more thesis prep

pavement to parks

Last Friday was all abuzz with Park(ing) Day, a ‘holiday’ created to celebrate public space. (Sad that it lasts only one day a year!)
In the spirit of reclaiming the streets, Allison Arieff discusses an offshoot of this — land banking.  The strategic acquisition of land in advance of expanding urban development, land-banking in this economic climate has resulted in vacant lots, empty storefronts, and general wastes of space that are baking in the sun just for people to come and rescue them.

San Francisco’s ‘Pavement to Parks’ program does exactly this — “seeks to temporarily reclaim these unused swathes and quickly and inexpensively turn them into new public plazas and parks.”  The temporary closure is intended to buy time to measure the success of these plazas and analyze what adjustments need to be made in the short-term, and ultimately whether the closure should become a permanent transformation for the public realm.

SF’s Pavement to Parks was in part spurred by Janette Sadik-Khan’s recent pedestrianization efforts in New York City — ‘excess roadway’ including streets like Broadway in Times Square have been morphed into plazas and seating areas, simply by painting or treating the asphalt, placing protective barriers along the periphery, and installing moveable tables and chairs. (Some consistently call out that these fixtures are flimsy, but I say it is a monumental improvement from the gas fumes that spewed out of bumper-to-bumper traffic 24/7.)

What Arieff is impressed by “isn’t so much the design, as the implementation” of the Pavement to Parks program — whose first and foremost goal is to ‘transform a sea of asphalt.’ A pro bono designer works on each park (currently 3/12 finished though 2010), using materials that the city already has to maximize greenery: composted soil from city landscaping, community volunteers for planting, etc.  The plantings also add storm water management capacity to streets.

Most innovatively, Arieff champions not a complete buyout of these asphalt oceans, but with a small budget and even smaller footprint, a friendly “borrow” should work just fine.

Via Arieff, Allison. “Pavement to Parks.” By Design, 22 Sept 09

a double book review

Dana Cuff reviews two books on public space in Harvard Design Magazine.

“For centuries, if not millennia, public space has been tied to politics, as the realm mediating between citizens and the state, or at least between individual citizens and the collective.”

Things that “we agree on” about the public sphere:
-boundaries between private and public are murkier than ever
-‘the public’ is really multiple publics
-the terms public sphere, space, square, domain all imply different things
-so much has been said, that there is often a common “What new can be said about the public sphere?” (My question exactly, and I want my thesis to address this.)

As I looked through the two books that Dana Cuff reviews, their approaches are rather divergent. One extends a more philosophical (‘Habermasian’) discussion, about cultural geography, archipelagos and enclaves, politics of animation, ‘liminal spaces’, and the like.  The other provides a pictorial gallery of recent design projects to muse over, as an exhibition booklet punctuated with textual perspectives from architects and scholars.

“Nowhere is the perspective of each text as obvious as from the photos: OPEN is full of unpopulated aerial, abstract views so that the space itself is revealed; In Search of New Public Domain contains eye-level views into the swarm of humanity in airports, at the beach, in the mall. You can’t tell exactly where they are, but you get the feeling you’d like to join them.”

This leads me to mull over the best way to present a topic such as this for a thesis.

Analyze examples + sleek photos of precedence, or philosophical discussion + happy photos of people?  I will need to delve into both of these books a little bit more to formulate a more concrete opinion.

Via Cuff, Dana. Review of In Search of New Public Domain: Analysis and Strategy and OPEN: New Designs for Public Space (Sustainability) + Pleasure, vol. 1: Culture + Architecture Number 30, Spring/Summer 09.


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