The making of New Orleans’ public spaces: form follows people

“In going up St. Peters Street & approaching the Common I heard a most extraordinary noise, which I supposed to proceed from some horse mill–the horses tramping on a wooden floor. I found, however, on emerging from the houses to the Common, that it proceeded from a crowd of five or six hundred persons assembled in an open space or public square. I went to the spot and crowded near enough to see the performance. All those who were engaged in the business seemed to be blacks.” (Excerpt from Benjamin Latrobe’s notes — see full text here page 33-34)

This 1819 description of a public space by architect Benjamin Latrobe, is one of the earliest accounts of jazz and the evolution of African music and dances in New Orleans. Under the Catholic Spanish and French rule, African slaves were allowed take Sundays off, and would gather in the open space to beat the drums, play string instruments, dance and freely socialise. The name, use, users and political context of the space changed over time, and included being named Beauregard Square in 1893 after a former Confederate General. The City of New Orleans renamed it Congo Square in 2011. (If in New Orleans, visit The Historic New Orleans Collection to learn about the city’s complex history.)

“Public space in New Orleans may be the opposite of design,” says Jared Genova, Resilience Planning and Strategy Manager at the City of New Orleans (the City), citing various social episodes that appear spontaneously in places that weren’t designed for that purpose. For him, resilience means creating everyday social and economic opportunities, and goes beyond the hype of post-Katrina disaster readiness. Over my three-day visit his remark turned out to be fair, as I would often observe locals hanging out on the front porches, the musically talented jamming on the streets and young people skateboarding below interstate highway overpasses. In this city, design of the public realm is often facilitated based on the locals’ organically developed use of the place, driven by the user groups themselves and/or the City. Such manner of planning has presented different kinds of success indicators. In neighbourhoods where resources are limited, there may not ever be a perfect concept design, a completed project or a refined sense of materiality. Instead, there is genuine and resilient DIY spirit emerging from people who desperately want a common ground where they can just be.

1CongoSq
One of the earliest accounts of the evolution of jazz refers to Congo Square.
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An impressive 8-person band draws a large crowd at Jackson Square, the heart of French Quarter.
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Tourism is one of the main industries in New Orleans.

 

Active citizens

To see this spirit in action, I paid a visit to a DIY skatepark under an overpass, created initially by a group of skaters who literally made concrete walls and ramps on site. It was illegal and got knocked down. Disappointed, but unwilling to let go, they built a much better and bigger second skatepark. It also got knocked down. Their response? They formed a not-for-profit and successfully negotiated with the City for it to be formally designated as Parasite Skatepark. Tulane School of Architecture students stepped in and designed the next phase through various collaborative workshops.

Arts Council New Orleans’ Youth Solutions program guides young people to take ownership of their own neighbourhoods and implement improvement projects. Its impact lies in helping youth overcome anger, powerlessness and helplessness associated with trauma, with creative placemaking projects. Paid practical internships such as carpentry and welding, as well as mentorship, are available. The program has seen young people learn to empathise with the needs of younger kids and create a pop-up park for them; build seating for public spaces; and interview locals for asset mapping.

 

4Parasite
Parasite Skatepark is well used by the locals.
5Playground
Under the concrete slabs of overpasses are playgrounds and other types of gathering spaces. On hot summer days, they offer some respite from the heat and humidity.

 

Go to where the people are

For activists like Imani Brown, founder of Blights Out and director of programs at Antenna, supporting active citizenship means creating a space where dialogue can be generated and art can make the streets its home. I get a sense of what that might look like at an event held in a bar, Street Spirit, where Imani aims to bring “artists, activists, scientists, spiritualists etc who come from a myriad of different backgrounds but whose work intersects in a way that is unexpected and hopefully is delightful and engaging”. The event is a mix of music, talks, poetry, and surprisingly a presentation by a Certified Floodplain Manager explaining New Orleans’ urban planning and flooding history, and micro-scale stormwater management solutions for the individuals in the audience. Raising awareness on hazard mitigation starts here, where the people are.

Imani tells me about the many prejudices, systems and laws that have taken a toll on New Orleanians’ lives: the Brown Paper Bag test, which was used to determine the status of a person of colour based on the skin colour (and colourism still exists); the loss of free public spaces when the beaches and pools were closed to African Americans; and most recently, a segregated school system that is further suffering from the replacement of ‘veteran black educators’ following Katrina. ‘Integration’ is a politically charged word especially in New Orleans, where hundreds of years of unjust systems continue to influence and segregate its communities. Imani would like to see more places where different people feel the invitation to connect.

