the note, "nearly ten years ago!"

In immediate response, i.e. what the hell have I been doing for the last 10 years?, I wasn't entirely positive. My stomach turned. Am I where I thought I would be by now? As I thought more about it, not measuring by signposts of achievement and accolades, but by the people and characters I've met, the experiences we shared, the relationships with them, and the many beautiful, serendipitous, and funny stories that punctuated the last (nearly) 10 years, I started to feel better. Maybe even a little proud. It's been rich. There, I said it.

In that vein, I thought it would be good to update about what's going on in this space specifically. No longer working in research and writing for a think tank, I've since joined a reinvented non-profit that will support innovations in cities and transportation. It's a good convergence of past experiences, applied differently. This space is always reserved for extended thoughts on such things, and now that the crux of my job isn't writing, I hope to write more here and elsewhere.

A note about how my thinking about public space has evolved and what will likely be here: This started out as a place to critique and assess public spaces, to hone an understanding of what works. Perhaps first through design and by how much public spaces prioritize people. As my understanding developed (still a work in progress), process and engagement were folded in. What does it mean to be public anyway? This became especially integral when looking at how spaces were developed (or not). Process rose in importance.

Funding resources, the mechanics for distributing funds, and the rules that governed the what could be done and what couldn't be were also added. Yup, I got into policy. For transportation. With cities as the backdrop and meeting people's aspirations as the goal.

(A funny side story: when I was contemplating joining Transportation Alternatives staff several years ago, I asked myself why they would want to hire me. I was not an advocate (which council member?), nor a grassroots campaigner (shy), nor a transportation expert (what?). I spent a weekend mulling it over, and by chance read through some posts archived here... and realized that when I wrote about the public spaces in the city I loved - New York - I typically wrote about its streets. How people used them in such innovative ways, the sidewalks, how biking made so much sense (never mind that I didn't ride a bike back then), and the too many cars. Public space was the lens, but the street was the expression. Satisfied, I joined T.A. - one of the best decisions I ever made.)

Of course, words are only as good as acts, so I love paying attention to the organizations, the people who led them, the make-up of their staff, and their culture and character. I found that I also applied this thinking to the internal development of organizations I was lucky enough to work for. I like to try to create conditions where people can be happy and succeed beyond their imaginations. I know, lofty! Ha. But I guess I've been lucky to see it happen enough times that I know, without a doubt, that this kind of experience can be truly transformative, which sends more effective changemakers out into the world.

All of this led to an informal theory about how does change actually happens? Top down and bottom up, it's a dynamic mix of people, policy and rules, process (and politics), and practice. So I guess there will be a smattering of all these things here - such as changing practice and applying research to design - as they relate to our collective work.

If you're curious, the last update.


Why art?

This one's been bouncing around for like ever, but it's still good. by Super Rural.

I started a tumblr a couple years ago, as way to collect art, ideas, and images I loved looking at over and over again in a little bit more curated and journalistic fashion than the way pinterest allows (though I've got one of those too.) Given what I was doing at the time, i.e. so-called hard-hitting policy analysis on climate change, urbanization, and transportation, I felt a little guilty about it, but also knew that I needed some space to dream and think about other things.

Last September, I was invited to speak at a European Commission conference on innovations in sustainable urban mobility. Well, my talk was on something that sounded far less innovative - national policies on sustainable urban transportation. I have a true aversion to dry, text-only presentations on abstract concepts - these happen much too often in policy discussions and they're a real snooze.

But I was at a loss - I had some photos ready to go, but what could I use as images for abstract concepts? I'm not a graphic designer, so I couldn't create what I wanted, nor were there any obvious photographs that could be taken to illustrate what I needed to communicate. I started to dig around and thought of my silly tumblr which had so many images I loved for some unknown reason.

