City is an inevitable space of life for the modern people. The skyline that we are currently experiencing, the plaza, parks, natural environments and so forth are mostly the result of the city plan that was systemized in the past, and until now, the urban space was planned to play its role in line with the usage that was planned and defined based on function. Various parts of cities that achieved industrial competitiveness by prioritizing efficiency and economics is far from ‘user-centric approaches’ and achieving ‘sustainability’ that is the focus of today’s society. Future city should be restructured into a space that can enable exchange and circulation based on the needs and the thoughts of citizens or stakeholders of local communities, and aged spaces and the environment should be improved to resolve urban issues.
Tate Modern Museum (www.tate.org.uk) The High Line (www.thehighline.org) Evergreen Brick Works (www.evergreen.ca)
Tate Modern Museum in London, UK, remodeled the coal-fired power plant that used to be neglected, and The High Line in New York, US, transformed a 30 years-old overhead railway into a street and park that one would want to take a stroll on. These are representative cases that revitalized the aged urban spaces into a public space where residents can easily have interactions and exchanges. In particular, The High Line that is being operated through various donations and sponsorship of citizens and other rental profit emerged as a key park of New York to operate programs for various age groups and communities including horticulture, meditative walking, gardening, exercise, dance and networking, and the value and identity of public space are being maintained through the voluntary management and cooperation by citizens and private organizations. In addition, students of the Rotterdam University of Applied sciences and startup companies utilized the abandoned site of RDM, a shipbuilding company that used to represent the shipbuilding industry of the Netherlands, to enhance regional productivity, and Evergreen Brick Works, located in downtown Toronto, Canada, formed a vitalized public space in the city by reconstructing closed brick factory into a hub for environmental activities, as well as a community and market for local farmers.
RDM Rotterdam Campus (www.rdmrotterdam.nl)
As such, today’s cities are not only enhancing aged facilities of the cities, but are also attempting to use the regional potential while focusing on community-based participation and creating high-quality public space that can contribute to the quality of life and happy and healthy life of citizens. In this report, we will look into the need to establish a community-based public space in the future through cases that vitalized buildings or regions through user-centric approach and design.
Public space project for people, Parking Day
Parking Day Project that first started in San Francisco in US began with continuous consideration on the plan to design, construct and use the city. Parking Day is a global public participation project where global citizens temporarily change the usage of parking spaces on the roadside to turn it into safer and more eco-friendly public parks and social spaces.
Roads of cities are mainly planned to be suited to movement of vehicles and parking, and pedestrians end up using only a part of these roads while avoiding cars. In 2005, Reber Group, an art studio in San Francisco, discovered that 20-30% of land in San Francisco is actually being used as roads, and 70-80% of space excluding sidewalks consists of space for cars and parking. Reber Group wondered about how to make a better use of space that cars are occupying in a city with insufficient public space, and collaborated with Trust for Public Land to place resting items such as grass, trees and benches on some parking spaces in downtown San Francisco, carrying out experiments to provide a small public space that allows citizens to take rest for about two hours. This experiment was the start of the Parking Day Project that utilizes parking spaces as parks on the third Friday and Saturday of September every year in 140 or so cities of 21 countries. Currently, Parking Day in each city has transformed in line with the regional characteristics through participation of communities and ideas of residents to actively support guerilla art projects, exhibitions and design activities.
The manual for Parking Day provides guidance and implementation method of Parking Day, so that the Parking Day event that has spread to different countries across the globe can allow idle spaces in the city and parking spaces to be used legitimately, enabling various users to interact in these spaces. This manual is meaningful in that it not only involves people who are participating in the Parking Day event by simply changing the purpose of space, but also in that it proposes a guideline on the process for holding a flexible campaign that is in accordance with the circumstances of the region and the participants without harming the city landscape when installing and disassembling the temporary space.
Groundplay of San Francisco
City of San Francisco in US led the expansion of parklets (mini-parks on the roadside) through the Pavement to Parks program in 2009. Currently, it is operating the ‘Groundplay’ program that constructs temporary structures that makes a good use of small spaces in the city as resting spaces and children’s playgrounds. Groundplay aims to turn various spaces in the city such as parking spaces, rooftops, crowded roads or empty lots into venues filled with vitality that allow people to gather in various manners, and the creative works installed on streets can be removed after being installed for a short amount of time or be retained permanently depending on the project plan.
2016 Market Street Prototyping Festival (marketstreetprototyping.org)
‘2016 Market Street Prototyping Festival’, one of the cases of Groundplay, was implemented to turn Market Street into a livelier and more attractive sidewalk through 30 different works produced by designers, community groups and students. Feedbacks were gathered from a wide range of communities for many years based on the demands of San Francisco residents for vital and positive experience on sidewalks of Market Street, and people who are passionate about the city were encouraged to participate through community-led design.
As a result, unique immersive forest (Pop-up Forest) piqued interest about the value and importance of trees in the public areas of the city through installations created by landscape architects, and The Sidewalk Library decorated with murals enabled old books and new books to be circulated by installing news racks and bookcases that are made from upcycling rubber mat carpets where people can sit around to rood books. 3-dimensional Soundscape installed through a collaboration between architects and musicians (wav.field/artsy-urban soundscape) created an aesthetic lightweight cubic structure to the extent that does not harm the landscape or the Market Street, and immersive 3-dimensional sound is played from the speaker inside the structure to provide meditative experience and a moment of rest to citizens. This installation of Soundscape provides an opportunity to citizens who busily walk on the sidewalks to stop their daily activities briefly to take a rest and enjoy a short time of reflection, and ultimately, such activities provide a possibility to enjoy organic gatherings or environment in the city.