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A diverse group of people gather in the back of a music venue for Street Spirit.
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Imani Brown opens Street Spirit and brings together artists, activists, scientists and spiritualists.


Learning from the neutral ground

When the newer American residents and French-speaking Creoles began to cohabit the city in 1800s, their quarters were separated and demarcated by Canal Street – Americans to the west, and Creoles to the east in the French Quarter. The area of demarcation was thus known as ‘the neutral ground’ and the term has been generally used to describe all median strips in the city since. Neutral grounds today are where people socialise, walk and rest (and where people can park to prepare for flooding). Melissa Lee, Senior Advisor for Commercial Revitalization at New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), wants to see the celebration of inclusion continue on these grounds. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, for instance, has a neutral ground, which will be improved to signify the social justice history and connect the local community. Following the public spaces where people already are, NORA is also working on creating an ‘edible walking trail’ for a neighbourhood, where its elderlies tend to walk up and down the street for exercise, and the culture of community gardening has evolved into urban farming. It is hoped that the loop encompassing African, Vietnamese and Latino communities will lead to unexpected and positive cultural exchanges and community cohesion.

Public spaces in New Orleans could have been left empty, and neutral grounds stripped off any character or sense of ownership. Instead, New Orleanians – whether they are old Vietnamese gardeners or young African American students – are finding ways to manifest their values in the public realm. As the City develops strategies to overlay water infrastructure with public spaces, I imagine this culturally unique city could also prove to be the most technologically innovative and socially inclusive.

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Canal Street used to separate the newer American residents and French-speaking Creoles.
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French Quarter is human-scaled and beautifully maintained.
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Street signage on the footpath is often seen in neighbourhoods.

 

Many thanks to these organisations:

 This blog post was made possible by Westpac Social Change Fellowship, during which Julia Suh is visiting 15 cities to learn from their governments, social enterprises, consultants, academics and community organisers about how they are addressing inequality via design and management of the public realm and bringing about positive change. 

 

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The Detroit model: greater than the sum of its parts

Google Maps gave me four options for getting to Recovery Park from my downtown hotel: one-hour walk along an eight-lane M-3 then through a grass-covered neighbourhood; a 45-min walk-bus-bus-walk combination with buses running every 60 min; a 16-min bike ride on the vehicular road; or a 7-min drive on an interstate highway with a giant partial cloverleaf.

I resorted to Uber. Andrew, the Uber driver, swiftly took me to the neighbourhood, known as Chene Ferry, North Black Bottom or Poletown depending on who’s saying it. Following years of residential demolition works, nature transformed the land back to its beautiful green state, with vacant lots creating open spaces in a grid. It was a bizarre sight, reminding me of Christchurch after many landmark buildings had been demolished following the earthquakes. Unable to find signage, I got off the car in an approximate location and started walking, only to find Andrew drive back toward me 5 minutes later. “I think I found the building, and I didn’t want to leave you here walking around by yourself. I don’t know what this area is like – jump back in, I will take you”, he said and I obliged with much appreciation. Guns. I wonder if that’s what was on his mind. It certainly was on mine when I reached the building entry with signage that read ‘gun-free community’.

Being back in the US, my perception of safety is influenced by my lived experience in New Haven where I would receive regular email updates on local shootings from the police chief and my university would provide door-to-door shuttle escort service after 6pm. Prevalent media portrayals and data on gun violence and hate crimes don’t help. Detroit, despite its generally improving violent crime rate, still comes out on top as America’s Most Dangerous City.

Decline, bankruptcy, violence and poverty may have dominated Detroit’s headlines for decades, but the locals say the last three years have seen an unprecedented progress since the new mayor Mike Duggan took office. With good leadership, citizens have also gained momentum on their initiatives to serve their communities and build places. The local thought leaders I met with face complex challenges everyday yet see opportunities everywhere. Their resilience, expertise and empathy is changing Detroit one place, one neighbourhood at a time.

1Neighbourhood
Few buildings remain to tell a story of what Poletown used to be.
2Cadillac Place
Cadillac Place was General Motors’ world headquarters for 80 years till 2000.

