Vacant lots in American cities consume vast amounts of land, which many are now recognizing as places of opportunity. Some cities and citizens are transforming once empty urban spaces into vibrant community-fostering places.
In response, cities are embracing the concept of the “city as a platform,” a hyper-connected urban environment that harnesses the network effects, openness, and agility of the real-time web. It’s a model most recently adopted by the City of Palo Alto, which announced an ambitious open data initiative on August 2nd.
Partecipation as a means to transform a vancant site in La Chapelle district in Paris. Design by Constantin Petcou and Doina Petrescu–aaa (atelier d’architecture autogérée). Text by Ruth Morrow. Photos by aaa.
Kickstarter has been very successful at funding art, music, and design projects that may have not been funded through traditional channels. But will civic crowdfunding—the direct funding of public projects by citizens—prove as successful?
It’s a dark and wintry night in Copenhagen, and the streets are bustling. The temperature stands above freezing, but winds blow hard enough to knock down a good share of the bicycles parked all around.
The process of territorial expansion we have experienced in the last two decades particularly in the years before the economic crisis is one of the elements that best contextualizes not only the causes of this crisis but also the significant impact it had. The way in which local policy has been understood and the role of urban development projects have left a complex map of underutilized infrastructure, public facilities without financial support, failed housing developments, unfinished industrial developments, urban vacant lots, etc. Unfortunately, we were only been able to understand the diagnosis when it was too late. Climbing out of this crisis from a local policy perspective means finding ways to activate and convert these passives into public assets.
I guess it’s difficult to know when and where to adopt a “pop-up” urbanist approach, and when to rely on more precise engineering with design clarity. The only thing I can really say is that sometimes a temporary approach is not helpful. Sometimes it is.
The evolution of the parklet suggests that fly-by-night urban interventions can lead to something much more permanent. And this is the idea behind a series of "urban prototyping" festivals created by the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts in San Francisco. “We’re working with lessons learned form the parklet and Rebar and others to inform how projects that start at the small experimental prototyping scale can grow and expand across neighborhoods and cities,” says Jake Levitas, research director at GAFFTA.
Walk through any major city and you’ll see vacant land. These are the weed lots, garbage strewn undeveloped spaces, and high crime areas that most urban residents consider blights on the neighborhood. In some cases, neighbors have organized to transform these spaces into community amenities such as shared garden spaces, but all too often these lots persist as unrecognized opportunities for urban improvement. In densely populated cities with sometimes few opportunities for new park or green space development, small vacant lots could provide green relief, especially in low-income areas with reduced access to urban parkland.
I recently caught up with open data expert David Eaves to talk about green urbanism and open data in more detail. Based in Vancouver, Eaves is an internationally recognized consultant and activist in the field. We’ve spoken a few times over the years. Despite being amazingly busy, I’ve always found him to be thoughtful and insightful. Squeezed in between back to back trips to China and Washington, our most recent conversation was no exception.
Ten people each contribute $100 a month into a pool. They meet once a month and discuss possible projects to support. Each month, they give a grant of $1000 to a project that meets a simple criterion: it’s awesome.
That’s the logic behind the Awesome Foundation, founded by Tim Hwang and friends, brilliantly built and managed by Christia Xu. Awesome Foundation now has 50 chapters in 10 countries and has given 252 grants, sponsoring awesome projects like Float, which attaches air pollution sensors to kites to report on air quality, and Free the Billboards, which invites people to visualize alternatives to unsightly billboards by photobombing them. (Full disclosure – I’m on the board of Institute for Higher Awesome Studies, the shadowy organization that acts as an umbrella organization for the individual Awesome chapters.)
B-Corporations will no longer make it illegal for companies to do social good as part of their central mission (NY State law), and this new legislation will help legalize growing food in the city. (if you don’t believe that growing food is illegal, read John Robb’s story below). Amongst the general darkness of living in a time of a decomposing system, positive changes are also happening. P2P imaginaries AND realities are slowly taking hold, and disparate patterns of emergence are finding their way to each other.
Policies for a Shareable City: A 20-Part Series with the Sustainable Economies Law Center
Car Sharing and Parking Sharing Ride Sharing Bike Sharing Shareable Commercial Spaces Shareable Housing Homes as Sharing Hubs Shareable Neighborhoods Shareable Workspaces Recreational and Green Spaces Shareable Rooftops Urban Agriculture Food Sharing Public Libraries The Shareable City Employee Worry-Free Sharing Cooperative Enterprise Shareable Exchange and Financial Platforms Democracy and Decision-Making Making Sharing Part of the Culture of the City Energy