Public art makes people invested in the land: an OpenIDEO idea

OpenIDEO asked “How might we inspire and enable communities to take more initiative in making their local environments better?”

One of my responses:


Install public art to create community, sense of place

Install public murals and other public art to create a sense of place and add beauty to urban spaces, which leads to more interest in and conservation of the environment as a whole, including the natural environment.

Public art creates a sense of place and space, and makes people more aware of their environments, more invested in the space, and more interested in preserving other things in their environment.
From a Grist article: “dozens of painted plazas, dubbed Intersection Repairs, pepper the map not just of Portland but also of Los Angeles, New York, St. Paul, and Seattle.
“In Seattle, a City Repair chapter formed and facilitated several intersection painting projects, including a ladybug in the Wallingford neighborhood. Residents meet annually to repaint the mural and hold a block party. “Our goal is to cut down traffic and bring the community together and create a sense of neighborhood,” Eric Higbee, who led the ladybug painting, told the Seattle Times.
“It’s not about the paint,” says professor Jan Semenza, a professor of public health at Portland State University who lives near the Sunnyside Piazza and has researched intersection repairs. “It’s about neighbors creating something bigger than themselves.” As an everyday intersection becomes someplace special, residents begin to experience the value of community.”
There are other examples of public art and murals being installed that have created a renaissance in a neighborhood, from New York to Brazil.
Guerilla street art has also started to appear over the last couple of years, creating awareness and interest in preserving the community. In Seattle, when a woman knit a sweater for a tree, it created interest in the tree and a desire to preserve it. Even something as simple as “repairing” walls and buildings with colorful Legos, such as the work that Jan Vormann has been doing for the last couple of years, has made people more invested in repairing and preserving their community.
While it is not a direct impact on the natural environment, it is a positive impact on the built environment, and does create a sense of place and overall higher investment in the neighborhood and local environment.

Read about their next challenge too.

Community gardens improve health, enrichment


Garden/Allotment (Photo credit: tricky (rick harrison))

I’ve been pulling from The Dirt, the blog for the American Society of Landscape Architects, a lot lately, but there’s been a lot of great stuff coming off of their blog lately, including this conversation about the increase of urban agriculture, usually in the form of community gardens:

At the Greater & Greener: Reimagining Parks for 21st Century Cities conference in New York City, Laura Lawson, ASLA, Professor and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Rutgers University, described how urban agriculture has experienced explosive growth in recent years. According to a survey produced by the American Community Gardening Associationand Rutgers University, community gardens are now found in all 50 states. Some 445 organizations responded to the survey, listing a total of 9,030 gardens. Of these organizations, 90 percent have seen increased demand over the past five years. Also, some 39 percent of the gardens listed were built just in the past five years. These organizations have a variety of goals, including food production and access, social engagement, nutrition, education, and neighborhood revitalization.

Sarita Daftary then discussed her work as Project Director of East New York Farms. East New York is the easternmost neighborhood of Brooklyn. A community of 180,000 residents, East New York is underserved by fresh food markets. The East New York Farms program (see image above) seeks to engage the community through its 30 backyard gardens and 24 community gardens, employing 33 youth interns, 80 gardeners, and 100+ volunteers.

The program addresses neighborhood food access through its farmers markets, growing and selling a diversity of unusual foods that reflect the diversity of the neighborhood.

Read more at City Bountiful: The Rise of Urban Agriculture

Community gardens put power back in the hands of people to improve their environment AND their nutrition. Feeling like you have control of your self and your situation is extremely important to humans, both at home and in the workplace, so even if it’s not going to solve world hunger, or even hunger in the U.S., it will help out a lot of people live happier, healthier, more enriching lives.

Parks Are the Foundation for New York City’s Future


Interesting initiative by New York’s Mayor Bloomberg. Nice to see his health campaign includes parks and open spaces.

