Tag Archives: placemaking

How to throw an amazing block party

In communities across the country, block parties liven up our streets in all but the coldest, darkest months. Some might say that block parties originated in Manhattan during World War I, when residents roped off their block to sing songs and hold a parade in honor of their neighbors who had gone overseas to serve. But we’re pretty sure that even your town has its own special origin story for the neighborhood block party.

Wherever they got their start, block parties are hugely popular the world over, and now come in flavors ranging from kid-centric to faith-based to activism-focused.

ioby, too, has a block party hit to share! Neighbors have crowdfunded with ioby to bring people closer together, invite people to walk more, and just celebrate the beauty of being in a community together. Read on to get inspired by three awesome ioby projects with a block party element: each led by a visionary neighborhood resident, and each representing a different type of block party.

Continue reading How to throw an amazing block party

Want more green space in your community? Here’s where to start

Green space” means lots of different things to different people. If you’re the the Environmental Protection Agency it might be something more formal like a park, or a community garden. To our friends at Strong Towns, green space might simply be the “non-place padding put between buildings to set them back from the street”–in other words, any place you can squeeze some trees, shrubs, and other plant life.

While your community might think of green space differently—or even disagree on exactly what it means—it’s likely that you and many of your neighbors would like to see more of it. Why wouldn’t you?

Green space provides a multitude of environmental benefits, including:

Continue reading Want more green space in your community? Here’s where to start

WePlaza! Help bring free wifi, arts programming, and architect-designed shade structures to some of NYC’s beloved outdoor community spaces

Anyone who’s been in New York over the past few years will know that there’ve been huge changes afoot in many of our public spaces. From Times Square to Union Square to Bliss Plaza in Sunnyside Queens, lovely open community spaces both big and small are being freed of traffic and built out and expanded and greened and brightened up, and New Yorkers love them. We stop by in droves with bag lunches, or for a chat, or a rest, or a bit of shade or sun, or to meet someone new. NYC plazas seem to be here to stay.

What many New Yorkers may not see, though, is how many thousands of busy hands are at work to make these spaces the vibrant community hubs they are – or how much time, money, and love go into maintaining and constantly improving them. Seems easy enough, right? Block off traffic and throw in a few planters? Well, no. Turning a plaza into a real community space is actually super hard, expensive work.

So today, we want to highlight an exciting Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP) campaign. NPP is a program under the fabulous Horticultural Society of New York, or “the Hort,” for those in the know. The campaign, called WePlaza!, brings together improvement initiatives coming down the pipeline at three plazas in Queens and Brooklyn. Always on the lookout for new ways to fund plaza improvements, these three projects have come together to do a crowd-resourcing test run of sorts.

“Part of our mission,” explains Dorothy Le, director of capacity building at NPP, “is to work with plaza groups to see what kind of tools we can use, and crowd sourcing is potentially one of them.” If this test run in crowd resourcing is successful, the futures of NYC plazas will look that much more secure.

“Seeing the possibilities that exist in these spaces is a really positive thing, and really opens up creative avenues for community members, whether they’re arts groups or educational groups, or whether they’re simply waiting for the train,” Le says.

So check out the awesome WePlaza! video teaser on their campaign page, and meet the leaders of the three initiatives, below. See if any of them calls to you!

 

  1. Third Thursdays performances at Bliss Plaza, Sunnyside, Queens

When arts group Recreate Queens put out a public call, recently, for local performers to take the “stage” this summer at Bliss Plaza, they were immediately flooded with over 40 applications. Things were off to a good start, to put it mildly.

The call went out to fill what will be the very first arts programming series at brand new Bliss Plaza, which opened last summer. In the next few weeks, five performers will be selected, and will be scheduled to perform on the third Thursdays of each month from June to October. There’ll be no official stage or sound system, but otherwise, the sky’s the limit. “We want people to step off the train and wonder ‘hey, what’s going on here?’ and have a seat, whether it’s for five minutes or for the full hour,” says Rachel Thieme, director of Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District. “We want to draw people in who wouldn’t go to a more formal performance space in the neighborhood or further out.”