 

Urban farming by people with barriers to employment

There was virtually nobody walking around but the evidence of community in Poletown East was visible in the public realm. A small community garden on a vacant lot, a custom-made bus shelter and a mural painted by high school summer program students – these are a few of the community projects that Recovery Park facilitated to bring life back between derelict factories and remaining houses. Its CEO Gary Wozniak takes me back to a time – only about 4-5 years ago – when the city went bankrupt. Two thirds of the street lights didn’t come on, buses didn’t run, garbage didn’t get picked up and street sweepers didn’t work. In that turmoil, people who could find opportunities elsewhere left. Only one third of its peak population (1.8 million in 1950) remain today.

While the Detroit Land Bank, an authority set up by the mayor to manage foreclosures, has been securing 96,000 properties and demolishing 11,900 abandoned and vacant houses, Recovery Park has been streamlining its not-for-profit and for-profit missions. Gary believes everybody should be given an opportunity to develop “a skillset to self-determine their lives long-term”. An ex-offender himself, he understands that for ex-offenders, integrating back into a community is not easy. De-institutionalisation takes time, when your time in prison had been spent following routines and instructions. Recovery Park Farm’s workforce is mainly made up of people with barriers to employment.

I get a tour of the greenhouses, which currently house 20 different products managed by a hydroponic grower Jeff Gilbert, farming manager Michelle Lutz and five associates. It is Monday and the team has just finished harvesting. I get a taste of a tiny freshly picked cucumber with a yellow flower – it’s crunchy and delicious. The rest of the vegetables would bring US$5-6,000 per week in revenue, purchased by regional produce distributors. Anna Kohn of the team explains the associates are provided not only with long-term employment but also wraparound support. “100% paid health benefit, housing, support with substance abuse, getting an ID, even opening a bank account”, she says, as well as above minimum wages, is all important for folks to feel stable and be able to come to work.

The team’s vision does not stop with eight high tunnels and five associates. There is a plan in motion to create a whole neighbourhood of 40 acres, which currently has 17 houses compared to 851 in the past. Gary gives me a tour in his yellow buggy: there are bioswales managing stormwater runoff; houses and lots recently purchased; a grant won from a Knight Arts Challenge that will be used next year to bring chamber music, jazz, blues concerts; a plan for businesses to move into a vacant school; and ambition to transform an old German-Polish meat market into a community gathering spot. Their vision is a place where people have stable housing, meaningful work and a renewed sense of community.

5Recovery Park Farm
The Recovery Park team discuss the day’s harvest in front of a high tunnel.
3Office
Recovery Park office building has a mural painted by high school students during a summer program. In the background is an abandoned building waiting to be demolished.

 

Wraparound support for village-making

The Collective impact model is also at the heart of Focus:HOPE, a civil and human rights organisation founded following the 1967 riots to start ‘fighting racism, poverty and injustice’. Its long history and concrete mission has led to several organisational arms, ranging from food distribution and workforce programs to placemaking and neighbourhood network development. It serves a community that has repeatedly suffered from spatial injustice and human rights violations: water being cut off in occupied homes, overruled community voices, lack of schools, racial covenants, to name a few. Now with 92% of vacant lots secured, Focus:HOPE is working on the HOPE Village initiative, with the aim to support about 5,300 residents in a 100-block area impacted by riots, blight and disinvestment; and ‘by the year 2031, 100% of neighborhood residents will be educationally well-prepared, economically self-sufficient, and living in a safe, supportive environment’. Stephanie Johnson-Cobb, a community development specialist, wants to change the local mentality of young people who feel this is a place where they grow up but where they leave to get jobs and live in the suburbs. The Village includes a Center for Working Families to support with financial literacy, credit repair and employment; an arts department with various cultural programs; and Cool Cities Park.

4FocusHope
Stephanie Johnson-Cobb illustrates HOPE Village initiative’s various programs.

 

Micro entrepreneurship

Detroit’s abundance of land offers numerous possibilities but invites blight when left uncared for. Detroit Future City (DFC), a NFP organisation that oversees the implementation of a community-led vision for Detroit, is guiding Detroiters to help keep their neighbourhoods safe and beautiful. Working with Lots – a Field Guide is a book of local examples and ideas that aims to bring a ‘green culture shift’; starting a conversation about blight and beauty, abandonment and maintenance. It began as a landscape-focused program to help individuals and communities use and maintain vacant lots, but the DFC team is starting to see its impact also as a channel to engage young people about stormwater management and food security.

