After our visit to Inspiration Kitchens – Garfield Park in Chicago, our Bruner Foundation team headed south to Kentucky to Louisville Waterfront Park. Submitted by Waterfront Development Corporation Inc. (WDC), the 85-acre riverfront park, which was developed over more than two decades, reconnects the city of Louisville with the Ohio River.
Waterfront Wednesday evening concerts draw crowds to the waterfront park. Photograph: Wales Hunter, Nfocus Images
We arrived in Louisville to spring-like weather in time to join the city in cheering on the University of Louisville Cardinals men’s and women’s basketball teams in their national championship games. Louisville Waterfront Park is the largest and most established project among the 2013 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence finalists we’ve visited to date, including Congo Street Initiative, Via Verde and Inspiration Kitchens. We spent two and a half days on site, touring the park and meeting with WDC staff, board members, and consultants, as well as event sponsors and representatives from the design community and mayor’s office.
Festival Plaza and the Great Lawn offer spaces for large events and connect downtown Louisville with the river. Photograph: Bruner Foundation
Louisville Waterfront Park has transformed industrial land along the Ohio River occupied by an elevated highway, sand and gravel companies, and scrap yards into a new riverside park and gateway to the city. Planning for the park began in 1986 with the creation of the WDC, a quasi-public agency that was incorporated to oversee the development of Louisville’s riverfront. WDC held a series of ten public meetings soliciting input on proposed development of the site that yielded a strong desire for green space. Subsequently, they initiated an international search for a design firm beginning with a Request for Qualifications to which 85 firms responded. Hargreaves Associates, one of four firms invited to Louisville to meet with WDC and city representatives to present its ideas, was ultimately selected to create the master plan and design for the $95 million park. (more…)
Max Zahniser doesn’t usually make house calls. As a leader in sustainability and integrative, systems thinking he lends his expertise to wide ranging building projects and organizations. He promotes green practices on a national level and has been at the inception of advanced thinking in that arena.
Zahniser doesn’t just paint with a broad brush. Son of two psychologists, he knows more than most that “relationships matter.” When it comes to collaborations, he wisely encourages “enlightened self-interest rather than right or wrong.”
To give you a better idea of his philosophy Zahniser will tell you that systems thinking is his foundation for understanding the world. He rejects a fragmented, specialized worldview and ascribes to the dawning “Age of Integration,” anticipated decades ago by Buckminster Fuller and Lewis Mumford. In contrast to healthy interdependence, Zahniser sees Philadelphia as an example of “dispersed environmental initiatives.” His new Sustainability Nexus enterprise aims to pull that all together.
PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE
I asked Zahniser to pack up the best of his design insights and conceptual diagrams into a tool kit he could take to any neighborhood to foster grass roots green initiatives, so to speak. As with the famed “Powers of Ten” illumination of scale by Charles and Ray Eames, presumably, what can heal a neighborhood, can heal a city and so on.
“This diagram (above) is used to demonstrate that, at some level, the understanding of interdependent systems is innate because every culture in history has had a version of these elements. When we ‘remind’ people of them, they immediately unlock the ability to identify a pretty holistic set of impacts and even system dynamics.” — Max Zahniser
“Green Traffic Triangles” Grays Ferry, Philadelphia
Triangles at Grays Ferry is an organization that Zahniser sees as a potential “patient” (or client). They are pushing for the greening and enhanced safety of 3 small, bleak traffic islands in their neighborhood. I met up with Andrew Dalzell, program coordinator for SOSNA (South of South St. Neighborhood Association) heading the Triangles project, for coffee at the tiny Ants Pants Cafe near the Triangles site. Dalzell is a sharp, energetic guy who built upon his background in European history and a stint working for the City Planning Commission on zoning reform, attaining a salaried position as a neighborhood advocate.
IDEAS INTO ACTION
Andrew Dalzell (left) Max Zahniser (right) before a recent SOSNA board meeting Photo: Joseph G. Brin © 2013
My plan was to bring Zahniser and Dalzell to the table to see how they might initiate progress at ground level. Previous efforts at the Triangles had fallen short of the city-required unanimous neighborhood support and, thus, grant funding for implementation.
From his laptop Zahniser quickly reveals how his concepts are eminently scalable. “They’re vector,” he says. The diagrams, with their streamlined, fundamental approach to collaboration, analysis and implementation, can easily tune from mega building complexes to humble traffic triangles.
Zahniser already sees the Triangles as the locus to capture and reuse everything from storm water to solar energy, contributing directly to city services. Essentially, they become nodes to purify water and generate energy, propagating a new, healing network for the city.
Amiable and approachable, Zahniser projects ahead to the not-so-distant future when there are crises of available resources and climate induced calamities. He has adjusted his thinking to focus on life supporting, “regenerative” systems – even little bits of leftover space are now to be marshaled for service and comfort. Such a fine-grained approach, I believe, allows us to truly appreciate and gain a handle on the enormity of the environmental tasks we face.
Incidentally, though Zahniser is passionately consumed with sustainability, he is not entirely sanguine that the public and governmental will to succeed is guaranteed. Indeed, that may be what drives him forward – bringing both himself and Dalzell up against opposition to change. “It will take education,” asserts Zahniser. Dalzell adds enthusiastically, “If we can show you that you don’t have to be content with the status quo, that would be a powerful demonstration!”
Professor Zahniser is about to engage Dalzell and the Triangles at Grays Ferry group as a case study for his built-environment design course at Drexel University, a cross-disciplinary application of his sustainability principles. He will guide 5 student teams to study the “5 key subsystems” applied to the Grays Ferry neighborhood. All teams will then contribute to 3 outcome categories.