What’s perhaps most exciting about season one of this new programming series is that no one has the faintest idea of what it’ll look like, culturally speaking. “Sunnyside is such a diverse neighborhood, like so many neighborhoods in Queens, but really especially here,” says Thieme. “We have large populations of people from Ireland, from Central and South American countries. People from Eastern Europe. So I’m really curious in terms of cultural performance what we’ll see. Maybe it’s going to be one week of flamenco and one week of Irish step dancing. I hope that it will reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. The Plaza has been a really popular public space, and I think this is an opportunity to really make it more of a town square center.”

To learn more, and to donate, click here.

 

  1. Free Wifi at Corona Plaza

Coming soon to Corona Plaza, Queens: free wifi! By this summer, you should be able to stroll through the space and log right in. Best of all, users will be directed, upon signing in for the free Wifi, to a main Corona Plaza community page. The site, will highlight community and educational events at the plaza, and promotions by local businesses. An information fair for immigrants might be advertised, for example, or an event along health and wellness themes. Or a notice about an open-air Zumba class next Friday night might pop up.

Ricardi Calixte, Deputy Director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, is eager to see how this main page might bring together a community in which not everyone has wifi at home, and not everyone is aware of all the neighborhood has to offer. The community, he notes, is a largely immigrant one, and largely working class.

The plaza, Calixte says, is slated for some fantastic renovations next year, so he and his colleagues want to bring a community together around the space before that work begins. “We’re looking forward to making the most of this year,” he says, “to make sure that people know what’s happening in the plaza, and then when the final project is ready to go, people will be excited to get back to it. We think that the wifi and upping our social media campaign will help boost the image of the plaza.”

To donate, visit the project’s campaign page here.

 

  1. Gorgeous new shade structure for teeny-tiny Fulton Plaza, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Maria Nikolovski, an architecture student at Pratt, walks through Fulton Plaza all the time, on her way to school, or to Fulton Street’s hip cafes and restaurants. She and her peers have always wanted to create a piece of work for their Fort Greene/Clinton Hill community, but until now, they’ve never had the chance. The funding wasn’t there, and local projects weren’t a part of their coursework. Most Pratt architecture student projects over the years have actually been abroad. So when student design group PrattSIDE came into some grant funding, they knew just how to use it.

Coming to Fulton Plaza: a graceful shade canopy, made exclusively of steel and rope. Why steel and rope? They’re cheap, easy to use, and malleable (which will come in handy when the structure is moved, after its first 11 months, to an undecided new location). The inspiration came from the local community, via PrattSIDE’s partner, the Fulton Area Business Alliance (FAB); residents had reported that what they most wanted in the plaza was shade, shade, shade. The sun can be harsh in the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area; mini parks abound, but in the in-between areas, you’re liable to get scorched.

Maria and her peers are thrilled to offer a taste of the Pratt aesthetic to the larger Fort Greene community. “In Fort Greene there’s a big art and design community,” she explains. “With Pratt Institute being one of the best design schools in the country, there’s so much of that kind of art energy in the area, and sometimes it isn’t represented well in the community. This building’s full of so much talent, and we’re really excited to release that into the community, and see what they have to say.”

To read more and donate, click here.

ICYMI John Bela, Tactical Urbanism, City Government & the Role of Citizens

Tactical urbanism projects serve the public good, from making it safer for families in Memphis to cross a busy street to giving bus riders in Lithonia a more enjoyable commute. In case you missed it, John Bela’s piece in Next City last week gave a fantastic look at how cities like San Francisco, New York, and Philadelphia are incorporating some of the tenets of tactical urbanism into their capital programs. Here at ioby, we’ve been following this trend with keen interest, and have been particularly inspired by local government support for inspiring citizen-led projects in the City of Memphis and Shelby County.

