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After the Park: The Future of Portland’s Public Space

This post was originally published in part on BikePortland.org

This year’s PARK(ing) Day has come and gone, but to those who had a hand in the event or just took advantage of the day-long parklet on SW Stark, it was a happy memory and an example of what a public space can truly be in Portland. It was a day filled with friendly conversations, strangers uniting over a game of ping-pong, and citizens enjoying a place to work or eat their lunch. For me, I consider it a great accomplishment, and passing the street today seems bleak by comparison.

But what made this day so unique? Portland has parks and plazas, public spaces that have seating options and other forms of programming. But our city doesn’t have small parks like those cropping up in cities everywhere. The location we chose is one of these places in the city that could use a chair-filled public space. The food carts are nearby, but no seating area exists aside from O’Bryant Park – a space with design issues and a lack of movable chairs.

Portland has a ‘street seats’ program, which can also be used for these types of parklets, much like the program in San Francisco that came about from the original PARK(ing) Day experiment. As of now, the program has only produced private seating areas for restaurants – an excellent solution to “sidewalk creep” to be sure, but not a public space. It’s also very unfortunate that the City caved to the Portland Business Alliance and decided to not allow any street seats in the main urban core. But that shouldn’t stop us from moving forward!

Parking Day-5

Streets are for people, not for cars.

Before plotting a course for future action, I wanted find out what Portlanders really think. First and foremost I’m a researcher – when not working on reports at a local research firm, I’m conducting mini ethnographic observations at public spaces and blogging about the results. I had done intercept surveys before, and I immediately recognized that this would be a great opportunity to gauge opinions of a public space like this based on not only a hypothetical drawing, but a real life example.

So what do Portlanders want?

If the survey has anything to do with the answer, they want more public spaces! In all, we got an astounding 142 completed surveys (only two people turned me down – you know who you are!) providing a wealth of data and many insightful comments.

The vast majority of respondents had been to the neighborhood before and thought that it had improved with the PARK(ing) Day use of space. They loved the increase in people, street furniture, fewer cars and safer speeds, increased bike infrastructure, and general sense of community. They also wanted to see more of things like this and thought that the city should take more parking spaces downtown and turn them into public spaces rather than increase parking spaces downtown. Respondents from out of town were inspired, wished they had it where they lived, or even mentioned liking Portland more because of it. Read the entire report here (PDF).

Whether by looking at the survey or simply witnessing the event itself, what that day showed was that by a simple intervention of movable chairs, a bit of programming (ping pong), and community support, a lively place can be created. What’s more, these interventions, or even permanent places, can be created fairly inexpensively and are wanted in our city. These kinds of temporary interventions can provide a tangible example of what our cities can be like and also give real time feedback in an effort to make them permanent improvements to our city.

And we’d like to do more.

This project was downtown, but there are so many other places in the city that can use this kind of improvement, these projects have unlimited potential. In other places, organizations exist that do these sorts of projects. One such open-source organization, Better Block, has successfully helped create better streets across the U.S. I’m happy to be a part of making the Portland version and keep the conversation going. Please visit our website http://betterblockpdx.wordpress.com and if you’re in Portland – we’d love to hear from you! Send us an email: betterblockpdx [at] gmail.com. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Not all lanes are this wide, of course, but they are normally this mixed-use. (Photo by author)

Travel Blog: East Coast Public Spaces

I recently had the pleasure of traveling back to the East Coast and exploring a few major cities I had not visited since becoming an urban enthusiast. Being a public space aficionado, I of course made it a point to investigate as many public spaces as possible. Starting in Pittsburgh, I made my way by train to New York City and Philadelphia, before embarking on a cross-country train ride back to Portland (with a quick stop in Chicago). I visited some spaces new and old, and was delighted to see such infamous improvements for myself.

Pittsburgh, PA

I recently wrote about Pittsburgh and its comparison to Portland, but admittedly had not visited it in recent memory. It certainly has been in the urban-related news lately and I was happy to visit and observe the changes taking place for myself.

The campus public space, downtown Pittsburgh. Note the sun line and location of seaters! (Photo by author)

The campus public space, downtown Pittsburgh. Note the sun line and location of people! (Photo by author)

The city is organized around a river and nestled in a valley, similar to Portland, but in a more intimate way. Trees still line the river and small islands and it’s easy to find yourself suddenly on a twisting road in the middle of a forest despite clearly being within the city. One of the biggest differences, of course, is the abundance of brick homes all in a row throughout the various neighborhoods. Alleys abound with pre-WWII garages placed in the back – some in surprisingly good condition. Corner stores occasionally exist in these predominantly residential neighborhoods, and two-lane twisty streets bordered with parked cars eventually lead to miniature downtowns filled with restaurants and small shops.

A typical street in a Pittsburgh neighborhood. (Photo by author)

A typical street in a Pittsburgh neighborhood. (Photo by author)

Unfortunately, there are still some hangups. Busses go from the neighborhoods to universities and the center city, but train lines are not as expansive as they could be. By and large the city is still dominated by the automobile. It’s the quickest way to get around, even with navigation issues caused by turning radii and loose grid patterns. The downtown district is also similar in some ways to Portland – the business district is seemingly devoid of housing and activity past a certain time creating a cold “modern” feeling where the rivers meet. Pittsburgh is rough around the edges, but its brick exterior still shines, and I’m excited to see where the city is at in five years, especially in terms of public transportation and separated bicycle facilities.

New York City, NY

After Pittsburgh I made my way to New York for the first time in ten years. With urbanist eyes I was eager to explore the recent improvements in public space and alternative transportation. If I had a public space bucket list I could cross off one of the items as I walked the length of the High Line, ending on the perfect note – sunset in the city.

The High Line Park - Ingenious and gorgeous. (Photo by author)

The High Line Park – Ingenious and gorgeous. (Photo by author)

Paralleling this trip, I also made it a point to walk the length of Broadway and experience the newly reclaimed public spaces made by none other than Jan Gehl himself. I caught the original Marimekko umbrellas in a food cart area, but Times Square was under construction in some places as it transitioned to the permanent version of these “temporary” improvements. While it will be nice to not have a grade change from the sidewalk to the original road, I’ll have to wait and see what the end result will look like. As of now, I appreciated the brightly colored pavement in contrast with the gothic architecture. It would be a shame to see such (dare I say) European improvements dulled down to just another cold surface in the city.

