Liveblogging the Tactical Urbanism Salon: Evening Presentations

Evening Presentations

Introduction - Mike Lydon (The Street Plans Collaborative)
  • Early example of  tactical urbanism: Paris book boxes along the Siene; interesting parallel between historic book box tension w/bookstore owners and contemporary arguments between foot trucks and restauranteurs
  • What we call tactical urbanism has been going on for hundreds of years
  • There has been an acceleration of TU in recent years; of 56 Open Streets initiatives in the US, more than 40 started within the past three years
  • Tactical Urbanism guide volume 2 will be available for d/l within the next few weeks!

Introduction - Aurash Khawarzad (DoTank:BrooklynProject for Public Spaces)
  • "Do Tanks" are more appropriate right now than "Think Thanks"
  • Do:Tank Brooklyn is intended to provide a platform for people to come together and work collaboratively on projects
  • Individual Do:Tank projects are less important than the conversation happening here tonight
  • We've done the smaller projects, now it's time to come together. Tactical Urbanism is not a trend, it's a movement. Let's be more organized about it and put forth a full-throated argument for why this is important in the field.
  • People are tired of the "talk-itecture." They're doing something about it.

New York City Department of Transportation, Andy Wiley-Schwartz
  • Times Square has supposed to be torn up and re-done for over a decade; it's been in the capital plan. People have just been arguing the whole time about how it should look.
  •  In a lot of ways, the engineering for a project like this is easy; the hard part is making it a great public space. You've got to prove it.
  • Major lesson: Never leave a public space un-programmed, even for a minute.
  • Times Square Alliance helped buy chairs since city-ordered furniture hadn't arrived when DOT got go-ahead to close Broadway; w/in the hour of them going out, they were full. As a result, no one ever talked about "Can TS be a public space?" It was proven at the get-go.
  • There are detractors, but people are voting with their feet.
  • On to Putnam Triangle in Brooklyn: residents wanted to make a public plaza.
  • The places where different grids smash into each other are really the opportunity places.
  • If you're a citizen doing a tactical action you can just do something; if you're the DOT and the bus has to make a turn, that takes a lot of planning, and you can't get around it.
  • Bus re-routing at Putnam Triangle didn't really work at first; it took a few weeks to figure that out. You have to work hard to make this stuff work, and you have to prove it.
  • Eventually, somebody has to put the purchase order for the granite blocks, and the tables and chairs, etc. 
  • First weekend Putnam was open, DOT had a huge party. You have to get people out in the space immediately.
  • Next stop: Jackson Heights, Queens: "I thought for sure the community groups who brought us in would take us to the main drag, but they didn't. They took us to 78th Street."
  • Jackson Heights is one of the most densely-populated nabes in NYC, and has one half-block park. Community idea: close the adjacent street on Sundays in summer. DOT did it! Community programmed it really thoroughly. Second year, community groups asked for whole weekends, and it went just as well. Next summer, groups came back and asked for the whole summer; community board said no because they didn't want to lose the parking.
  • Citizens flooded community board with supporters and won. They even got the street closed for all of September, too. Now, they've applied to the plaza program to close the street permanently. Last week, the city voted to approve the permanent closure. Also got the city to acquire a playground from a school next door and consilodate all of it into one space. This will more than double the public space in Jackson Heights.
  • "If that's not the most perfect tactical urbanism story, I don't know what is. The community did all of the work; all we [DOT] did was get out of their way. If they can get their act together, a lot can happen."
  • There are 54 plaza program spaces around the city in various states of permanence. DOT also now developing street cafe spaces now.
  • "One of the things I've been most surprised about since coming to DOT four years ago: if you'd have told me 25 different nabe groups would apply to close their main commercial streets over the weekends, I would have said you were crazy. But with very little marketing, we've had this happen dozens of times. This is the seed ground for these bigger ideas like 78th Street to grow."
  • Audience question: What happens when there's a new mayor? Andy: We're trying to build mechanisms people can still use; if the folks in Brownsville want to play chess in the street, we hope there are still ways for them to figure out how to do that. We hope that the power center goes beyond the mayor's office.
  • Audience question: How can the city better encourage engagement and programming from its citizens? Andy: I'd acually flip it around. Demand outstrips our capacity to regulate and approve this stuff--that's very cool. We document the process, we communicate very clearly that programming is important; it's up to other groups to encourage more of this type of stuff. Audience member: Maybe there's more of a role for groups like Partnerships for Parks. Andy: Bingo.
  • Aurash: How can people be flipped from fighting plazas to actually putting pressure on politicians to support it? Andy: Some people don't like the aggregation of power in any form; unless it's a form that they're controlling. We have to make sure that people support this stuff; the more we can do this and the more places we do it in, the more people hear this music and like to dance to it.