The Sidewalk Library and Soundscape of 2016 Market Street Prototyping Festival (marketstreetprototyping.org)
The case of the Market Street Prototyping Festival shows that implementation of initiatives consisting of quick experimentation and various forms of collaboration can provide multisensory public space experiences to many people who reside in the city and induce interest on large-scale urban issues or trigger communication. Groundplay finds importance in the possibility that ‘anyone can realize innovation anywhere through an inspiration’. Therefore, opportunities are provided and engagements are encouraged so that private partners in addition to the relevant personnel of the city government who participate directly in the administrative tasks can exhibit creativity and generate insights to achieve aspirations and satisfy the needs of the local community. The online platform that records the information about the activities of Groundplay, (https://groundplaysf.org),
is driving strong cooperation among community partners, city institutions and fund investors with a slogan that says, ‘Groundplay project starts from average citizens with ideas about the neighborhood and the community’.
Uni Project and public space program of Street Lab
Street Lab, a non-profit organization in New York, is an organization that creates and shares program to vitalize the local community and public spaces across New York, and carries out various activities to strengthen the bond among community members while improving the city landscape. It mainly uses the pop-up method to focus on public space, establishing solutions that cannot be easily implemented by communities, and the project is implemented through the construction of a collaborative governance by stakeholders such as small and medium-sized enterprises, artists, municipal governments and public institutions.
In 2011, Street Lab first launched the Uni Project, that started in the form of a portable library on the streets of New York to provide learning opportunities to citizens and children in low-income class families. The project focuses on fairness of resource and safety of local community together with New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and structures that were custom designed for middle or low-income communities were installed to provide various types of experiences such as reading books or drawing pictures. Outdoor reading rooms with a unique design were installed on 51 regions for approximately 4 years, they naturally drove citizens who are passing by to voluntarily engage in learning activities with an open heart by equipping the shelves with books, drawing board and high-quality art supplies. Rather than setting guidelines and regulations, autonomous operation was encouraged so that residents of the city could naturally accept learning activities and construct communities to recognize education as an enjoyable part of city life.
Street Lab actively cooperated with designers in the planning and designing stage of portable reading rooms based on the understanding that ‘design should embody consideration and respect for the community host and should provide a better experience to people’. Furthermore, it cooperated with architects, industrial designers, producers, artists and educators to develop pop-up infrastructure that can be used in all areas of New York, and such a portable reading room model that was developed is currently being made into kits to be distributed so that it can be imitated or expanded to other cities. The kit consists of the Uni Cube that has the module structure with magnets attached to allow 360 storage of books and materials, folding-type Uni Cart that can be spread both ways and solid and light Uni Bench that is manufactured with translucent polypropylene, and these components can be freely connected or disassembled to construct space as needed.
In 2020, Street Lab additionally identified table design solutions with two different heights that can be quickly assembled and taken apart to embrace citizens of all age groups and citizens with various capabilities based on the experience that had been accumulated for several years while providing educational service infrastructure in niche public spaces. In addition, no-touch obstacle kit was developed to establish a safe handsfree play area for children while vitalizing open space in the region after the pandemic. Recently, programs that can utilize the kits of Street Lab such as PLAY NYC, READ NYC, DRAW NYC were introduced to propose alternatives to resolve social issues in the community and issues involving children with less opportunities to learn, play and interact.
Many cities are continuing to grow gradually as a result of social changes and technological advancement, and as cities develop, we end up facing a phenomenon where infrastructure and hardware become more robust and the number of resting spaces and public spaces to be enjoyed by citizens decreases. As the city grows, issues on social structure, competitiveness and potential coexist.
As shown in aforementioned cases, well-made public spaces provide new and special experiences in unexpected places and add vitality to cities by presenting small joy that can be enjoyed by many people who reside in cities. From the perspective that the city landscape that has been formed based on the needs of citizens can lead to sustainable co-existence based on the participation and interactions of citizens, Parking Day and Groundplay are leveraging public spaces of cities in an ideal manner, and Street Lab Project produced kits so that hardware and software contents based on public spaces in cities can be widely spread while operating them in a sustainable manner. As such, small and large urban spaces and contents have the power to gather people in once place and encourage exchange.
We also need to focus on the use of design and construction of governance. In resolving various issues that we face in our everyday lives, design reaches out to the fundamental cause to eliminate inconveniences, embrace many people and propose specific approaches that consider the marginalized. Moreover, in order to vitalize the public space that is useful in the daily lives of the citizens, we must gather opinions and identify the needs of users, that is, the citizens, on top of the efforts of experts in each field. If design were to be actively utilized in activities that reconstruct and recreate space centering on communities, and if dynamic engagement of members were to be incorporated, public spaces across the city and contents that fill these spaces will raise the value of local community and bring about change that can be experienced by all through the improvement in quality of life for citizens. I hope that creative contents will be generated for public spaces in downtown Seoul and capability of the local community that can expand such values will be strengthened so that more genuine and open attempts will be iterated.
Writer | Seunghee Hong (HongIk University)