The real challenge facing Zahniser’s students, however, is not just visionary design. It’s about “buy in,” motivating people with the right incentives to achieve consensus. Reconciling system dynamics with human dynamics is at the heart of any breakthroughs. His students will need to learn, early on, how to walk that line, not putting it off until later when they may have lost the audience they needed to reach. At the very least, to become good, responsive designers they will have to become acute listeners.
At another time I will bring you into the classroom as the students begin to assimilate knowledge from their contact with and study of the Grays Ferry community. Lofty ideas will be put to the test, critiqued by the very people who would live with the resulting designs.
Above: Current proposal for south triangle | Campbell Thomas & Co. Architects
Below: North triangle – Past, present & future
JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED
SOSNA literature describes the hidden potential of the traffic triangles they are championing as “one small link in a chain of public spaces,” ripe for improvement.
The effort the Triangles represent promotes healing for this or any other city with a combination of resourcefulness, teamwork and, hopefully, money. The care invested in this postage stamp sized real estate will ripple outwards setting new standards for larger scale usability, sustainability, and safety. A stronger, green connection can then blossom between disparate urban neighborhoods.
When it comes to traffic, no island is an island.
Joseph G. Brin is an architect, fine artist and writer based in Philadelphia. Brin has just completed his first graphic novel, on legendary gangster, Alphonse Gabriel Capone.
The planning profession has reached something of a critical juncture. This is not, of itself, a particularly interesting revelation; to hear planners talk about it, our profession is pretty much always reaching some sort of critical juncture, crossroads, etc. This time, however, we might be onto something.
I recently finished plodding my way through editor Roger Elwood’s Future City, an early-seventies anthology of “new wave” science fiction takes on (wait for it…) the “Future City.” The contributions were unerringly pessimistic, forecasting a future of out-of-control urbanism roughly on the model of the South Bronx circa 1977, but With Added Fancy Computers. The contributions were also, and again unerringly, wrong. The archetypal City of 2012 hardly resembles the nightmares they envisioned, and the attitudes towards urbanism held by many of the stories’ characters are, if anything, even more distant from the current re-awakening of interest in all things urban.
In previous posts on Landscape Urbanism, I’ve argued that the narrative of urbanism—the one accepted by both the mass media and highbrow magazine monthlies—is up for grabs at the moment. It’s changing, to be sure, but through an international, multi-media conversation the results of which nobody can yet foresee. For as long as this conversation is ongoing, it’s perhaps not beyond reason to propose that we’ve all got a certain moral duty to flag both its best and worst contributors for either praise or derision.
Urban Composition: Developing Community through Design is Childs’s contribution to the Architecture Briefs: Foundations in Architecture series published by Princeton Architectural Press. The series, we’re informed, is “designed to address of a variety of single topics of interest… in a user-friendly manner alongside the basics of architectural thought, design and construction.” Though ostensibly written for “architecture students and professionals,” Childs’s Urban Composition could be enjoyed just as easily by the interested layman.
In Urban Composition, Mark C. Childs presents not only an introduction to the practice of conscientious urban design, but also advances an optimistic, collectivist vision of civil composition’s contribution to the commonwealth. Image courtesy Princeton Architecture Press
Hilary Jay is a dynamo. She presides over DesignPhiladelphia at the University of the Arts, an impressively democratic array of design events, exhibitions, lectures, open studios, demonstrations, and street happenings, reached by some 200,000 people each fall. Jay thus proudly stakes her claim on “design as destination.”
DesignPhiladelphia follows Philadelphia’s great tradition of free access to many important cultural institutions. Jay notes, “Most of our programs are free and open to the public. I work hard to remove barriers to entry. DesignPhiladelphia is a great equalizer.”
PlayPhilly Big Chalkers, four-foot adult sized ‘sidewalk chalk’ crayons.
Project: Giacomo Ciminello and Kristin Freese Photo: Jackie Starker
AIGA Pressed: A Hands-on Letterpress Workshop held at Two Paper Dolls (using antique Vandercook press)
Photo: Johanna Austin
Jay, as executive director and one of the founders of DesignPhiladelphia, has seen exponential growth in programming as well as attendance since its 2005 debut. Her goal is to harness the energy of this growing economic engine by facilitating designers’ connections. “We need to get people out of their silos to broaden their experience and increase their income,” she says.
DesignPhiladelphia event (handmade signage)
Photo: Louis Cook
I’ll admit I was a little skeptical when I cracked open Taras Grescoe’s latest book Straphanger, which is both paean to public transportation and an evisceration of car culture. Living happily car-free in New York, I feared I might be the choir to the Montrealer’s preaching. But while the book—part history, part travelogue, and part manifesto—might not seem terribly radical to city-dwellers, Grescoe makes the argument for mass transit in a way you might not have heard before.
In the course of writing Straphanger, Grescoe visited a dozen cities across the world and spent considerable time getting to know their transit systems, figuring out how and why they work (or don’t). After a short prologue in Shanghai, Grescoe starts his global commute in New York, where the subway system maintains a tetchy coexistence with street-level planning that’s historically favored cars over pedestrians. Subsequent cities each provide a slightly different perspective on transportation: Phoenix gives us a primer on the difficulties of low-density sprawl; Copenhagen is a model of bike-friendly infrastructure; Bogotá’s rapid bus system proves how quickly a mass transit network can be rolled out from scratch.
Despite being one of the most crowded transit systems in the world, Moscow’s Metro is endowed with spacious, luxuriously appointed stations. Image via Wikimedia Commons.