Originally posted on The Dirt:

At Greater & Greener: Reimagining Parks for 21st Century Cities, the 4th international urban parks conference organized by the City Parks Alliance, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg told an audience of 900 city parks leaders, landscape architects, and activists from 210 cities and 20 countries that “parks are a vital resource.” Under Bloomberg’s administration, some 730 new acres of parkland have been added to the 29,000 existing acres of green space. Bloomberg thinks NYC’s high-quality parks also have a lot to do with the fact that for the first time ever NYC got more than 50 million tourists last year.

Parks are a “haven” from a busy world but they also make communities more vibrant and attractive. Beyond that, these social green spaces can spur economic growth. With $3 billion in capital investment in parks over the past 10 years, Bloomberg clearly thinks all this money is…

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Adults for playgrounds? Yes, please!


Grown-ups often need a little more persuasion to play than kids. (Photo credit: phalinn)

Earlier this week I brought up the importance of spaces for play in the city, and then yesterday mentioned a scientific study that used traceurs or people who practice parkour, a sport that basically makes any space into a play space. Unfortunately park playgrounds are often verboten to grown-ups without a kid companion. But often grown-ups like the play equipment, or similar play equipment, as much as kids do. Now, the cities of New York and Detroit are determining where and whether to put in playgrounds specifically for adults:

New York City is installing adult playgrounds for fitness-hungry grown-ups, touting the benefits of a grade-school workout. …the Big Apple parks are geared more toward workouts than whiling away the summer hours. There aren’t any slides or swings yet at these outdoor gyms.

The City of New York built its first adult playground in the Bronx’s Macomb Dam Park. The New York Times reports as many as 24 playplaces for grown-up kids could be installed by 2014.

In Europe, where playtime seems to be more a more capricious venture, adult playgrounds tempt grown-ups to get off the couch with detailed outdoor mazes, rock climbing walls, elephant slides and swimming canals.

Philip Lauri is the founder of Detroit Lives!, the media company with the mission of bringing creativity to the streets of Detroit (through an apparel line, murals and the “After The Factory” documentary). Detroit Lives! has recently started experimenting with making places in the city that inspire that same joie de vivre and fun — like the Georgia Street Community Collective’s remote-control racetrack for kids living in the nonprofit’s target neighborhood. He thinks adult playgrounds could be smart additions to neighborhoods who have already installed thriving community gardens.

“In those areas, we install an adult playground as an addendum to that successful effort, and use the kind of neighborhood engagement that the garden created to successfully initiate the adult playground,” Lauri wrote. “Then, both sites grow with participation and we get healthier people and neighborhoods. That’s a simplified progression, but still tangible enough to act upon quite quickly.”

Most people taking the Huffington Post poll are all for adult playgrounds.

In some ways I find it sad that we need to create playgrounds specifically for grown-ups. Don’t we teach our kids to share and cooperate? But, in many ways it makes sense: for one thing, adults are bigger and therefore need different sized equipment. They also tend to play rougher, more competitively, and less cooperatively than children (according to numerous studies I’ll find and source later), so keeping the two play groups separated is probably a safer idea. Finally, grown-ups also need to be given explicit permission to goof off, at least much more so than kids, so giving them a space devoted entirely to play will help them get creative and playful in their movement.

What kind of equipment would you want on an adult playground? Rope swings? Fireman’s pole? Leave your thoughts in the comments below?

Just how lonely are we?

Jeff Ragsdale on Location

Jeff Ragsdale, the instigator for "One Lonely Guy" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More and more studies are coming out about how Americans feel more isolated than ever, and that we have less “close” friends despite being more connected to people via social media and technology.

One book was recently released that explores that idea of loneliness and the need for humans to connect with each other through the case of one man’s ad and the voicemails he received in response. From University of Washington News:

In October 2011, former University of Washington student Jeff Ragsdale, living in New York, had hit a low point — his stand-up comedy and acting career had stalled, he had been through a bad breakup and he was living in a cheap rented room. Despondent, Ragsdale posted a flyer around the city that said, “If anyone wants to talk about anything, call me. (347) 469-3173.”