Tommy Pacello, Director of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team in Memphis, says that the city is interested in taking up the role of tactician in placemaking projects. “What we have seen in Memphis is local government embracing the idea of testing ideas before they invest in them,” say Pacello. “From re-tooling intersections to be more responsive to the needs of pedestrians to temporary road diets that slow down traffic while prototyping new bicycle infrastructure. The city is using inexpensive materials, typically just paint and plastic bollards, to allow the public to engage with the proposed improvements before they become permanent.”

Pacello points to two examples that illustrate the city’s approach to iterative placemaking. At an intersection in South Memphis that sees heavy pedestrian traffic, the city used paint and plastic bollards to temporarily enhance a highly trafficked intersection with a better crosswalk and bump-outs. Then, after a year of studying the effects of the treatment, the city is planning to make the improvements permanent. In Downtown Memphis, the City used similarly inexpensive materials to test a road diet – complete with protected bike lanes and additional pedestrian space – on Riverside Drive. Now the City is measuring community response for a year and plans to make permanent improvements based on community feedback.

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In acting as a tactician, Memphis has established itself as a leader among cities looking to incorporate design thinking into its approach to problem solving. At the same time, citizens in Memphis have demonstrated the same level of commitment to taking a measured, incremental approach to public space transformation.

Back in 2010, neighbors in Binghampton – a neighborhood that suffered from severe disinvestment after the construction of I-40 cut right through the heart of it – came together to reimagine Broad Avenue, the community’s historic main street thoroughfare. Inspired by the Better Block method, the community planned “New Face for an Old Broad,” a two-day intervention followed by a series of many more small, low-risk projects meant to help neighbors, businesses, and government imagine this stretch of Broad Avenue as a thriving commercial corridor. They painted protected bike lanes, staged pop-ups in vacant storefronts, and invited musicians and artists to provide cultural programming. The event was a tremendous success, and heralded $2.5 million in private investment in the next year alone. Four years later, the commercial district boasted 95% occupancy and a total of nearly $40 million in private investment.

The city, inspired by this citizen-led movement, worked with local cycling advocates, businesses, and the team at Livable Memphis to raise the funds to make that bike lane on Broad Avenue permanent. This two-way protected bike lane is part of what is now known as the Hampline, and the majority of it was paid for by a combination of federal, state, city, and private funds. But in late 2013, when the team behind the Hampline realized that they were about $70,000 short of meeting their target, they turned to neighbors on ioby for support. Later that year, the team had raised enough in citizen philanthropy to begin the timely installation of the bike lane.

Bela poses a series of questions often posed by those who are skeptical of government involvement in guerrilla interventions:

But what happens when city bureaucracies and private developers adopt the tactics of guerilla artists. Do they lose their potency and radical potential? Do they actually result in more resilient and just neighborhoods? Can tactical urbanism catalyze institutional change?

Bela outlines concerns that skeptics have voiced about the public sector turning to tactical urbanism. Namely, some are worried about governments that are increasingly relying on private partners to supply the resources, while communities have always relied on government to ensure the equitable distribution of public resources. This messaging problem poses some challenges for proponents of tactical urbanism, which is founded in principles of equity and the importance of broad civic engagement.

At ioby, we believe that an important role of government is to facilitate and encourage citizen-led interventions in neighborhoods with histories of disinvestment. Municipal government is uniquely positioned to create a permitting and regulatory environment that is favorable to the tactical urbanist, and eliminate barriers to would-be leaders in priority neighborhoods.

Based on nearly five years of working with more than 750 leaders, we’ve learned a few things about the psyche of the self-starting urbanist. Specifically we have found that people with great ideas to improve their neighborhoods are put off by two significant barriers: First, a lack of confidence, bred by a limited knowledge of permitting procedures and a fear being penalized for staging a public space intervention; and second, a lack of timely, right-sized funding.

ioby’s crowd-resourcing platform funnels capital from the neighborhood – financial, social, and in-kind – to citizen-led projects. ioby offers neighborhood leaders the tools and guidance that they need to bring their ideas to life. Still, even equipped with resources and support, onerous and intimidating permitting requirements are roadblocks that prevent leaders in underinvested neighborhoods from taking on tactical urbanism projects.