Detroit’s entrepreneurial spirit perhaps has always been there, nurtured through its long manufacturing history. Citizens, when left with broken systems, found ways to improve their own lives, but there is no doubt organisational support accelerates the process. Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), in its 7th year of existence, aims to diversify Detroit’s economy by supporting creative practitioners. It is an incubator for designers to test ideas, form a network and develop early stage ventures. The city has a unique history and entrepreneurial spirit to draw from, and is on its way to solidify its designation as a UNESCO City of Design.

10Painter
A portrait artist activates Greektown.

 

Greater than the sum of its parts

How will these efforts connect spatially, economically and socio-culturally to form a stronger whole? Detroit covers a large area of 360km² (compared to Vancouver’s 114km², with a similar population). It was originally designed to be automobile dependent and the culture hasn’t shifted drastically. Many still live in detached homes in the suburbs, some a few vacant lots apart. What’s stopping people from living in downtown? The reasons vary from the perception of safety, affordability, lack of schools, childcare and supermarkets, to transport options – public transport is not great, drivers are stuck with expensive car insurance in the metro area, and retail doesn’t yet support everyday living.

Downtown is changing fast however, owing to investors like Dan Gilbert, a Detroit-born billionaire and Founder & Chairman of Quicken Loans, a mortgage lender. His real estate arm, Bedrock continues to acquire properties in downtown (this 2015 map shows 45 ‘Gilbert properties’). With building upgrades, investment into the public realm and amenities is on the way. Vacant buildings are being refurbished. More chain stores are moving in.

A city that has long suffered from class and race struggles, Detroit’s downtown is an opportunity to reset the course. Will the new downtown offer something for folks in HOPE Village, Recovery Park and new immigrants, as well as new professionals moving in? Or will the communities live in their own bubbles?

Supporting micro businesses with street level retail spaces, new restaurants sourcing ingredients from local urban farms, and public realm improvements upskilling future designers – I left Detroit thinking about the possibilities, greater than the sum of its parts.

6Campus Martius Park
Campus Martius Park is the city’s major civic hub. In the background is Campus Martius Building, which houses Quicken Loans’ headquarters.
7Vacant Buildings
My walking tour guide points to the building on the right as a lovely apartment where he lives in. The rest of the high rises are currently vacant but being refurbished.
8BID
Greektown is included in the Downtown Detroit Business Improvement Zone.
9Greektown
Public realm investment is evident is Greektown.

 

Many thanks to these organisations:

 This blog post was made possible by Westpac Social Change Fellowship, during which Julia Suh is visiting 15 cities to learn from their governments, social enterprises, consultants, academics and community organisers about how they are addressing inequality via design and management of the public realm and bringing about positive change. 

Urbanism & ethics: Londoners changing the business of city-making

I would have liked to have taken a class titled urbanism & ethics at the school of architecture 20 years ago, alongside modern architecture, urban design and environmental science. In that class, I imagine, we would learn to design and critique plans and strategies through the lens of ethics, and ask ourselves ‘does this harm any individuals or organisations in the process of change’, and ‘how can it create long-term, multiple-level positive impacts on the individuals involved and beyond’.

We often hear stories of displaced residents and gentrified neighbourhoods. Through the development process, somebody, knowingly or unknowingly, made specific decisions that led to the outcomes; decisions that would affect the most people without financial resources and social capital and have no control over the change. Urban development professionals can hugely impact people’s lives yet we don’t talk about moral principles as the basis for decision-making. Doctors are required to study medical ethics. Teachers are required to adhere to the code of ethics. Urbanists should recognise the magnitude of our ability to touch people’s lives directly, especially as our contact with participants increases with participatory planning.

 

The ethics lens

I spent two weeks at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) studying Qualitative Research Methods. While discussing methods, research ethics would at all times underlie the application of methods and engagement of participants. ‘Doing the right thing’ sometimes is not so clear-cut. I have worked on projects where conflicts of interest arose between resident groups; where I had to regularly question the validity of informed consent from vulnerable participants; where I had to navigate the reality of the project outcomes and participants’ expectations. There are no text book answers. But at least we – all those involved in decision-making including the communities — can dissect our processes and outcomes through the ethics lens; and ultimately take responsibility for them.

 

Regular practices with a difference

At LSE, the diversity of students was great. From Japan to Saudi Arabia, and from human rights to finance, the scope of qualitative research questions was broad and considerations for data collection and analysis extensive. If the students had one thing in common perhaps, that would be our desire to understand social realities and scrutinise the way each of our industries has been doing things. In parallel to the more academic hours at LSE, I met with organisations bringing about social change through urban development practices.