The future Times Square Plaza: permanent, but not nearly as peppy. (Photo by author)

The future Times Square Plaza: permanent, but not nearly as peppy. (Photo by author)

Though I am ashamed to admit it, I did not get a chance to ride a Citibike through said improvements, but I did walk through a few areas with the green-painted buffered bike lanes. Admittedly, my observations were short, but happily I did not witness the gross occupation of the lanes by vehicles – mostly due to the massive buffers. At least where the small plazas are present, the lanes are completely bordered by pedestrian space (though the edges did tend to attract a bit of debris).

Not all lanes are this wide, of course, but they are normally this mixed-use. (Photo by author)

Not all lanes are this wide, of course, but they are normally this mixed-use. (Photo by author)

Overall, one of my favorite features of these areas was actually the planters. Coming in various sizes, the formula was simple – a defining buffer hearty enough not to get tipped over or moved, a barrier for a possible stray automobile, and a pleasant addition to the pedestrian experience. New York is not devoid of trees of course, but along the major roads the most canopy-like environment you experience tends to be the scaffolding. While it doesn’t replace a tree, the additional greenery is a welcome piece of the public space whole. In areas with seating, the umbrellas also help create more of a “room” in what is technicaly (formerly) the middle of the street.

This is NYC? Awesome! (Photo by author)

This is NYC? Awesome! (Photo by author)

Another public space I had the privilege of visiting was Bryant Park. This of course holds special meaning to me as most of my work has been based on the research done by William H. Whyte – including the famous alterations done to this very park. What once was a derelict, overgrown space more often frequented by drug dealers than sun bathers, now is a thriving public space in the heart of Manhattan complete with attendant, permanent ping-pong tables, chess corners, and green space galore.

Bryant Park - a pleasant place to pause. (Photo by author)

Bryant Park – a pleasant place to pause. (Photo by author)

I was delighted to find the kind of activity that movable chairs are so apt to attract, though I was saddened by my untimely arrival as the center green was being transitioned to the winter ice rink. The holiday market (something which I have never witnessed!) was also still in transition. All things considered, however, I was still (inwardly) very impressed with what I saw and ended the self-guided tour in what was perhaps the best public restroom I’ve ever been in.

In true Whyte fashion, I even caught two men in the midst of a traveling conversation and "long goodbye"! #nerd (Photo by author)

In true Whyte fashion, I even caught two men in the midst of a traveling conversation and “long goodbye”! #nerd (Photo by author)

Philadelphia, PA

While my stop in Philadelphia was brief, I deliberately wanted to investigate that which was so thoroughly recently investigated by the University City District: The Porch in front of the 30th Street Station. The space was impressive in person – a full 33 parking spaces had been removed to create a vibrant space to eat lunch, wait for the train, or just relax in a thoroughly sit-friendly public space. And if you wanted to really relax, there are even reclined chairs as well! I was sadly not there long enough to observe the behavior, but I can say the research seems to do it justice and the space looks like an excellent addition to the University District.

The Porch - so much better than 33 parking spaces! (Photo by author)

The Porch – so much better than 33 parking spaces! (Photo by author)

I didn’t make it to all of the spaces I intended to, but the highlights (the High Line?) were all in all fantastic, and I look forward to visiting again soon. Stay tuned for more detailed examinations of the High Line park and results from my PARK(ing) Day research!

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Park Portrait: PARK(ing) Day PDX

Welcome to Parking Day

This is the third in a series originally published on Parksify of brief spatial ethnographies intended to provide a snapshot of one public space, for one day, in Portland, Oregon. Armed with a camera and a watchful eye, I observe the social behavior in relation to the built environment. The profiles are based on research methods used in my masters thesis in Urban Studies and are inspired by the works of William H. Whyte, Setha Low, and Jan Gehl. 

This Park Portrait is admittedly not about a permanent park, but a parklett that I helped create for a single day in downtown Portland. On September 20th, we took part in the PARK(ing) Day event with hundreds of other public space enthusiasts around the world. On an entire block of Southwest Stark Street we converted ten parking spaces into a greyspace plaza for a day.

Our goal was to supplement the existing spaces and give the city a truly public space

The location was, we thought, an extremely ideal place for this kind of activity. A good public space needs the right kind of activity to fill those moving chairs and tables, and this stretch of Stark has an ideal mix of restaurants, coffee shops, a hotel, nearby food carts, and a recently opened pedestrian alleyway. Believe it or not, despite the many food cart pods scattered throughout Portland, very few come with respective seating areas. Even more than this, Portland as a city is lacking this kind of public space — a stretch of street devoted to the public, rather than parked cars. While one pedestrian street exists, it consists entirely of picnic tables for nearby businesses, and the Street Seats program is spread thin. Our goal was to supplement the existing spaces and give the city a truly public space aimed towards what is lacking generally but also to add to this neighborhood even if just for the day.

The PARK(ing) Day Park itself consisted of about two former parking spaces of bicycle racks and about eight parking spaces of public seating. One space was more akin to a living room, a parking bench added a buffer to the nearby lane of traffic and complimented casual seating around a coffee table. About another five spaces had umbrellas and cafe tables and chairs scattered throughout for the public to use as they thought was best. Near the living room space a hammock also provided another option for relaxing on the street. The furniture was light and movable, and the scattered umbrellas presented the option of more, or less, shade. As an added component of programming, there were also two ping pong tables available for public play.

Ping Pong at Stark Plaza

Stark Plaza

Ping Pong at Stark Plaza (top). Visitors at Stark Plaza (bottom). Images by PARKing Day, Flickr.

 

After the set up at 10 AM, the street was slightly quiet, possibly due to the shock of chairs suddenly appearing in the street. Once things were settled, however, people started trickling in, whether for the ping pong or just for a place to sit outside and work. A coffee shop (without any outdoor seating) is very close by, and some found it convenient to simply bring their tea pots and coffee mugs across the street to sit outside for a bit.

Before too long, the lunch crowd started moving in. While the ping pong tables were in constant rotation, the tables were filled to capacity. At one point, a man with a container from the nearby food carts came over and eagerly looked for a seat. When none was to be found he inquired as to if he had to take a number or if there was a system in place — thankfully a  table immediately opened up and the man quickly filled the space. The rest of the afternoon was filled with children playing, strangers meeting over a friendly game, and quite a few passersby intrigued by the sudden activity on the street. The hammock was in constant use all day. The socializing, a complete success. Even passing cars slowed their speed due to the activity.