A year into our partnership with Memphis, we are excited to build on this innovative way that we have worked with government to support tactical urbanists. Right now, ioby is working with the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability to find ways to find, encourage, and support Memphians looking to make their neighborhoods stronger and more livable. Together, we hope to build a system that will integrate ioby’s crowd-resourcing platform into a neighborhood visioning process.

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Thanks to StreetPlans for this useful graphic about the Top Down, Bottom Up cycle of citizen and government interactions in tactical urbanism.

As communities work with the Office of Sustainability and their partners to develop long-term goals for their neighborhoods, ioby will equip them with fundraising and organizing tools they need to take on shorter-term projects toward their visions. If successful, city and county government will be able to keep an eye on these initiatives taking form, deploy resources where needed, and expedite approvals where possible. Through our partnership, ioby hopes to facilitate the “measure, test, refine” model made famous by pioneers like Bela.

As they aim to encourage tacticians engaging in iterative placemaking, cities like Memphis could reorient their procedures and policies to accommodate leaders in neighborhoods where obstacles to civic participation are most significant. To sum our reply to Bela’s questions, the involvement of city government does not threaten the integrity of the tactical urbanism movement. In fact, we boldly suggest that with the right kind of thoughtful public investment and policy adjustment, governments can grow and diversify the legions of tacticians that are taking root in cities across the country.

 

Comeback Cities: Detroit & Miami

We were privileged to have ioby’s own Karja Hansen take part in the inaugural Placemaking Leadership Council, convened by Project for Public Spaces, so that ioby could spend some time in America’s leading current comeback city, Detroit, as an inspiration for ioby’s work in Miami.

The Leadership Council was an incredible 2.5 day working group of 300 “zealous nuts” from all walks of life and profession, who believe that creating place is integral to creating community and value. And we had Detroit as not only our backdrop, but also as our living classroom. Motor City. Paris of The Midwest. Red Town. The D. Whatever you call it, we’re quite taken with it.

Detroit is a city with a surprising amount in common with Miami. Built in different eras, the cities nonetheless share both a structure and, to some degree, a culture. Not a culture of geography or population – though there is more than you would think. There is a culture of perseverance, of stick-to-it-ness, as well as stick-it-to-the-man-ness, for sure. And now, a culture of innovation that has only minimal regard for The Way Things Are and The Way Things Are Done.

Miami is often mistaken with the rest of South Florida as being incredibly sprawled out, which yes–it is around the edges, but not nearly so much as the rest of Florida, or the Southeast Region. And it retains much of its historic neighborhood centers. Nor did Miami’s population bleed out into the suburbs. Detroit’s did, leaving the city empty. Things may not be perfect here, but at least it’s inhabited.

And the car. Yes, the car has left just as much of an indelible mark on Miami as it has on the world famous Motor City. What the automobile has wrought on our community that is the most profound, hard to recognize, and hard to repair. Just as important as the physical structure of the street–pavement, buildings, trees, etc–is the activity on the street, the collisions of people which lead to conversations rather than the collision of cars which leads to critical conditions. It is these conditions from which people recoil in fear, until they are isolated from and anonymous to each other, no longer seeing and treating each other as neighbors, rather as strangers.

Detroit is far from dead, it is absolutely ripe with opportunity. Without an active citizenry opportunity is very hard to take advantage of. It’s uncommon to have the right combination of both opportunity and an active citizenry. But that great combination is what has given rise to such an explosive positive shift in Detroit’s center city and neighborhoods, and it is that same combination that we see in Miami. It is people coming together over a common hope and vision for their neighborhoods and seizing opportunity to effect positive change.

Neighborhoods have always been made by the neighbors: the residents, local businesses, and those who choose to spend time there. In Miami, we’re making neighbors, and hope we can lend a hand in making Miami’s neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable.