Inspiring Urban World Toward a Future Without Oil.

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In a future world without oil, we’d end up with thousands of unusable massive oil tankers, some as long as 40-story buildings. Instead of sending them to scrapyards, a team of architects wants to turn them into floating neighborhoods.

3046359-slide-s-2-these-beautiful-floatingThe supply of ships isn’t hypothetical: Every year, as old tankers wear out, they’re already being scrapped. Most end up in shipyards in places like India and Bangladesh, where workers are paid a few rupees a day to attack steel hulls with blowtorches. It’s dangerous—hundreds of workers have died from falling steel or explosions over the last decade in India alone—and the ships themselves are considered toxic waste. But by giving the hulls new value in development, the architects hope to change the disposal process.

3046359-slide-s-6-these-beautiful-floatingAfter carving out the internal structure of a megatanker, the designers propose turning it into an airy public space for events, a museum, shops, and even housing, with a park-like area on the top deck. At over 1,300 feet long, some tankers could easily accommodate an entire neighborhood.

Downtown Cleveland Is Turning a Traffic Hub Into a Public Park

To hear Clevelanders talk, Public Square is a place you pass through to reach somewhere else. When Moses Cleaveland laid out the town in 1796, he imagined the open area at its center as a New England-style commons: a gathering space for settlers, a grazing area for livestock.

But its natural position as a transit hub—first for stagecoaches and streetcars, later for buses and automobiles—steadily intruded on that civic purpose. Despite efforts by some residents to preserve it as a park, including a decade-long stretch in the 19th century when it was fenced off to horse-drawn wagons, roads and traffic triumphed over people and place.

3d272314dOver the years, it just turned into more like a series of big traffic islands,” says the landscape architect James Corner. Two major streets, Superior and Ontario, bisect Public Square, creating four discrete squarelets. Locals who find themselves in one of the quadrants have a tough time getting to another. If the cars aren’t enough of a hindrance, the lack of things to do or see in the area is: of the square’s 10 acres, more than six are paved over with concrete or asphalt. Now, with the square’s original communal spirit greatly diminished, Cleveland has asked Corner—a revivalist with what he calls a “theatrical flair”—to help bring it back.

City planners are increasingly realizing that investment in public spaces, many neglected for decades, can provide a competitive edge in luring new businesses and residents—especially young creative types—to the urban core. The High Line now attracts millions of visitors a year, and property values nearby have skyrocketed. “There’s an economic imperative to look for how you can keep a city vibrant and vital,” Corner says, “because otherwise people just leave.”










Cleveland certainly took note of the High Line’s success. The city’s own downtown population, which plummeted during the economic slump of the 1980s, has risen to an all-time high in recent years, helped by billions of dollars of investments in attractions like a convention center, a medical marketplace, and a casino. But Cleveland still lacked a central point where people could meet for coffee, or walk a dog, or stroll on a date. Public Square “has been our front yard for over a century,” Ann Zoller, the head of land Studio, a local design partner working with Corner’s firm, says. “We really felt that if you had all this development but you still had a dysfunctional Public Square, the city was never going to thrive as it could.”

By the time Cleveland engaged Corner’s help, in 2008, many ideas for how to revamp the square had come and gone. They all suffered from the assumption that traffic around the site could not be disturbed. Corner came in with a bold idea: if we can’t remove the streets, let’s build an elevated park above them. The hilltop-park concept didn’t pan out, because of the cost and complexity, but Zoller says it got locals reimagining Public Square as a place prioritizing people over cars. A traffic analysis determined that the city could close one of the streets and narrow the other to a passage for buses, which could be rerouted during major events. Construction started this spring on Corner’s final design, which is estimated to cost $32 million.

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Public Spaces Are a Bellwether and A Bridge For Difference in the Communitie


Placemaking can bring people together and create a sense of shared ownership of a city and its public spaces. Through Placemaking, community places not only become more active and useful for the people who help to create them, they can become more welcoming to people of all ages, abilities, income levels and backgrounds.


Public spaces are a bellwether, and a bridge, for difference. Photo of Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn by Ethan Kent

Since public spaces can both reflect and shape the communities they serve, they become incredibly meaningful places for people working to create more equitable cities. Many underserved communities have been systematically excluded from the prosperity and vibrancy that their city continues to generate for its wealthier residents. When neighbors come together to improve their public spaces, results can be tangible and immediate, and this process itself amplifies the sense of inclusion that great places can generate.

These benefits are often obscured in public debates surrounding Placemaking. Critics have voiced concerns, again and again, that Placemaking provides amenities that are geared toward a specific demographic—that its aim is to make “less desirable” areas more aesthetically palatable, and that it works to accelerate (or even initiate) gentrification by increasing property values and driving long-term residents out of their neighborhoods. Because of such fears, which urban critic Matt Yglesias has termed “gentrificationphobia,” neighbors often resist improvements to the public realm, from the installation of bike lanes to the development of long-vacant properties.

PPS developed The Beach in Detroit’s Campus Martius through a Placemaking process. It has become a shared place that brings together, and bridges, vastly different populations.

PPS developed The Beach in Detroit’s Campus Martius through a Placemaking process. It has become a shared place that brings together, and bridges, vastly different populations.

“It’s not always that neighbors feel new development will make the area worse,” writes

Yglesias, “sometimes they oppose new development because it will make the area better. [While concerns about people being priced out are not] crazy, it is crazy that this is the kind of thing people need to worry about in urban politics. ‘Your policies will improve quality of life in my community’ should never be a complaint about a policy initiative.”

Here we can see the fundamental misunderstanding that has led to so much of the concern around Placemaking today. A bike lane is not Placemaking; neither is a market, a hand-painted crosswalk, public art, a parklet, or a new development. Placemaking is not the end product, but a means to an end. It is the process by which a community defines its own priorities. This is something that government officials and self-proclaimed Placemakers ignore at their own peril.

This is why the involvement of all residents is vital for creating great places. Placemaking offers a unique opportunity to bring people of different backgrounds together to work collaboratively on a common goal: a shared public space. When local officials, developers, or any other siloed group prescribe improvements to a place without working with the community, no matter how noble those groups’ intentions may be, it often alienates locals, provokes fears of gentrification, and  increases the feeling and experience of exclusion. This kind of project-led or design-led development ignores the primary function of Placemaking–human connection.

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Bringing Imagination and New Life to Downtown Providence

The Downtown Providence Park Conservancy (DPPC)

Every Thursday in the summer, at about 9am, the Downtown Providence Park Conservancy (DPPC) crew gathers and prepares for the long day ahead—nine non-stop hours of family programming in Burnside Park.

On one edge of the park, The O’Crepe food truck is already open for business as Jennifer Smith and her team of interns and volunteers unlock the doors of the Imagination Center and start moving colorful equipment out into the park. Folding tables, stools, and art supplies head to one area for Art in the Park, as jumbo beanbags, colorful benches, and a sound system head to another for Storytime. Book carts filled with the work of local authors and illustrators roll out onto the Imagination Center deck to create an outdoor reading room.placemaking

By 11am this small urban park has been transformed into a crowded and bustling place—families with children watch a local storyteller perform, while other kids build Lego towers or climb onto the park’s boat sculpture. As artists Phillipe Jejeune and Ricky Katowicz are busy setting up for Art in the Park, passersby simply take in the scene as they wait for the lunchtime food trucks to roll up.

“Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper”

As further design work and fundraising for Greater Kennedy Plaza got underway, local partners were eager to apply PPS’s “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” approach right away in order to test and refine some of the ideas in the plan. Immediately, The Greater Kennedy Plaza Coalition (including representatives from the city, RIPTA, and Cornish Associates) launched an ambitious and diverse programming schedule, including a relocated farmer’s market, a new craft market, regular performances, and special events. The group also hired their first full-time staff person, program manager Deb Dormody.

“Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” was “a matter of necessity” for this project, explains Cliff Wood, Executive Director of the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy (formerly the Greater Kennedy Plaza Coalition). “It’s smart to build a space by trying things,” he continues, “See what people want—because for something to be sustained it has to have a constituency. We did that, and lo and behold it worked.”

“Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper is about engaging multiple uses for a space, trying things out, seeing who you can attract, and who will invest in the space in various ways. People can invest financially,” Wood says, “but they can also invest their time in making the space better, or they may invest emotionally by embracing the space, using it, and making it part of their routine or lifestyle.”

The next step in DPPC’s “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” approach was launching a suite of family programs. Partnering with local parenting blog KIDOinfo, DPPC organized a weekly outdoor Storytime program for families in Burnside Park. The following year they added Art in the Park and a mobile playground. Although these might seem like programs that are suited only for children, DPPC’s Jennifer Smith was intent on creating activities that would appeal to a wide range of users: “We wanted to have high artistic quality and something that would work on a level that parents can appreciate and something that would be fun,” she explains. “There is always something that is engaging parents at a deeper level and that kids can have fun with. One of my favorite things is seeing the parents play. You see the parents start to play with their children and start to play with each other. Adults who don’t even have children start to play.”

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Farmers Markets, Food, Placemaking And Smarter, Stronger Communities

Blog by Anna Brones:
Spend your money at farmers market and the money stays in the community. Spend it at the big box grocery store and it goes elsewhere.

After a lot of road trips in manydifferent places, I have come to a conclusion. When you drive through the countryside and come across a small town, one of two things happens:

1. You think to yourself, “ugh, this place is full of box stores and has no feeling at all. Get me out of here!” You proceed to drive to the next destination on your map.
2. You think to yourself, “ah, look at all these independent stores and quaint streets, I want to live here!” You stay and hang out, grab a coffee, and maybe even stay for lunch.

What is it that makes us have that feeling of “I want to live here”? It’s not just a street full of stores. It’s a sense of community; a feeling that there’s a thread that ties everyone together. So often, that thread is food. Food is essential; it’s what keeps us alive. It nourishes us both in the physical and the emotional sense, and it’s what brings us market

Community doesn’t just come together on its own. It takes work. As we think about how we continue to evolve our communities, and build new ones, some people have started using the phrase “placemaking.”

According to the Project for Public Spaces, “Placemaking is how we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Rooted in community-based participation, Placemaking involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces.”

As our world population grows, we have to think serious about our management of public spaces, and for me, that means thinking about food. Because investing in food and farmers markets has a positive economic impact.

When it comes to farmers markets specifically, there are the direct and indirect benefits. Certainly a farmer benefits when he or she can sell their produce without a middleman, but there are also economic benefits for the community that come from keeping things local.

In 2009, a study found that farmers markets in Oklahoma had generated a total of $3.3 million in direct sales, but $6 million in total economic impact. That’s almost double.

A study done by the USDA found that fruit and vegetable farms engaged in local food sales (i.e. local and regional markets) employ 13 full-time workers per $1 million of sales. Those fruit and vegetable farms that not engaged in local sales (think: big farming)? They only account for 3 full time employees per $1 million of sales. A local food economy creates more jobs.

The High Line effect

Following the success of New York’s High Line placmaking, turning an old rail line into an elevated park, cities around the world are pursuing bold new projects that challenge our perceptions.

The High Line was always going to be a success. But how much of one? Well before the first section opened in 2009, the group behind turning an old rail line into an elevated park in New York estimated it would attract 400,000 tourists a year, and raise tax revenues by $286-million (U.S.) over 20 years. Impressive, but hardly overambitious.High line

The final section of the 2.4-kilometre-long park was completed last month, putting the finishing touch on what has become the most successful public-space transformation in the United States, if not the world. The High Line attracts five million visitors a year, making it the second most visited cultural venue in the city. Its financial impact has been similarly massive, attracting $2.2-billion in new economic activity and raising tax revenues by an estimated $980-million over the next two decades.

Now Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Rotterdam, Seoul, Toronto and Mexico City are all hoping to catch some of that magic with their own “parks in the sky.” These projects are redefining our understanding of what a park is, and in the process helping to create a richer, bold new vision of public space.image (1)

“Green space and parks do more than promote physical activity,” says Laura Jackson, a researcher for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency whose work focuses on the relationship between the built environment and human health. “The outdoors brings people together, so it facilitates social engagement, which is so important, particularly in urban areas where people can become isolated.”

Olmsted also believed that any great city park required a grand promenade. So-called linear parks such as the High Line take both of those two design principles and update them for the modern age.

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Shifting the Transportation Paradigm with Placemaking

How “alternative” modes can be leveraged to create places may be their most significant contribution to community development and to the ultimate success “alternative” modes.

Advocates are finally getting attention for issues like the impact and efficiency of the various modes of transport, the fair allocation of road space and spending, and the opportunities to create more seamless transportation systems and choices. These advances all need to happen, but advocated for and implemented alone may actually end up perpetuating the existing paradigm. Moving the discussion beyond the technical mobility solutions, and modal shifts, may actually be the best way to make these solutions feasible.Melbourne_Australia_Station_as_Place_ek_SMALL-530x326

The goal of transportation planning would seem to be (and used to be) to facilitate getting people to places – connecting people with destinations. Unfortunately most transportation planning has not only forgotten to create and support the places they are meant to bring people to, but have degraded these very destinations they are meant to connect. The people in charge of creating destinations have likewise planned in isolation, for isolation. Everyone is blaming the need for greater mobility.

If the point of transportation planning is to get people places they want to be, then all transportation planning should really start with placemaking. And if our planning efforts actually focused on creating places, we could actually meet the goals of getting people places, and getting things done, much faster. Great places are in fact defined by the ability to accomplish many things at once, often accomplishing many spontaneous, “unplanned” goals in the process. Even residential land-use and density can best be shifted from a suburban model through a broader focus on place rather than forced density, and mode shifts.Current growth strategies have been based on increasing movement of people and goods. The future of transportation planning needs to start with creating comfortable settings for all kinds of exchange between people. It is through re-envisioning our cities, transportation systems and economies around these transportation destinations that we will be able to truly make our world compatible with strong communities, economies and natural ecosystems as well as make feasible the more sustainable transportation modes of mass transit, walking and bicycling.

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Placemaking is Critical for Local Economy

familiesenjoyingspace-provPlacemaking is critical for the local economy. The strongest arguments focus on the market, attracting talent, and the creation of value. Other strong cases can be made on the basis of household economics, health, and the environment.

First, we need a handy definition. Here’s one from Mark Wyckoff of Michigan State University: “Placemaking is the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play, and learn in.” Mixed-use, compact, walkable neighborhoods are fundamental building blocks of communities with a strong sense of place.

The market pendulum has swung towards communities that generate a sense of place. Although placemaking is attractive to a broad range of socio-economic groups, young adults, college educated people, and relocating Boomers are particularly drawn to walkable places. Businesses who want to attract talent are looking to communities with a sense of place. Unless communities want to lose the young and the educated, they’d be wise to invest in ways that enhance, rather than detract from, a sense of place. That goes for cities, suburbs, and towns of all sizes.

The many benefits of placemaking make arguments hard in some ways, because you have to choose what to focus on. The temptation is to throw out too many facts and cover too much ground, and the case becomes overly complicated. The best tack will depend on the audience.

The concept of placemaking itself is relatively easy to communicate, because it is intuitively understandable. People have a sense of place and they react to a finely crafted main street or well-design public space.

The demand for place is driven by private choices. Yet the infrastructure and the zoning decisions are public. That’s why the strongest cases to be made are usually economic. Do you want your community to thrive in the future? If so, placemaking is a key to making that happen.

Robert Steuteville is editor and executive director of Better Cities & Towns.

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