London’s challenges are similar to Sydney’s: increasing wealth gap, lack of affordable housing, exclusive privately owned public spaces, spatial disparity, just to name a few. Finding organisations that are responding to these challenges in big and small ways wasn’t easy – they don’t promote themselves as ethical companies, they are just regular practices that essentially have positive impact as the core mission.

1Charles Booth
Charles Booth‘s ethnographic studies illustrate interesting assumptions — we can learn what to and what not to do from history (photo taken from Map Descriptive of London Poverty, 1898-9, Second Edition).

 

Emotional, financial, physical investment into community

Developers who share the locals’ aspiration for cohesive communities are changing the traditionally profit-driven industry. Chris Brown, Executive Chair and Founder of Igloo Regeneration (Igloo), a ‘real estate business’, understands how getting the right mix of individuals who care about their neighbourhood can create a sense of community. We met at Bermondsey Square, Igloo’s recently completed mixed-use development. From having been an economically and spiritually important gathering place as Bermondsey Abbey, to having hosted over 100 years of market activities, perhaps it is only right that the place remains as a community hub. Igloo had a few ideas to make that happen.

Apartments were sold to owner occupiers, who are allowed to only rent under exceptional circumstances such as bankruptcy or moving overseas. They sold quickly and the residents are willing to invest into their new neighbourhood, emotionally, financially and physically. Each household, along with the commercial occupiers, puts in approximately £50-100 per year in Community Fund, which supports various improvements and community events determined by volunteer representatives. The local authority typically doesn’t provide funding or deliver community programs for the area, so citizens self-organise.

The mix of businesses were carefully selected in order to bring social and financial benefit, and got the funders’ buy-in. The community wanted a supermarket, and Sainsbury came on board with the ground level frontage dedicated to local artists to use as an art gallery. A boutique hotel was selected instead of a big chain. A small art house cinema moved in, run by a local, who “knows everybody, a Jane Jacobs character”, Chris elaborated.

Every regeneration comes with its own challenges. Talking about classism, Chris points to a café and a sandpit in the background. Those who could afford to buy in the open market, can probably afford to sit comfortably in the café. Those who bought at a subsidised rate might have a different experience in the square, with preferences for free activities. Do they mix? Not really. Chris would like to see this improved, and mentions the missing middle-income families as a potential tie between the two.

The whole neighbourhood is going through big changes. Walking to London Bridge Station, we stopped at various signs of gentrification. There is an industrial-chic bakery selling baked goods at a price many can’t afford. There is a pop-up florist, selling a handful of wild flowers for £8. White Cube, a new contemporary commercial art gallery moved in a few years ago, bearing criticism it isn’t psychologically accessible to many locals. What will happen next? Chains are expected soon. We don’t have all the answers to gentrification yet. But an investment methodology like igloo footprint® that puts people at heart is a good start.

2Bermondsey Square
Chris Brown of Igloo Regeneration tells the story of Bermondsey Square.
3Gentrification
A beautiful pop-up florist activates the street. It may be followed by more price points that many locals can’t afford.

 

Housing as a human right, not a commodity

Like-minded businesses attract each other. Igloo and London Community Land Trust (London CLT) are working together with an aligned commitment to deliver positive social, environmental outcomes for various housing projects. They made a bid for St Clements in Mile End, and got outbid, but London CLT was invited to work with another developer. They recently completed 23 community land trust homes. Including 58 social rent homes by Peabody, affordable homes make up 35% of the site, integrated into various blocks totalling 252 homes. People have started moving in in June this year, with more expected later in the year.

I joined a group of locals at London CLT’s Q&A session at a resident’s home at St Clements to hear first-hand what the resident’s experience has been like and what potential CLT homeowners care about. Salman, born and raised in Tower Hamlets, wanted to retain roots there, but says he was just working to pay the rent. “Even if my siblings and I combined all our incomes, we still couldn’t afford to buy our mum’s house”, he added. Salman moved into a 2-bedroom CLT apartment with his family two weeks ago, which he purchased for £182,000, about 1/3 of the market cost. He had been one of 24,000 people in Tower Hamlets waiting for social housing and had been waiting for five years when his application for a CLT home was approved. He was selected out of about 300 applicants based on eligibility criteria. They include the applicant’s relationship with the local community for at least five years (e.g. living, working), housing need (e.g. priced out, currently living in overcrowded housing), and placement in the housing ladder (e.g. stuck between not being a priority for council and unable to buy in the open market). The idea is to attract active citizens who want to be part of a community.