The reason, as it turned out, was connected to whatever it was I was ruminating about in my conscious mind and daily work. And the presentation basically made itself because I had been storing away all these ideas, only they were expressed in such a different way on this other forum. If you're curious, you can see the presentation here. The European Commission was so pleased that it wasn't another text-only presentation - and me too. Thank you to all the artists for being in the world and helping us see and experience what we can't articulate ourselves. (I know you probably didn't see your art applied in these ways - I hope you're OK with it!)



Someone at a place I very much admire brought up Bird to the North today. Humbled obviously, but hugely embarrassed too since it is such so skeletal around here these days. We traded a couple of stories about blogging and how much things have changed. Which reminded me too of how much things have changed in our cities as well, especially as I went back over some old posts. A real example is the transformation that is Willoughby Plaza. Here it is in January 2007, when it was first temporarily pedestrianized:

And here is the *permanent* place in six years later in 2013! Even in the dark, it looks dignified. Happiness.


So proud of Atlantic Avenue BID & PlanningCorps

Can't help it, I'm proud of PlanningCorps helping Atlantic Avenue BID with its NYC Small Business Services BID Challenge grant submission. AABID won the full award amount, $75,000! Read more about it here. Since the BID only launched in April 2012, and had a staff of one, the executive director, I felt like this project really made the point that small community-based organizations benefit from the collective capacity of volunteer planners. The snap above is from the awards ceremony that I was thrilled to attend back in November 2012, where Josef Szende accepted the award from Deputy Mayor Robert Steele and NYC SBS Commissioner Rob Walsh. Kudos!


The Future of the American City

It's always strange to see oneself on a bigger screen

For part of Spontaneous Interventions, the U.S. Pavilion's exhibition at this year's Venice Biennale for Architecture, I was asked to participate in the exhibition film. The exercise involved writing a short essay answering the question, "what do you think will be the future city of America," and I was asked to address specifically infrastructure, planning, etc. The conceit was that individuals in the film would read their essay as though addressing fellow Americans... but I think everyone decided that this might be a little boring to watch.

Since we never had to read our statements, I thought it would be fun to share the essay here. It's not based on research, it's just an outline of thoughts I've been having over the last few years working on small-scale interventions with community groups via PlanningCorps and tackling large-scale - national, state, or city-wide - policy with my day jobs. When I was working on it, I thought, it's not futuristic-sounding enough! But I love humanity and its foibles too much (the future may not be so futuristic anyway.) Here it is:

Future of the American City
I am disarmed by a city’s wonderfully messy diversity. I love how cities permit people of different stripes to share space and still lead their own lives. Watching the ordered chaos unfold every day on the streets and public spaces of my city, it seems that cities allow us to express some of our best qualities. It also seems that we need to be at our best given the environmental and economic challenges of the 21st century. How can cities sustain this priceless social dynamic? 
Cities that withstand the ages are the ones that evolve by protecting existing infrastructure while absorbing ongoing shifts in population, economy, and the environment. As cities grow and age, infrastructure inevitably becomes more brittle. Infrastructure could encompass everything from the physical such as roads, parks, water systems and energy systems to the political like the rule of law and the social found in culture and community. 
The government and the governed should collaborate on the stewardship of the city to counter brittleness. Both sides should embrace change and diversity of thought, and indulge in experiments and interventions. We will need to accept an accelerated rate of change given our global constraints. 
Moving forward, collaborative governance will enable change and quickly. Emerging tools like open-source mapping and approaches like participatory budgeting deepen civic engagement. A stable of new tools are being developed and it will be up to us to apply them. 
In American cities of the future, imagine the many ways the public and its government can work together to solve problems. Government still provides leadership to uphold the law, but it also facilitates public participation and develops societal priorities with the public through open data. The public shares the responsibility for participating and holds some accountability for decisions. Instead of wondering about a policy’s impact, there are direct links between government and citizens for input and dialogue. Citizens suggest policies or solutions more readily, test and assess them in real-time in the city, and move them up the decision-making ladder. Cities in the United States especially benefit from the American entrepreneurial instinct. 
The results are that change becomes easier to accept, infrastructure gains flexibility, and cities withstand the challenges of our time. Might environmental concerns be wholly integrated with economic decisions – finally – because fuller public participation imparts a stronger appreciation for the global commons? Ultimately, empowering more people to have a hand in crafting their cities would not only ensure that cities withstand the challenges of the century, it would also ensure that the messy diversity of the social life of our cities endures. 



I'm fine. I was supposed to fly to Mexico City on Monday morning for a strategy session with multiple organizations to advise the incoming presidential administration in Mexico and the new mayoral administration of the Distrito Federal Mexico on urban transport policy. My hosts sent over instructions that they would arrive by bicycle at my hotel early Tuesday morning and that I was to make sure not to eat breakfast. A lovely surprise awaited me.

Instead my flight was canceled on Sunday afternoon, and after a long lunch with a friend in a half-empty though typically popular restaurant that day (where was everyone? like birds before a storm) I biked over to DUMBO to pick up my laptop, not knowing what to do next. I had cleared out my fridge in anticipation of being away for the week, but hearing about the long lines made me avoid the stores. It wasn't the waiting, it was the nervousness I wanted to ignore. I spent the night (or would it be two?) with close friends and their kids. We listened to the news, played games with the kids, cooked, and I learned a few guitar chords. We only bothered pulling out the flashlights when the storm hit full force on Monday night.

It was a couple of noisy, stormy nights, but our neighborhood is fine, outside of a few downed trees and store awnings. Though it's on the waterfront, it's on a bluff that overlooks the East River and the electricity stayed on. There were glorious trick-or-treaters on Wednesday, and the annual Halloween spectacular on Garden Place still got a good run.

Colleagues have urged me to seize the moment in the aftermath of Sandy. With the storm, climate change and cities became mainstream. This is your moment! What do you think, they keep asking me. Cities and climate change have become front and center. This is it!

I don't know what to think, and you know what, I don't want to revel in this moment.

News about the impact of the storm has given me great pause, each day a little dip deeper into harsh reality. Though the majority of us are fine, walking around lower Manhattan without power is apocalyptic. No traffic lights, no street lights, and small businesses operating on slim margins are closed. I picked up brick oven pizza the other day for dinner with friends, and went to the neighborhood bar each night to surround myself with people, and there are people without water to drink. I get around easily by bicycle while others wait in long lines for the shuttle buses. I don't even need to climb the stairs in my building because my elevator is still working. Meanwhile, seniors in Brighton Beach can't flush their toilets, are running out of food, and do not even have a way of sending out a SOS flare. (Their council member is MIA, in case anyone has any information.)

All the reports on climate mitigation, adaptation, resilience, etc, could not have possibly predicted the very localized nature of the aftermath of extreme storms, and the very human face of its impact. It's literally block by block, street by street, neighbor by neighbor. Like the lights being turned on in an empty house, room by room. It feels that even organizing help is taking everyone in the city a few days, as little needs are discovered and disconnects patched over. I sent out an unsteady stream of texts over the last few days, a slowly dawning realization of who lived where and who might be without power or water or a bed or perhaps even without cell service.

Luckily, New Yorkers are used to sharing, especially with strangers and in times of need. And thankfully we have overlapping networks of people and spaces. We're really good together. Bit by bit.

Donate blood
New York City's how to help page
WNYC's how to help page, targeted at specific neighborhoods
Hurricane Hackers

Le Too Much

via @littleknife's instagram

the best overstock store name, found in Paris.
I do love this a bit le too much.


Unique use of bollard in Brussels

I like how this guy stood like this for a half hour late at night. Bollards.

Another Planning Corps article

I have been amiss about posting this, and it is no reflection on Urban Omnibus, who I just adore. If you haven't signed up for its newsletter, you are surely missing out. I wrote a longer piece about Planning Corps' work on Queens Boulevard for it, voila.