Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

Design critics: Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of Ecosistema Urbano

-Think Big-

With growing pressure and demands on city budgets today, municipalities are facing shortages of funds for many of their departments.  In particular, departments that focus on servicing and improving the public realm frequently face cuts in their annual and capital budgets. Often, this means that many urban public spaces don’t receive the attention that they need to meaningfully serve their residents.  A capital project to improve a public square may be shelved until brighter days in the city’s future.  Programs in the park may be cut back because there isn’t money to spend on community activities. Street furniture may slowly deteriorate as cities cut the funds dedicated to street amenities.

At the same time as funding for the public realm is frequently coming up short, public space continues to play a vital role in our cities. Public spaces cultivate community, spur economic activity, promote social cohesion, and enrich residents’ health and well-being, among many other important roles. Given this challenging fiscal climate in many cities, how can we continue to activate public spaces to foster community, connect residents to their neighborhoods and each other, and create vibrant cities in a cost effective manner?  How can we sustain activated public spaces in the long term?

-Start small-

Although I have ideas about how to start tackling this problem this from the top, I am going to begin exploring answers to this question by starting bottom-up, by implementing my own public space interventions and “learning by doing.”  I hope to develop many ideas and try to implement them as I can, thus allowing the process of innovation&implementation to produce outcomes, which I can then learn from – nurturing and learning from both success and failure.  In the process, I hope to engage and involve local organizations and/or municipal departments to form a broader understanding of connections between organizations, residents, the city, and how collaborations can be formed to cost-effectively activate public spaces.

-Act now-

I’ve been speaking with experts in the GSD community and at the City of Boston, and I have a few more contacts I’ll be contacting soon.  I’m still refining my ideas for the kinds of interventions I would like to do.  I would like to implement an intervention in the back yard of Gund Hall, and I’m working with building services to try to make it happen.  I also am studying the Cambridge Common space to start planning some interventions there.

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