Stark Plaza

Stark Plaza. Image by PARKing Day, Flickr.

 

As people moved in to restaurants for the dinner hour, the seats emptied out and the temporary parklett was brought to a close.

Though not a permanent park, it was clear that one like this could work without issue. Movable chairs and tables are inexpensive and it wouldn’t take much to convert a few lanes into a plaza (Philadelphia did it with The Porch a year ago, to great success). Portland has plazas, but only one major (popular) space downtown anywhere near food carts. Maybe it’s time for a permanent PARK(ing) Day parklett? As public spaces go (and my biased opinion aside), this was definitely one of the liveliest I’ve seen in a while.

Spread the word! Reclaim the street!

Public Space and PARK(ing) Day

I’ll sing it until I’m blue in the face, but public space is one of the most crucial components of an urban environment. Not only is it a huge percentage of any city, but more importantly it’s public. And that includes the sidewalks, parks, plazas, and streets – all (or most) technically belonging to the people. While it’s true that you can’t just camp out in the middle of the highway (not that you’d want to), it’s only manufactured policies that now dictate our streets are for automobiles instead of people.

But what if it was different?

The original PARK(ing) Day by Rebar

The original PARK(ing) Day by Rebar Group (Image here)

That’s what the Rebar Group thought in San Francisco when they started the PARK(ing) Day event in 2005. Technically an art experiment, this design studio simply paid the parking meter as usual, and then set up a temporary parklet. It’s so simple, you can’t believe it hadn’t been done before. And why not? You pay for it. Do you really have to only put a car there? Needless to say, the event went viral and quickly became an international event. There are nearly one thousand PARK(ing) Day events around the world every year on September 20th. As Rebar says:

“In addition to being quite a bit of fun, PARK(ing) Day has effectively re-valued the metered parking space as an important part of the commons – a site for generosity, cultural expression, socializing and play. And although the project is temporary, we hope PARK(ing) Day inspires you to participate in the civic processes that permanently alter the urban landscape.”

And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

A group of fellow urbanists here in Portland recently came up with a crazy idea. Architects, engineers, anthropologists, what unites us is more livable streets for everyone and we decided to put on what could be the largest PARK(ing) Day event in Portland thus far. This year we are transforming about 15 parking spaces on an entire block of SW Stark between 10th and 11th downtown. With its painted bicycle lane, cafes, and newly opened Union Way shops, we are set to create a lively mixed-use street for people. And who knows? Maybe it will permanently alter the urban landscape.

This can be better! (Photo by author)

This can be better! SW Stark by the Ace Hotel. (Photo by author)

So if you’re in Portland and you’re looking for a demonstration in lively public space, stop by! There will be places to relax, chat with your friends over coffee, and play ping-pong. Trimet will have a demonstration in public transportation and StreetFilms will play at our family room inspired PARK(ing) Space. Afterwards, you’re all invited to The Cleaners for another great event (and cash bar). Special thanks go to the Ace Hotel, the new Union Way alley, and all nearby businesses. Spread the word, or better yet, start your own! See you on the street!

Spread the word! Reclaim the street!

Spread the word! Reclaim the street!

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Park Portrait: The Urban Center Plaza

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This is the first in a series originally published on Parksify of brief spatial ethnographies intended to provide a snapshot of one public space, for one day, in Portland, Oregon. Armed with a camera and a watchful eye, I observe the social behavior in relation to the built environment. The profiles are based on research methods used in my masters thesis in Urban Studies and are inspired by the works of William H. Whyte, Setha Low, and Jan Gehl. 

What better place to start than with my first real observational project: The Urban Center Plaza. Located on Portland State University’s urban campus, it is a combination of green and grey space that intersects major destinations for students and members of the neighborhood. It is technically a privately owned public space as it was made by the University. However, the goal of the space was to be a community space where the local residents could relax, eat lunch, and interact with the student population.

An urban space with a good mix of students, residents, and people working nearby

I’m happy to report that there is no sign of stated rules, so-called “permitted” behavior. The only stated rule is a small sign imbedded in the bricks “no skateboarding” (a common request). The seasonal differences of the space are obvious — without students, will the space hold up? With the good weather though, I just know that Portlanders won’t disappoint.

And I wasn’t wrong.

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Early mornings on the plaza feel like a true new day. Mornings in Portland can be chilly and the bricks and concrete reflect this coolness. Classes aren’t in session, but the campus isn’t dead. Students still taking advantage of summer courses make their way to the Student Rec Center as early morning dog walkers take advantage of the trees on the edges. Due to the grade change two ramps provide a convenient pass-through for cycling commuters heading to work.

Once the sunlight starts streaming into the plaza, the pace quickens and more people decide to stay a little longer on the stepped seating area on the eastern side. The light rail stop nearby starts spitting out passengers on a regular basis, complimenting the whir of the more gentle streetcar passing through the plaza. People pause, meet with others, grab a cup of coffee and head off to their destinations.

Of course lunch is where it’s at. The line to the bento shop is quickly out the door and the pizza place is packed. Outdoor seating spreads across the lower part of the plaza and is fully taken advantage of in the shady corners during the noon hour. It’s definitely the busiest time of the day when people have the time to take a decent break from course work (or course planning).

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This is where the space gets interesting. With people sitting on the terraced area, weaving through numerous sets of stairs, and various forms of wheeled transport passing through (including the occasional skateboard), the near misses become more frequent. The flow of people from the train through the plaza goes directly up the seating area, despite the height of the terrace. However, as is usually the case I never see an official collision and more often than not see people waiting patiently for the pathway to clear before taking their turn.

I think in all honesty the evening is my favorite time on the Urban Center Plaza. Once the people working nearby head home and the light becomes diffused, the neighborhood takes back their public space. Families enjoy time together outside and friends kick a ball back and forth in the wide upper area. I even saw some boys on skateboards learning the ins and outs of teenage social cues while practicing tricks on the steps.

Aside from a drunken group of college kids passing through on a Friday night, the plaza is deserted

With no bars or formal restaurants nearby the plaza sees very little activity after dark. Aside from a drunken group of college kids passing through on a Friday night, the plaza is deserted. The overhead lights cast long shadows near the street and the Rec Center windows warmly illuminate the southern side. Though, even with the lack of activity, nothing suspicious seems to happen in the space either. It could also be the specialized use that prevents it from being problematic. It always has activity during the day due to transit and enough sight lines so as to not create dark corners.

Overall, the design is great. There are places to sit, you feel sheltered enough to be comfortable, and the transit provides a steady stream of people to populate the plaza for people watching. Because of its location downtown and its proximity to the university, it actually has a good mix of students, residents, and people working nearby. If only there was a set of stairs to accommodate the desire lines and a bit wider ramps, the plaza would be in perfect harmony.

Walkable and weird Portland, Oregon (Photo by Mike Davis)

The Normalization of Livable Cities

This article was originally published on International Making Cities Livable

The suburban history of the last century in the United States can actually be said to be relatively short. It wasn’t until after the second World War that automobiles were more widely available and the suburbs became the standard for the “American Dream”. Since then, several developments have appeared which have worked to shape this dominant paradigm on how we live and work; Whereas once a great exodus left city centers abandoned from otherwise urban corporate headquarters, there is now a return of companies and people alike to these more walkable, livable downtowns. Indeed, I would argue that there is a newfound desire towards this sense of diversity and multiculturalism that a city brings. As part of a generation that was criticized for potentially being stuck behind a smartphone, we still want to be face-to-face. More than ever before we want the European experience – an urban lifestyle filled with ground-floor shops, sidewalk cafes, public parks and plazas, compact living with excitement and variety – everything the most livable cities exemplify. As the trends stop being trends and begin showing serious signs of normalization, I can’t help but wonder if what we are beginning to experience now is a true paradigm shift. Much like the suburban dream of the 1950s and all it did for the landscape of the United States, I believe this is instead the real beginnings of a normalization of livable cities.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Monocle’s most livable city, 2013 (Photo by Olga Itenberg)

I currently live in Portland and by now I’m sure most people are at least familiar with the show Portlandia. Love it or hate it (most likely the latter if you’re a Portlander, it seems), you can at least recognize the types of people the show presents in this “weird” city. According to the stereotypes, there are groups of people who are very interested in urban farming and horticulture, pickling (everything), getting more information on the origins of food and eating healthier, riding bicycles as a form of transportation, and other quirky alternative lifestyle habits (tattoos, piercings, died hair, and so on). What I find interesting though, is not the poor timing of the show in relation to Portland’s hip-ness (a topic of debate by some people) but also it’s poor timing for the Portland-ness of these so-called weird behavior types. More and more it seems, you can find these types of people across the U.S. They are commonplace in major cities such as NYC, Chicago, and Philadelphia, but also in mid-sized cities rebuilding in the rust-belt like Pittsburgh and Detroit. Even in suburban cities like Missoula, MT and mid-sized cities like Indianapolis, where no one would have thought to ride a bicycle before, these alternative lifestyles are in demand. (I’ve even heard there are separated cycle tracks in Phoenix. Phoenix!)

I know what you’re thinking. This could just be a generational thing, you say. It’s the economy, you cry. But I disagree. If we take a look at related data on the subject we can see these trends in quantitative form. An excellent example of this is the consistent decline in VMT, or vehicle miles travelled, and the decrease in young people buying cars and getting their licenses. It’s being shown that this is clearly not just a product of the recession – we are driving less and desiring to drive less. I’ll admit outright that I don’t have a driver’s license. While I learned to drive a car and planned to eventually get one (still late compared to most), I quickly realized that it makes more economic sense to not have to deal with ownership of a car. With a license, I may fall back on it as a crutch, and especially once I became more experienced in livable cities and what automobiles did to the urban landscape I decided that I simply don’t want to be a part of that. I may still be an outlier but I’m not the only one, and apparently I’m part of a quickly growing part of the population. For those living in cities – most of us by this point – it just makes more sense to choose an alternative mode of transportation to get around (be it by foot, bicycle, streetcar, bus, train, or skateboard – unicycles, even!). It’s more social. It’s more healthy. It’s less costly. Whatever your reason, quite frankly it’s just nicer. And more importantly, it’s becoming more normal.

Walkable and weird Portland, Oregon (Photo by Mike Davis)

Walkable and weird Portland, Oregon (Photo by Mike Davis)

And it’s not just my generation that sees this kind of shift. In cities everywhere the push in development is towards mid-sized, mixed-use, small-sized apartments downtown. We don’t want single-family houses and our “piece of land” per se. We thrive in small spaces, shared spaces, and social spaces – many of which are public spaces. Despite the fears of technologically-induced isolation, we’re moving back towards wanting places of face-to-face interaction in all aspects of our lives. You can find this normalization in books touting the trend and advertisements that cater to bike-friendly twenty-somethings. A new book was just highlighted on The Colbert Report titled “Homeward Bound” by Emily Matcher and details the rise in stereotypically homemaking activities like canning and knitting. The 2014 Ikea catalogue features a video with a Park(ing) Day set up as the normalization of insurgent public space. This concept of being able to impact your environment and enjoy the city with friends in this way is just one example of how this is manifesting itself in portrayals of the “average” person in the media.

And in this way we are shaping the way cities are designed.

My neighborhood in Portland is currently home to a large redevelopment site which will eventually be transformed into a dense, walkable area with a public square and park. Part of the incentive for the site’s owners, Con-way, is to create an area where their employees would also like to live and work – in a downtown area rather than a suburban office park. This in and of itself is also a trend based on the culture of those they would like to attract. And more importantly – this is not just a class of creative people anymore – this is, I believe, quickly becoming the dominant ideology of current and incoming generations. I can speak for myself and say that I would be eager to move to a neighborhood which hosted a public square with outdoor cafes and plenty of social engagement. I want buildings short enough that they provide residents the opportunity to recognize people passing by on the sidewalk below. And I would also want to work for a company that was close to my home, one which allows and even encourages spending time in these livable spaces and commuting in a non-traditional way. I would base my location decisions upon these extremely important quality of life components.

And I think this is what people are coming to expect now. We don’t want to be in a windowless office with a forty-five minute lunch, nine to five, Monday through Friday. We want the ability to take a break, play some ping-pong, have a meeting on the park outside or at a cafe. Arrive by bike? No problem. My office would have showers and a culture where coming in to work with panniers and a helmet isn’t taboo (or close enough that I wouldn’t even need to shower). And on Friday, I think I’ll work from home – or maybe my home is my office, for that matter. Portland already has this kind of stereotypical “alternative” culture, and in some ways this was encouraged by a top-down approach (the Urban Growth Boundary, for instance) but also this incredibly strong bottom-up, neighborhood and community focused population of “weird” people. I’m happy that Portland has this kind of reputation and livability, but I’m even happier to see it becoming less weird. Wherever you are, I think it is clear that more and more people are going to live in cities like Portland and they are going to want and deserve, these kinds of walkable, livable city centers. And while I can’t say for sure that this is a paradigm shift in its true form, I think we can all say that the trends are clear. Walkable cities are the future. Alternative transportation is the future. We are the future, and the future is livable.

A recent urban observation of mine: two girls passing the time making a dirt mound over a toy horse.

Everyday Urbanism: Why We are All Urbanists

I call myself an urbanist, but what does that really mean? Being an urbanist is not something that requires a rigidly defined body of knowledge. There is no degree for urbanism, no certificate or qualifying test. Urbanists come from a myriad of disciplines: sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, economists, city planners (and other such “-ists” and “-ers” I’m sure I’ve missed). While these degrees are good for other things of course, they are by no means necessary to be an urbanist. It seems then the people who decide to call themselves urbanists are simply those that are united by a passion for urban environments and have some sort of urban-related knowledge – which therefore could technically be anyone. In a world where more than half of all people now live in cities, and with no degree for it, I wonder – where are all the urbanists?

A recent urban observation of mine: two girls passing the time making a dirt mound over a toy horse.

Urban play in action: two girls passing the time covering a toy horse with dirt and stones (Photo by author)

One of the most well-known urbanists was Jane Jacobs, a woman who exemplified this passion for cities, but did not otherwise have any formal training. She was criticized for not having a degree in planning, especially since her writing and advocacy work explicitly criticized city planning of her time. What made Jacobs different I think, as a pioneer of urbanism, was not only her ability to organize and communicate effectively, but also her ability to observe the urban environment. But again, is that so strange? Watching people is what people do best. While Jacobs displays exquisite skill in her prose and introduces brilliant terminology used to this day (“eyes on the street” being a personal favorite of mine), the act of public participation and urban observation can, and I argue should, be done by everyone.

I think of this concept as Everyday Urbanism – if you live in an urban environment, you have the full ability to observe the world around you. Those who live in a neighborhood know more than anyone the goings-on of their street – the early commuters, the dog-walkers, shops’ opening and closing routines. Like Jacobs on her street in Greenwich Village, all it takes is a sense of joy and ownership as an active participant in your surroundings. If you are passionate about your neighborhood, there’s no reason you too can’t impact the planning process simply because of your involvement in the street-ballet.

The park that Jacobs saved: Washington Square Park in NYC (Photo by Joe Mabel)

The park that Jacobs saved: Washington Square Park in NYC (Photo by Joe Mabel)

I’ve done this kind of research for the sake of science (and one of those “-ist” degree of course), but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case that researchers and the like are the only ones gathering data on the city. My title of choice stems from the combination of my degrees, urban studies and anthropology. Both of which include highly specialized bodies of knowledge, but I think theoretically can be done by anybody. Anthropology is one of those funny things – it’s technically the study of humans through a variety of means. I’ve specialized in cultural anthropology and conducted ethnographies, which are technically done in a very specific way in order to be recognized in the scientific community. But as humans, surrounded by humans, I think we’ve all completed step number one for being an anthropologist – being human. And with more than half of all humans now living in cities, I think the same can be said about being an urbanist as well.

Aside from formal research, I have also spent time living on lively streets observing the daily routines in an everyday way as a member of a community. This is how a location truly becomes a place. When one can recognize the telltale squeal of the yellow Beetle next door, or the precise timing of the young man on a bicycle as you round the corner on the way to work, you really feel as though you have a sense of that place. It’s that feeling when you have the same bus driver every day or get coffee from the same barista. We all experience the city in similar ways. I think we are all urbanists – we all have the ability to watch and participate, and many of us do this without realizing it already.

The chair master of Jamison Square in Portland, Oregon (Photo by author)

The chair master of Jamison Square in Portland, Oregon (Photo by author)

Urbanism to me is the inability to hold back a smile as you walk through your city. With all there is in an urban environment to observe, explore, and interact with, this to me is the ultimate achievement in livability. If we all strive for this goal by celebrating our part as urbanists, our inherent places in our respective spaces, we too can save a park or contribute to the great urban ethnography we all currently live in. As idealistic as it may sound, it has become so much easier to capture these moments and share them with others (or even engage in a little insurgent urbanism while we’re at it). In your everyday lives, I urge you to take some time – observe the urban environment around you and soak in the city. We are all urbanists. We all have the opportunity to observe and affect our urban environments.

Remains of a Roman temple in Naples, Italy, remarkably still intact despite its constant contact with water (Photographed by Angela Sorrentino, original here)

Looking Beyond the “Western World”

We in the so-called Western World, and the U.S. especially, have a tendency to think of the (so-called) modern world as originating with the Roman Empire. After all, democracy was created within the great Greco-Roman society of old and their cities were modern wonders, still influencing the architecture we have today (you can check your local civic structure for those iconic columns, for example). This kind of thinking however, is misguided and completely inaccurate. Cities have existed around the globe for a lot longer than just the fabled Rome, and in many ways actually embodied the idea of “civilization” far earlier than Pax Romana. At the same time, by not looking back at the ways that even Rome did things, we miss a lot of extremely valuable information that can affect our cities today.

The extent of the Roman Empire in 117 AD (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

The extent of the Roman Empire in 117 AD (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

There is always something to be learned by looking comparatively at cities, and especially cities of the past. I think it is important to consider that someone, somewhere may have grappled with the same issues you do, hopefully in a way that can inform your own decisions. Today this manifests in scholarly journals for academics and conferences where knowledge can be shared by a multitude of professionals worldwide. But sometimes it is necessary to look back, not just across, which is where archaeology becomes crucial to the urban studies equation. (Even comparatively recent cities sometimes require a bit of digging to reveal their secrets.) Indeed, discounting the fact that billions of individuals have come before you and may have considered these very same urban issues, can even be detrimental to development, setting a culture back decades or even hundreds of years.

In more ways than one, Rome is an excellent example of this issue. When the Roman Empire spread across Europe to England in the first century AD, it brought with it the design of fortresses and city structures which fuel this emphasis on Western civilization. After this occupation it was England that brought about the Industrial Revolution which went on to spread urbanization to an unprecedented degree around the world. What’s fascinating to consider, however, is that during that time between the Roman intervention, the eventual retreat, and the famous revolution, the urbanization of England actually virtually disappeared. After the cities were abandoned by the fallen empire, residents for the most part went back to more rural ways of life. It wasn’t until centuries later that the region built back up again to something resembling its Roman days, and then beyond.

The Roman Forum - Not so unique afterall?  (Ward-Perkins 1974: 108)

The Roman Forum – not so unique afterall? (Ward-Perkins 1974: 108)

The modern city structure, generally speaking, is typically attributed to Roman engineering. When we think of cities we often think of an orthogonal grid-plan layout with wide thoroughfares and public plazas – this is the island of Manhattan, most downtowns, and newer auto-oriented American cities like Phoenix, Arizona. Hippodamus of Miletus, the famed father of urban planning, is known for supposedly inventing this orthogonal structure as well as the public agora, having developed numerous towns and cities in Ancient Greece. However, the focus is too narrowly attributed to this singular culture in this one part of the world. In fact, orthogonal city structures were independently invented in all corners of the globe by the simple fact that regulation of the urban environment is easier for the people in power (giving them a way to regulate buildings and to view their domain), and also because a squared shape placed in the urban environment is a fairly logical structure. Boards of wood (or logs or bricks and so on) fit together conveniently in right angles in a more compact grid-like pattern rather than positioning a bunch of cubes in a circular formation (see the earliest cities for examples of this from our first days as city-dwellers).

Chang'an, China in the Tang Period. You can't get much more orthogonal than that! (Kiang 1994: 46)

Chang’an, China in the Tang Period. You can’t get much more orthogonal than that! (Kiang 1994: 46)

Along with the contemporary understanding of urbanism that is so often attributed to the Roman Empire, other modern conventions have also been equally praised as Roman inventions. Take plumbing for example – something which is as famously “Roman” as concrete (I’ll get to that later). In actuality, plumbing has existed since the early civilizations of the Indus Valley to the east. Toilets, too, go hand-in-hand with these pipes, and amazingly flush toilets were even around thousands of years before the English occupation – unlike in Western society where defecation in very unsanitary conditions was commonplace until the mid-19th century. How was it that it took this long for conditions in cities to improve, to push us into the contemporary urbanized world? It’s incredible to think that this back and forth of life-changing inventions could have been prevented with better communication and consistency between civilizations.

Roman public toilets - something the Romans seemed to be ahead of Western culture on (Public Domain)

Roman public toilets – something the Romans seemed to be ahead of Western culture on (Public Domain)

On the other hand, there is something which is valuable to look at when examining the Western origins in Rome. Where they didn’t technically invent other modern conventions, they did have a hand in the invention of one of the most influential materials on earth: concrete. Without it, virtually our entire contemporary society would be dramatically different than it is today. And I don’t just mean a lack of brutalist architecture, I mean a lack of skyscrapers, sidewalks, and yes, even our modern plumbing systems. But here’s something even more astounding – much like our haste to praise the Roman Empire, we have overlooked the history of the urban development and most notably the context of the recipe, as it were, of something so perfected by this ancient civilization. A recent article in Business Week details the findings of the UCLA Roman concrete research team (an interesting elevator speech for those guys to be sure), which explains how the simple addition of volcanic ash to the mix is the secret to the long-lasting structures still standing today.

Remains of a Roman temple in Naples, Italy, remarkably still intact despite its constant contact with water (Photographed by Angela Sorrentino, original here)

Remains of a Roman temple in Naples, Italy, remarkably still intact despite its constant contact with water (Photographed by Angela Sorrentino, original here)

By taking a simplistic look at an idealized past, or by not looking at it at all, we overlook the longer view of human habitation as well as the finer details of ancient urban life. Neighborhood layouts in Mesoamerica famously arrange their buildings around a central public plaza – across an ocean from ancient Roman society and their famed forum. Chinese cities were extraordinarily orthogonal, massive complexes occupied for thousands of years with wide roads and designated markets. And we now know that Angkor Wat was much larger than we previously thought stretching an incredible 13 square miles with giant reservoirs and orthogonal streets and canals. All of these components of cities are far more complex and even common than we tend to believe. What else can ancient, and non-Western cities teach us about urbanism? Considering the thousands of years we have been building and rebuilding cities around the world, the information could be infinite. By looking back at what has come before us more often, by looking beyond our modern Western hubris, we could find that the solutions to our problems can be as simple as adding a bit of ancient volcanic ash to our modern mixture.

Bryant Park in NYC, after Whyte's alterations (via PPS.org).

Urban Green Space: Past, Present, and Future

Turkey’s ongoing developments in Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul could not be more pertinent to my personal research, but also have important ramifications for all of us and the future of urban design. Two years after the Arab Spring events we are witnessing another similar uprising in a large urban plaza filled with protestors of varying backgrounds seeking potentially disparate outcomes but gathering in the same place nonetheless. The difference with this situation, however, is the root cause of the demonstrations: a top-down redesign of one of the most important green spaces in the city. Politics of Turkey aside, the privatization of this park was clearly enough for not only an environmental occupation but also the massive gatherings we are still currently witnessing regarding what has been called totalitarian oversight of their daily lives. The fact that a park was the last straw for number of different groups has sparked a discussion once again on what public space (in this case green space) means for the people as an area for refuge and as an agent for change.

Photo of original Gezi protests in Istanbul - Look familiar? (Source here)

Photo of original Gezi protests in Istanbul – Look familiar? (Source here)

 

While green spaces are heralded as the mark of a successful city, grassy retreats within the urban boundaries were basically nonexistent in the earliest cities, and even some areas of the world today. One of the earliest known cities excavated so far – Çatalhöyük – is actually in the heart of Turkey, beautifully preserved (comparatively speaking) from around 7500 BCE. This city was more of a compound than anything with no open spaces whatsoever – just a mass of buildings huddled together on a hill. The 5,000 – 10,000 inhabitants moved through the city via the tops of the buildings made accessible by ladders and stairs through holes in the ceilings creating a complex maze of rooms and passageways.

Perhaps the earliest city, Catal Hoyuk (During & Marciniak 2006:177)

Archaeological diagram of Çatalhöyük (During & Marciniak 2006:177)

 

Interestingly, for the most part traditional Islamic cities deviated only somewhat from this original design. Green space within these cities is typically sparse and the emphasis is instead on the streets (they eventually added) as the catch-all public space. Walled compounds surround distinct neighborhood units that were even closed off at night isolating their individual urban alleys (like more verticle and compact cul-du-sacs). Mediterranean cities, too, opted for an emphasis on streets but add the Italian staple, the piazza, to its public space repertoire – spaces still otherwise devoid of green space.

Typical neighborhood in Fez

Typical neighborhood in Fez (Bianco, 2000)

Fast forward a bit, and eventually green spaces emerge around the globe in the form of private and semi-private gardens, foraging and grazing grounds in England, or in the form of hunting lands (massive areas reserved for the leader’s sport). But the stereotypical “park” which we have all come to enjoy was really still an anomaly until around the Victorian era. What began as “promenades” to meander among the social elite in sometimes very strange (read: gender bending) ways, eventually became a desirable space for the common man. Cities like New York preserved semi-natural areas inside their borders like Central Park and the Olmsted era of fresh air really kicked off the park-frenzy, especially in the U.S.

Since that time, the role of green space in cities has seen its ups and downs in various ways. In the case of public housing, a simple green square within the otherwise crowded complex of apartments was believed to increase the health and wellbeing of the poor population. Advocates of this social improvement through design claimed that providing this amenity would decrease crime and provide a space for children to play and avoid the otherwise dangerous inner city environment. The fact that this did not work (generally speaking) is important to consider – it is clear that a park does not a safe space make. In reality, it may be the case that green space without very strict maintenance and even possibly programming, can create a more negative environment. Whyte spoke of this when he helped redesign Bryant park changing it from one of the most crime-ridden green spaces in NYC to one of the most celebrated today – through better design of the space.

Bryant Park in NYC, after Whyte's alterations (via PPS.org).

Bryant Park in NYC, after Whyte’s alterations (via PPS.org)

 

So, in general, design seems to be win-some and lose-some depending on the situation (as is always the case). But for some people the creation and accessibility of green spaces was not only done to increase livability on a local scale but to improve their entire country’s population. In the 1930s, during a time of extremely low birth rates in Sweden, planners, led by a husband/wife duo consisting of a child psychologist and economist, created what is now known as the “Swedish Model”. Not only did they provide social welfare on a massive scale, but they also prioritized adding parks to their cities and encouraged adults to spend time outdoors and increase their leisure time (maybe have a few kids…you know…). A similar change also happened in Denmark whereas what was once considered a culture that would never eat at cafes outside or stroll down a pedestrian street is now infamous for their Strøget and street life. For decades these Nordic countries carried the highest levels of happiness, starting at a young age with excellent childcare, maternity leaves, and an emphasis on hobbies and free time with their budding next generation.

Ah, Stroget. (via www.visitcopenhagen.com)

Ah, Strøget. (via http://www.visitcopenhagen.com)

 

Right before the uprising in Turkey, however, Sweden also had its own series of riots spurring from the immigrant neighborhoods that otherwise have a really nice assortment of green spaces to spend (a little too much?) leisure time in.  Articles on this odd event for the happy country have picked up on this issue of green space design and its lack of positive effect on disgruntled youth. Is this an issue of design not having the desired effect on social welfare (like our own public housing in the 60s)? The overall state of the global economy is still reeling from the recession, and indeed Scandinavia generally has not been exempt from this. It could also be an issue of culture and indeed the immigrants there (as elsewhere) have expressed their difficulties with merging with an otherwise fairly homogenous culture (though 15% of Sweden’s population are immigrants, mostly refugees increasingly from Syria).

The intersection between what is a protest in Turkey against top-down regulations, and a top-down creation of green space creating a happier culture in Sweden lies in the dichotomy of the outcomes, I think. Sweden may be experiencing a lack of contentment on the part of recent immigrants despite the benefits they receive, including the green space they have nearby, and they are doing so via riots. But also, Turkey may be experiencing a cultural revolution born out of the attempt of their government to create a more “modernized” public space without the consent of their people. What Sweden did in the ‘30’s was essentially social engineering for a positive cause – a sweeping alteration of the culture purposefully done to improve the wellbeing of Swedes with success. Turkey’s recent attempt at altering the built environment has instead been met with massive bottom-up resistance as the people themselves want to take the design of their city – and their culture – into their own hands in order to better their own lives. Both involve top-down initiatives in different time periods surrounding public green space, but while one has potentially succeeded and recently failed (or is being criticized) decades later, the other may not even get to experiment at all if the people have anything to do with it.

What we may be witnessing is the birth of a new era – a contemporary culture that wants to take control of their environment, which will no longer allow a government to redesign the city – their city – without their consent. The Right to the City was heralded in the Occupy Movement for their use of public space to protest their grievances and evictions were seen as stifling the right to gather as such. However, The Right to the Entire City may actually be more important to urban design in the future; if you want to design something, you might want to talk to the People first.

 

For more on these topics:

On green space globally: Gardens, City Life, and Culture: A World Tour (2008)

Within the same book: “Swedish Mid-Century Utopia: Park Design as a Tool for Social Improvements”, T. Andersson

On public housing: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth – a documentary on public housing of the same name in St. Louis

dt.common.streams.StreamServer

The Future of Public Space

The Urban Center Plaza at Portland State University, topic of my thesis research. Photo credit: Doug Macy of Walker Macy (used with permission)

The Urban Center Plaza at Portland State University, topic of my thesis research. Photo credit: Doug Macy of Walker Macy (used with permission)

Public space isn’t something typically on everyone’s mind on a daily basis, though of course it dictates much about how we live our lives – Where do you cross the street? Do you have sidewalks? Where’s your nearest public park or plaza? For those without private open space (apartment/condo dwellers, houseless individuals) public space is the only space they have to travel, walk their dog, have a picnic, or just plain experience the rest of their society (myself included). Considering that urban environments now contain over 50% of the world’s inhabitants, and that this is only going to increase, I believe that an emphasis on public space is necessary for the future of cities.

Public Space and Protest

I am a public space aficionado, for lack of a better term. So much so, in fact, that I created an entire custom focus in my master’s program to support my ideal thesis work – a William H. Whyte influenced research project on a local plaza. However, in my second year at graduate school a far more important opportunity arose here in Portland, as in elsewhere, when the Occupy Wall Street movement set up camp in two downtown parks. Politics aside, I jumped (marched?) at the opportunity to take advantage of this potentially once in a lifetime situation. Direct observation of bottom-up processes of urban development demonstrating the right to the city in an urban public space? Yes, please!