Cartopia, Kelly Rodgers 
  • Issues in Portland (600,000 people) are very different from New York (8.3 MM people). Our food cart issues are very different; a lot of smaller cities have trouble just getting people out to support carts.
  • Many of the food carts are actually on private property in Portland. There are a few (maybe 16) mobile units in the city; we have close to 700 food carts operating on private property. It's doubled from 2006 to today.
  • How do food carts operate on private property w/o crazy regulation? Technically they are called "stationary mobile unit." As long as they can (in theory) move, they are indeed mobile, and are not subject to building code.
  • Same health & safety regulation as a restaurant. Same quality assurance level. But food carts were never planned by the city; there is no official food cart policy or regulation; it happened through coincidences and convenient loopholes.
  • Portland has a big food culture; as a result (and this is national, not just Portland) there is very high-quality food in the carts. Food reviewers in Portland do not distinguish between restaurants and food carts.
  • Great thing with carts: you're very small, so you can be creative and experiment.
  • Survey showed that food cart vendors value independence even higher than turning a profit.
  • First stage was food carts downtown; then food carts started taking over vacant lots and creating impromptu food cart courts; now, developers are actually bringing in food carts themselves (landscaping, power and water hook-ups, etc). The coordination improves as you go up in levels.
  • Some smart developers have actually laid infrastructure for food carts in ways that will be useful for buildings planned to occupy those sites in the future.
  • Jane Jacobs concept of "economic gardening" -- figure out where the entrepreneurial energy is and then target those areas with the resources to grow businesses. Many food cart operators in Portland do eventually want to open permanent spaces. How can we open spaces on a continuum in between food cart and restaurant to help people along?
  • Food cart model has shifted in PDX; other kinds of businesses are now opening in carts: salons, stores, etc.
  • Taxpayer-building: doing interim low-cost building that generates enough revenue to pay your taxes until you can afford to do something bigger. This is a role food carts now serve in PDX.

DePave, Ted Labbe 
  • Project started about 4 years ago; since that time, proven to people in PDX that we can transform underused spaces at a grand scale.
  • Experimentation is an important theme; It would be very easy to over-design these projects, but it's fascinating to see how these sites emerge and evolve
  • Community that emerges from creation of these spaces. Would be easier to do with a back-hoe, but that's not the point.
  • Leadership is important. Officials have gotten engaged in many DePave projects. Leadership has also emerged through the movement. It's largely led by women.
  • Stewardship: people actively create these spaces, they understand where the water goes. "Big part of DePave for me is people reclaiming the headwaters."
  • Lots of Art w/DePave. "This isn't us coming in, doing design work, leading--we come in with tools and some assistance, but DePave's are very community-driven projects. About 10% of the work is done by people from organization. 90% of the people are from the site." Pavement is not permanent.
  • Another theme is Transformation. Easy to get caught up in Before & After pics, but the biggest transformation can be seen in the people who participate.
  • In Portland, there is a lot of nature close at hand. There is a lot of inspiration there.
  • In four years, DePave has transformed 19 sites -- around 150,000 square feet of impervious pavement has been removed. More than 2000 people have been involved, which is a lot in a small city of PDX's size.

Project for Public Spaces, Ken Farmer
  • PPS does Placemaking, making places where people want to be. Grew out of the work of William H. Whyte.
  • Whyte: "It is difficult to design a  place that will not attract people; what is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished."
  • When you focus on place, you do everything differently.
  • What if we focus on building our spaces to be comfortable for 8 year olds and 80 year olds?
  • To create a space that really brings out the best qualities, PPS uses a community-driven approach; work with the 'zealous nuts' (term used lovingly!) to plan and manage spaces.
  • PPS version of Tactical Urbanism: "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper"
  • Power of 10 is based around the idea that you need a fine-grained mix of uses to drive people back to a place again and again. Triangulation is how these things work together.
  • "If you seed an idea of a possibility for a space, it can be made real. It can be a source of inspiration in powerful ways."
  • Buffalo waterfront -- PPS working on redevelopment. After community input process, local paper proclaimed "It's now the peoples' waterfront."
  • Adirondack chairs are a big draw--people love them, they are a simple amenity that fill a space and get people to stop and enjoy.
  • How can we create platforms where there are organic opportunities for people to interact with the space? That's an exciting thing about this tactical urbanism movement.