Salman now has the security of a 250-year lease, until which time the home can be sold back to the land trust and kept affordable. He is in a good position compared to many Londoners who still remain disconnected from their communities and uncertain financial future.

4LondonCLT
St Clements’ social and affordable housing comprises 35% of the total number of homes.

 

Employment & capacity building

Public realm design projects are opportunities for communities to upskill and demonstrate their ability in the process of change and beyond. Thinking about how to scale the impact of Urban Toolbox, meeting London businesses (see the end for full list) with similar goals was inspirational. Make:good’s community engagement is nowhere conventional, involving chutney-making, popcorn-popping, cardboard-playground-making activities and reaching out to those socially excluded. Meanwhile Space repurposes left-over vacant buildings in underserved neighbourhoods and supports creatives to flourish with a strong network and cheap rent, adjusted to suit what each tenant can afford to pay.

Ben Coles, Groundwork’s Director of Communities and Environmental Services, understands barriers to employment can be more than about skills, being job-ready matters. Groundwork’s training program hires people to deliver urban landscaping works, including people that suffer from chronic unemployment. Job seekers can get placements through a job centre and work on various sites over a 12-week period or longer. The course completion rate is 60-70% and the module is accredited (e.g. sustainable drainage) and can lead to other jobs. Groundwork also fills the gap for corporate teams wanting team building experiences that are more meaningful than just going on a retreat. Under the supervision of Groundwork staff, the teams help build community projects, with knowledge that their work contributes to the wider community. Groundwork is a landscape consultancy, employment provider, training school, community development agency and team building facilitator all in one, that started taking a holistic approach to spatial design 30 years ago.

Today’s urban development industry requires more generalists, more multi-disciplined approaches, and more value-creation than ever before. The majority of the thought leaders I met with are young-ish, design-trained generalists, who felt disheartened by our industry’s loyalty to the way things have always been done. How do we prepare our next generation of architects, landscape and urban designers, developers and planners for a world that will demand more than the physical form and function? Back in Edinburgh, I had a chat with Diarmaid Lawlor, head of Place at Architecture and Design Scotland, about the future of our industry.

5Roof East
Roof East is one of Groundwork’s projects, which transformed a roof car park into a social hub. People gather for food and drink, games, outdoor cinema and live music. And to have a look at vintage sports cars filled with plants.

 

The future of design profession

Diarmaid doesn’t talk like a typical designer and thinks like a systems designer. He says beautiful drawings are not enough, yet many architects and urban designers are not thinking about the bigger system. Architects are often locked to a fee-based future directly linked to construction and their power taken away by the project manager. What should be the role of architects in the future? “Possibility planning”, Diarmaid says – letting the creative mind explore what the space could be.

Systems designers are stewards concerned with the long-term sustainability of the place and I hope our future designers are trained to think this way. Diarmaid cites a social housing example in Rotterdam, where the tenants had to get creative when they didn’t receive the anticipated funding following the global financial crisis. They got together, self-organised and began to manage their building better. Former electricians began to use their old skills, and other tenants acquired new skills. A new social contract was formed essentially, where shared maintenance became the norm.

“Space” and “ability to organise”, Diarmaid says, are critical to sustainable places. We need to provide room (physical and metaphorical) for people to negotiate what their future might look like and appropriate it accordingly. This means we need fuller understanding of the communities we work with – what is the social interaction like, is there peer support, who are the butterflies and introverts? Nearing the end of our chat, he reminds me that the ‘right to the city’ also includes the right not to participate, which we must respect.

Designers don’t share much liability when their designs don’t turn out to be conducive to people’s wellbeing. Architectural awards are given shortly after the project completion, not after measuring its impact over 10 years and beyond. Should we be sharing the risk of stewardship, not just that of functional performance? How do we foster stewardship in design and planning schools? I mulled over on my last day in London at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, where the dead watched hundreds of Shuffle goers celebrate urbanism and creativity.

9Cemetery
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park is alive with music, games, picnics and film screening.

 

Many thanks to these organisations:

 

This blog post was made possible by Westpac Social Change Fellowship, during which Julia Suh is visiting 15 cities to learn from their governments, social enterprises, consultants, academics and community organisers about how they are addressing inequality via design and management of the public realm and bringing about positive change.