To his surprise he got about 100 calls and texts the first day alone, and they kept on coming, finally numbering in the thousands. In time he brought the messages to the attention of his former teacher, UW English Professor David Shields. From that came the book “Jeff, One Lonely Guy,” edited by Ragdsale, Shields and Michael Logan of Seattle.

“I had kept in touch with Jeff over the years; I knew he was always up to interesting projects,” said Shields. “Jeff kept sending me the most amazing transcriptions of phone calls and texts that he had received. At a certain point, I just couldn’t say no. The material was simply too interesting; it spoke too deeply to the culture.

“What I love about the book (and I can say this because it’s less anything any of us did, and it’s more the voices that came in on Jeff’s cell phone) is what it tells us about what it’s like to live in America right now. I can’t think of a book that evokes more specifically how people talk now (the new words and phrases and sayings are extraordinary — it’s a virtual Roget’s of contemporary slang); how much they/we hunger for connection to themselves/ourselves, to each other, to a larger community; how energized and enervated they are/we are by Big Media and digital culture; how confusing love is in a 24/7 porn environment; and how baffling transcendence is — how fame or brief flickers of fame seem to beckon out of every internet portal. This book is a remarkable document of contemporary existence.”

Read/watch more about “Jeff, One Lonely Guy” in The New Yorker, Book Forum, and The Huffington Post.

The explorations of loneliness and connectedness sparked by one simple ad is pretty incredible. The book itself is also pretty powerful in that it truly is a collaborative effort, not only edited by three guys, but the content of the book is created from the voicemails of 100’s of individuals who were looking to connect with another individual in some way.

In Seattle we talk about the “Seattle Freeze,” this phenomenon where it’s hard for newcomers to make friends, but it sounds like it’s a problem all over the U.S. Would you say you have a close friend, or close friends? Would you say you feel connected to where you live, to your community? Why do you think we feel so disconnected from our neighbors compared to 30 years ago? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

“Pop-up” park to fight the winter blues

Signs of spring are just starting to appear – birds are getting more active, tulips are just starting to show off green shoots – but even in my neck of the woods I know it’ll be awhile before spring is actually here. In New York, one group is fighting the gray and dark with an installed insta-park:

photo courtesy of laughing squid

Welcome to New York City in winter, with a cure for cold-weather blues: a pop-up indoor park in lower Manhattan that’s open through Valentine’s Day.

Despite temperate temperatures so far this year, “it’s our rebellion against winter,” says Jonathan Daou, founder and CEO of Openhouse Gallery, a company that holds a 20-year lease on the space at 201 Mulberry St.

On a recent chilly weekday afternoon, babies played barefoot in the 75-degree world of Park Here while their mothers and fathers sipped tea, eating cookies and sandwiches.

One night, a movie is planned on the lawn; other days bring a ping pong competition, a trivia contest, wine tastings and soccer workshops.

The 5,000-square-foot artificial habitat in the downtown Nolita neighborhood is filled with trees, rocks, picnic benches and the recorded ambient sounds of Central Park in spring. There are giant cushions and even a hammock, plus a baby elephant.

But the park will be gone by mid-February.

The rest of the year, the 200-year-old former police precinct is a stage for business that plays on the “pop-up” retail method mushrooming around the world in recent years: a quick presentation of a product, performance or personality, with no commitment to a lease or contract.

It’s usually set up in a mobile unit that can be assembled and disappear.

Some call it guerrilla retail. “You’re not stuck with a 10-year lease if the product doesn’t sell,” Daou says. “People are looking for novelty, off the beaten path, and this space tests the ‘legs’ of a business concept.”

The space was part of a police precinct in the late 1890s under New York Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who later became U.S. president.

But there’s nothing historic about what’s going on inside. On the contrary, it’s all the rage in retail.

Read the full article: Winter ‘Pop-Up’ Park Debuts in New York

What a nice way to slough off that winter feeling and take a break and add some fun to your day. What is happening in your area that reminds you of spring?