OpenIDEO: Vibrancy Inspirations 1

OpenIDEO has created a challenge which seems very timely and relevant to me, and I’ll be participating in it as it goes along:

“OpenIDEO has partnered with Steelcase to explore the topic of revitalising struggling cities around the world. Together we’re looking to design solutions – from entrepreneurship and education to community mobilisation and campaigns – that reinvigorate and help restore areas facing economic decline, population loss, unemployment and erosion of social/civic services or other critical issues. As our global economies become more intertwined and interconnected, we have a unique opportunity to consider ways that we can each bring vibrancy and prosperity to our own neighborhoods, towns and cities.”

Here is my first wave of inspirations:

Art: A Love Letter for You

I came across this project earlier this summer when a friend who was moving to Philly pointed it out. It’s really wonderful – as a number of other challenges have shown, art is critical to a vibrant urban space. From their web site:

“Love Letter is literally love letters painted as murals on the walls of buildings in Philadelphia facing the Market Street elevated train. 40 local and international artists were commissioned to paint the walls.

The project will encompass 50 painted walls between 63rd and 45th street on Market Street, a documentary film with scripted elements, a sign school and shop that will provide training for area youth and free signage for businesses on the Market Street corridor, and 2 books documenting the project. One of the books will be a small paperback that will be distributed to area businesses free of charge, for them to sell to visitors. The other book will be a larger hardcover book that will document not only the artwork, but the neighborhood and the inspirations of the Love Letter Project.

Love Letter is an unprecedented public art project by Steve Powers and The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. It is funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative.”

Nature: West Philladelphia Landscape Project


Anne Whiston Spirn was a thesis advisor to me in graduate school, and this project that brought middle school students out into their cities to explore nature has always stuck with me:

“The West Philadelphia Landscape Project is an action research program integrating research, teaching, and community service. Faculty and students in Penn’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning work with community organizations, neighborhood groups, teachers and students in public schools on a wide range of activities. Design and construction of community landscape projects, maintenance of a digital database, devising stormwater management strategies, and curriculum enrichment for an inner-city junior high school are examples of recent projects.

The WPLP has been featured in newspaper articles, national public radio programs, national and international conferences, and professional journals. The goals of the project include development of strategic landscape plans to enhance environmental quality, implementation of landscape improvements to stimulate community development, and mutual strengthening of secondary public school curriculum and undergraduate and professional education at Penn.”

The creation of community gardens as a way of bringing people together and teaching students and others about the natural fabric underlying their cities was, to my mind, a very repeatable example of adding vibrancy to cities.

Nature: Green Space from Unused Blacktop

By searching through city records, people can find unowned / unclaimed plots of land in their cities and petition to turn them into parkland. In many cities, these small triangles and patches of space, if combined, could be the equivalent in size to Central Park and significantly increase the greening of the urban landscape. And the reduction in asphalt helps to reduce the thermal battery of the city. All of this would go a long way toward adding to the vibrancy of cities.

This was brought to my attention by the research of Nicholas de Monchaux and his Local Code: Real Estate Project:

And can be seen in the uptake of works like this, describing how small spaces can be turned into pocket parks:

Pocket Parks PDF

Categories: Urban Planning

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