Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Participatory Urbanism

Local architect Manuel Avila Ochoa has a great idea, and he wants your input. His project, Participatory Urbanism Crown Heights, "takes a landscape urbanism approach to rethink residual spaces adjacent spaces to the Franklin Avenue shuttle train towards a new public space network. The project is founded on the idea of creating a common ground for residents, business owners, governmental entities and local community organizations for a more plural public spaces in the context of a diverse emergent community in the Crow Hill/Crown Heights neighborhood." Perhaps most exciting is that community input, in the form of web-based participation, is built into the project. To register your thoughts and suggest ways to design the spaces outlined above, follow this link.

While this project, supported in part by Superfront, is purely exploratory and creative at the moment, it suggests some fabulous potential uses for the area's liminal zones. NostrandPark, who reported on this project last week, asked whether we need more public space in Crown Heights (they're in favor). I'm of the opinion that we could always use a little more breathing room in NYC, and I particularly like the idea of repurposing the spaces near the shuttle for pedestrians. If you've got an opinion, make it heard at


  1. Theoretically, this is an interesting project. My concern with something like this in the "emergent" Crown Heights is that the implementation of the project will favor the perspective of certain members of the community over others. If the architect is planning to use his project to apply for funding sources or otherwise act on individual suggestions, I'd recommend that he consider how to expand his participatory base beyond the Web. He'd have to raise awareness outside of blogs such as (much as I personally enjoy it) Ilovefrannklinave and NostrandPark.

    I sometimes think we invest too much excitement in advancing technologies' ability to create and sustain community. Meanwhile a group like Crow Hill Community Association that brings people together physically keeps us real.

  2. I believe the artist is setting up notebooks and suggestion stands at various locations throughout the neighborhood for this exact reason(they aren't in place yet, but are on their way). From what I know, he is looking to locate them at LaunchPad, The Community Garden on Franklin Ave, and at local coffee shops. You should post your concern on his website though, just to make sure he gets your message because it is a great point!

  3. He spoke at the last Crow Hill Community Association meeting. Very cool ideas.

  4. This isn't about getting everyone's input as much as it is getting permission from the MTA.

    (I assume MTA owns the spaces he wants to make "public".)

    While an interesting project, unless he gets local politicians (H. Jefferies, L. James, etc) and people with money on board, this thing will just remain drawings.

    ....maybe a petition and some initial seed money is where the artist/planner should start.

  5. Getting everyone's input is the cornerstone of the artist's project, what makes it unusual, and the reason why Nick highlighted it on ilovefranklinave. Sounds like Manuel is doing a great job at it too! He deserves praise for seeking innovative ways for community members to come together around an idea. That's how ideas are fostered and consensus is built before the hard work of implementation. Vision - and not funds - are needed first.

    Good luck, Manuel!

  6. Thanks for all your comments! I really appreciate all this input.

    As Lana mentioned, I am starting to leave some notebooks in some places in the neighborhood. Hoping to make this conversation more accessible to the neighborhood.

    The first "what would you like in this space?" notebook is on the counter of the Jewish hospital laundry. I should have more locations available soon!

    If you are a store/business owner in the neighborhood and want to host one of these notebooks please let me know. I will designate a space in the blog for your business logo or photo.


  7. I'm not sure that soliciting the public's opinion makes Manuel at all unusual, but do think that any vision must be backed up with some funds and/or political pressure.

    I wish this were a city where one could easy get the public to weigh in on such matters, or in which public opinions were given greater value.

    So, until that changes, I'd approach those with power: Get them behind it. Get some money. Get momentum.

    Along the way, give the folks who like to be involved in such things (CD8, CHCA, etc.) an opportunity to weigh in, but don't get bogged down with trying to make everyone happy: MTA may never be happy, and will need convincing via power.

    You'll also likely find people who want the spaces just to remain the way they are; they'll never be happy either.

    Like all realistic "participatory" projects, yours has a deadline for public commentary. If you can get a core group behind your ideas, you are off to a good start. And, perhaps it doesn't need to be said, be able to show that you tried to involve everyone.

    ...this way if you do somehow get this created, you can know (in good conscience) that you tried to make as many people happy as possible when you get complaints from those who aren't happy.

  8. MikeF - Some brilliant gems of suggestions in there.

    Very curious to observe, and participate when possible, this progress of this project.

  9. "I wish this were a city where one could easy get the public to weigh in on such matters, or in which public opinions were given greater value."

    How would you imagine such a shift would happen? Might it happen from people actually coalescing around ideas and organizing from the bottom up?

    We have enough top-down "just get those in power on your side" politics in this city as it is.

    Keep going, Manuel. Even if nothing comes of it, practice (or should I say praxis?) makes perfect. People need to flex their imaginative muscles and re-learn people power.

  10. While the ULURP process isn't perfect, it tries to balance the wishes and momentum of those in power with wishes of community residents.

    ....without it:

    -Builders and dreamers would always be bogged down in defending themselves against allegations of "ramming things down the community's throat"

    -The public would actually have no voice

    -We'd left be a choice of "building nothing until we get consensus" or only "building what our elected officials and developers want".

    Getting thru ULURP is hard enough.

    Although I smoked my fair share, I've come to realize that creating consensus in NYC is largely a stoner's dream.

    Good luck avoiding those who insist "everyone must be represented and on board" before something is built, they are the demise of lots of good ideas.

  11. Beautiful, Adam: let's all work on putting things into praxis together!

  12. I'll bring the weed.

    ....and builders will hopefully get things done around us while we toke.

    It'll be great.

  13. Communication is just a dream? No wonder the world's going to pot.

  14. Are you familiar with ULURP and its communication requirements?

    Like most good regulations and policies, it is seen by builders as requiring too much public input, and by the public as requiring too little.

    This project is only a conceptual one, but it would be subject to ULURP if it were to be actually attempted.

    Praxis and consensus are dreams, but you can try to paint me as being against "communication" if it makes you feel successful.

    ....hey, who said the world was going to pot? I thought meth was the new in thing.

  15. Sorry to see this comment thread get taken over by negativity. The source seems only to be a single person (who feels disempowered by the political process, but not the internet process, lol), but it's still discouraging.

    Anyway, wanted to give a shout out to Manuel and his project: Don't get discouraged by the negativity. (Or, as they say in the 'hood, don't listen to the haters.) Love to see people with such positive energy bringing people together! Keep doing the good work!