Whoo, it’s been a busy week at UI Lab, despite a little downpour Friday afternoon, PARK(ing) Day went off without a hitch. All over the city people woke up to tiny parks spilling out of parking spaces, creating many a mini-oasis with yoga, mini-golf, board games and more. Those little parks are one of the ways that we can alter places and begin the work of transforming our communities into ones that better suit us. Placemaking, broadly, is what we have on the brain this week and it shows in our reads. How we create and alter places affects how and who uses those places and spaces.
For those who aren’t quite sure what placemaking is, it means pretty much what it says. It’s the act of creating, studying, and developing public places. And that can actually encompass a lot once you start thinking about how you even get to public space or how you might want to start changing that place.
Placemaking is the act of creating, studying, and developing public spaces
That’s why small interventions like PARK(ing) Day matter, they enable everyday citizens to not just reimagine, but create something new with a place. This week we read, not about an intervention persee but something that could be the beginning of one, a small observational study by Slow Streets in Vancouver, an urban design and planning group. Slow Streets decided to study one particular street to see how people were getting there and who was getting around. This kind of study is something that almost any organized group of people with time can conduct, since it is simply observation and analysis.
Their interest in conducting this study was also to determine if the street they were looking at qualified as a stroad or not, a street+road hybrid that has multiple access points but faster speeds (basically a death trap for pedestrians). They found that 83% of people arrived by walking to the street and that improvements were needed to make walking in that area safe and accessible. Studies like these can help move cities and neighborhoods to alter design and create places more accessible to people, rather than just cars.
How we plan and design a place or space can include or exclude; as alluded to above, speed limits and street design can encourage or discourage foot traffic. It can also shore up or breakdown class and race based segregation in cities. The podcast 99% Invisible goes in depth on “the arsenal of exclusion,” a term coined by urban planner Daniel D’Oca and his colleagues Tobias Armborst and Georgeen Theodore to describe “design elements” that are used by “architects, planners, policy-makers, developers, real estate brokers, community activists, neighborhood associations, and individuals to wage the ongoing war between integration and segregation.” Exclusionary design elements like sparse crosswalks, exclusionary zoning, dead-end streets, residential parking permits, etc. functionally serve to keep out “undesirables” (i.e. poor people and people of color).
An example of how neighborhoods and communities can include through planning and development was published by City Observatory. The article, My Illegal Neighborhood, chronicles all the ways the author’s old neighborhood is built to include: mixed income housing (with apartments and houses intermixed) with small business and industry woven into the community. The author, Robert Liberty, points out that “residential zoning today has carried class separation to great extremes, which you can see if you travel by air: Over here, big single-family homes on big lots. Over there a mobile home park. In another direction, a pod of apartment buildings. A place of every income, and every income in its (separate) place.”
Placemaking (how we create our public spaces) and how neighborhoods are planned has a great impact on the kind of community that is developed: one that excludes or one that includes. As we look to the future of Miami, we can either begin to support projects that create a more inclusive and vibrant city or we can throw our weight behind projects and plans that cater to only a few. What do you choose?