Occupy Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland's "Living Room" (photo: creative commons, Wikipedia)

Occupy Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland’s “Living Room” (photo: creative commons, Wikipedia)

As an anthropologist by trade I decided the best approach to gathering the most information at the camps would be to conduct a short ethnography of place. Due to the unexpectedness of the movement and encampment (and my already existing class schedule) I was unable to stay overnight. Instead, I visited the camps for 3-10 hours every day that I was able to (about 5 days per week) between October 22nd and November 12th. Aside from mingling and observing with the occupiers, I also volunteered at the Information Tent – basically the heart of the camps where one could ask questions, get directions, drop off donations, or request supplies. Here, I was also able to gather a sample of surveys from occupiers and non-occupiers alike, looking to get more information on why they were here, who they were, and how they were involved in the movement. In general, however, the interactions and observations at the camps were more enlightening than the surveys, which turned out to be very similar to other surveys conducted at the main Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Tent spacing, early occupation period. (photo by author)

Tent spacing, early occupation period. (photo by author)

It may not look like it to us (as it seldom does to the persons experiencing it) but culture is going through a rather dramatic shift, not just nationally but on a very global scale as well. And much like previous cultural shifts it is predominately being altered by our technological advancements. One of the most interesting things about the Occupy protests was the balance between technology and the physical occupation of space in real time. Much like in Tahrir Square, updates via social media allowed for a rapid response regarding marches and police actions; though the value was dependent upon more than just “likes” or digital signatures, but boots-on-the-ground (so to speak) in order to assert the movement’s agenda.

If the Occupy movement was simply an online petition, it wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact on awareness, not to mention individual lives. The intimate experience of personally meeting affected individuals of the recession and discussing the state of affairs in the United States, absolutely has a more lasting impression due to this connection. On the other hand, while I spent time physically in the company of these passionate individuals, I also spent a great deal of time watching live video streams from citizen journalists in New York City documenting arrests and march developments. I recall the sense of horror while I witnessed from helicopter feed dozens of tents filled with personal belongings being heaped unceremoniously into dumpsters at the Boston Occupation or the overwhelming thrill of victory when they took the Brooklyn Bridge chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”. The “taking back” of public space in this movement was a critical component for visibility as well as demonstrating the democratic use of public space (for more on this, I suggest Marcuse’s blog on the Right to the City).

Public Space and Technology

My thought process here lies in the fascinating dichotomy that we currently experience in our now-mostly-urban lives and how it relates to prior notions of public space. We are tied more than ever to our electronic devices while also spending more time walking and bicycling. Public life and the spaces that conduct it have become more important to us in recent years, not less, like the brutalism architecture of the 60s would have led us to believe. In what ways the combination of technology and the livable city will manifest is only beginning to surface though with interesting recent developments…

A still from Whyte's Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1988)

A still from Whyte’s Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1988)

While some despair as usual for the future of a “disconnected” society reliant upon technology, we know that this is more of an overblown hyperbolic statement than anything. Texting will not, as has been claimed, destroy our use of proper grammar, nor will video games create a new generation of dirt-hating couch potatoes. However, there are some serious concerns, as Evgeny Morozov wrote in a recent piece at Slate about the new Google Maps (The Atlantic Cities also has a recap and thought experiment here.) Morozov describes the concept of missing public space as the customized maps focus instead on the destinations described in your social media and search criteria. “In Google’s world, public space is just something that stands between your house and the well-reviewed restaurant that you are dying to get to. Since no one formally reviews public space or mentions it in their emails, it might as well disappear from Google’s highly personalized maps.” (Then again, as someone who clearly mentions public space a lot, I wonder how Google Maps would alter my content?)

One of the contentious issues of public space has been the privatization of public space for a myriad of reasons. The very definition of public means that the public technically owns it and therefore can use it without rigid control and restrictions (within reason, of course). If it is private it can be altered and individuals and/or activities can be prohibited at the whim of the owner. According to most public space specialists these privately own public spaces (or POPS) are things to be feared if the Right to the City is to be upheld. Is the new Google Maps the future of public space as it is at least digitally conceived? Have we arrived at a point of worrying about privately owned digital representation of physical public space? (also known as PODRPPS? Hm. Maybe not…)

In another recent news story on this physical/technological dichotomy, Deeplocal, a private innovation/design studio in Pittsburgh, has taken this in a similar, but also very unique direction. Using a combination of crowdfunding in the form of a monthly fee and their own private resources, they’re outfitting an otherwise vacant grassy lot with salvaged furniture and amenities for the ultimate shared outdoor space. Rather than petitioning the city or independently moving to houses with larger yards for personal use (the suburbs, anyone?), the team has decided to take matters into their own hands and create the space that the neighborhood needs and that they themselves desire.

Deeplocal’s vacant lot, soon to be “Bayardstown”

This of course does raise a few eyebrows for us public space people in the sense that with a privately owned semi-public space comes restrictions, as is also the case with this example via age limits, a cap on accepted members, email requirements, and that monthly fee. It’s a great idea – something I’d be tempted to create myself if I were in their situation – but can we truly call it public space? Definitely not. Could it be the future of “public” space in the physical sense? Quite possibly so. What with city budget cuts and the crowdsourcing craze, I’m sure the idea of a small member fee for such a neat outdoor space will take off in no time. What’s more, the emerging culture is that of this maker mentality – not only stereotypically in places like Portland, but also Pittsburgh, and others, manifesting itself in ways like Deeplocal’s team of “creatives”. When compared to Google’s approach, I think I would also prefer this kind of POPS – a somewhat more bottom-up approach that at least gives you the option of using a space you otherwise might not have, rather than altering your perception without your consent.

What does this mean for the future of public space?

It’s my opinion that the city of the future, as a whole, is going to be a fascinating hybrid of this physical/digital dichotomy we seem to be experiencing the beginnings of lately. More than just civic aps, objects like Google Glass are blurring the lines between the two realities while digitally printed three-dimensional physical objects are quickly entering the realm of everyday reality. This generation is driving less while also becoming more urban. New York City’s recent launch of Citi Bike (a highly technical fleet of a human-powered and intimately interactive form of alternative transportation) has thus far been a huge success, and is only going to grow with other major cities in the U.S. jumping on the bike share boat this summer. While the research of Whyte on public spaces in the 70s was almost entirely concentrated on the physical aspects, the future of public space and urban life more generally will have to consider a more comprehensive look at what “reality” really is.