CMG Architects, Kevin Conger 
  • People will use whatever public space is available; they'll get creative.
  • CMG thinks about all of the many factors that are involved with space as vectors that intersect at different points in different spaces.
  • Intervention is a way of accrual
  • Do a lot of pro bono work w/Public Architecture; pro bono work is important, especially when starting out.
  • Starting to talk about "Tactile Urbanism" -- a riff on tactical urbanism.
  • At Golden Gate Park, put in a bandshell made out of salvaged car hoods and recycled bottles
  • There was a website where people could go throughout the summer that the bandshell was up where they could reserve time for programs; it was organically programmed
  • Treasure Island -- man-made island developed to be an airport, hosted a world's fair and navy base, airport never materialized. Now there's a major redevelopment underway.
  • CMG worked to develop a "non-hazardous" hybrid street type for Treasure Island to encourage pedestrianism
    PlayLab, Archie Lee Coats IV
    •  It's hard thing to do, propose and execute ideas without money! So we try to meet as many people as we can, as often as we can.
    • Work a lot with Dong-Ping Wong of Family Architects
    • Storefront for Art & Architecture launched a competition to challenge designers to re-think the traditional street fair tent. PlayLab won the competition with their "Worms"
    • Example of city orgs partnering with other orgs to make something new for the city.
    • Thinking about the East River now; have proposed a project called Plus Pool to allow swimming in the river. Idea is for pool walls to filter the river water to clean the East River. Not sure how this will work, but we proposed it anyway!
    • Created a lot of renderings to communicate the idea to people and start a discussion. We didn't know how to make a floating pool that would cost millions and millions of dollars, but we knew we could start a conversation and get people talking about it.
    • End of the first week of promoting this idea, got a call from the principal of the NYC office of ARUP! ARUP worked to help PlayLab design a filtration system.
    • We thought of this pool as a big Brita filter floating in the East River.
    • Started a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise $25K. Reached that in first week, wound up raising $45K to test the filtration system that they designed.
    •  Went to Columbia to float the idea of testing the water; they helped with research. Got Parks Dept. buy-in, Columbia contributed a mobile lab and lots of researchers.
    • Next phase: trying to get the entire project funded. Want to test year-round; Mayor of Sydney wants it to happen down under.
    • Stoops are an important component of public space in Brooklyn; working to develop large mobile stoops to install in vacant lots.
    Interboro Partners, Daniel D'Oca
    • Holding Pattern won MoMA PS1's courtyard installation in the summer of 2011 to provide seating and shade for the summer Warm-Up series.
    • We wondered: "What happens to all of the stuff when this four-month installation is over?"
    • PS1 is located in "most greatest, awesomest place in the world: Queens." [Editor's note: YES!]
    • While PS1 is great and energetic, it seems a bit isolated from the neighborhood around it.
    • The needs for Warm-Up seemed to overlap somewhat with community needs. Interboro talked to the museum's neighbors to find out what material needs they had and incorporated those materials into their design so that they could be donated after Warm-Up ended.
    • Community desires: mirrors, mulch, ping-pong table, rock-climbing wall, lifeguard chair, street furniture, etc. LIC tried to figure out what needs were both fun and in the public interest. Result: 80 objects and 84 trees.
    •  Interboro considered this as a neighborhood improvement project in disguise.
    • Worked with Thumb Projects to develop a labeling system to show where each object was going and why. Also made a newspaper to show where materials would go.
    • Invited community orgs to program the courtyard. The library had artists read their favorite children's books to kids, Irish Center did quilting workshops, LIC School of Ballet did a performance.
    • Let the community take over the PS1 bookstore and choose what books would be sold.

    72 Hour Urban Action, Nick Griffin
    •  Development does not have to be a zero-sum game.
    • 72HUA is a real-time design-build competition where 10 teams of 10 teams get a public site and have to imagine and implement a design intervention.
    • As Flux & Queens Creative Cluster work on their SumCity plan for the Dutch Kills neighborhood, 72HUA will work with them to re-imagine sites that are determined important through that plan.


    Sam Goater said...

    Thanks for posting Brendan

    Gil Lopez said...

    Great summary, thanks for live tweeting! Here are some video clips from the event. http://gillopez.posterous.com/tusalon-video-footage