Sometimes all it takes is one person to start a neighborhood to start talking and engaging with one another. Someone moves in and throws an open house. Or even a garage sale. So how can art, or an artist, inject “love and play” into a community, particularly when the younger generations trust each other less than ever before?
San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks is on a three-week mission across several different cities to explore just that, and hopefully get some “creative intervention” going in these urban areas.
One Franks’s planned activities is something called “Vacant Love,” which aims to transform abandoned or neglected buildings with messages of affection. Another, called the “Free Portrait Project” asks residents to sit for a Polaroid photo taken by Franks, and during the 120 seconds it takes for the picture to develop, entertain a brief interview about their lives. Other interventions include two-way advice booths, for citizens to both give and take advice from one another, as well as an activity that asks people to write sticky notes about their loves and fears on a public wall. Franks will also be expanding his SF Postcard Project, in which he gathered postcards written from low-income San Francisco neighborhoods and mailed them to homes in ritzier ZIP codes.
What activities have you seen, or even been engaged in, that got a neighborhood members involved and communicating? For some, even a Little Free Library can get the ball rolling. Tell us your experiences in the comments below.
This weekend, take a look around to see if you see any kids running or biking around in your neighborhood. Children playing, or not playing, can be seen as a litmus test for overall neighborhood health. Yes physical health, but also the cultural and economic health.
Neighborhoods are suffering these days largely because children are absent. Instead of playing in their neighborhoods, they’re either staring at screens eight hours a day, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study!, doing lots of homework, or attending numerous adult-led activities outside their neighborhoods.How are the children faring with these differently structured lives?They’re suffering, too, perhaps even worse. Pretty much every pediatrician and child psychologist will tell you that children need to play outside, every day. Without frequent outdoor play, children have been getting fatter, sadder, and less socially adept, and all that homework isn’t making them any smarter.
Children’s immediate neighborhoods—right on their block, outside their front door—are the ideal places for them to play outside. These are the safest, most comfortable places for children outside their homes because they can stay within earshot of their parents, and they can also get to know dozens of neighbors.
With gas prices going through the roof, many people are taking to walking more. But after being car-focused in our navigation for decades, it can be unusual for people to know how to get around by walking and how long it will take them. One student from Raleigh, North Carolina, has an idea:
On a rainy night in January, urban planning student Matt Tomasulo and two fellow schemers positioned 27 signs in three strategic locations across central Raleigh. In bold, authoritative letters, each sign indicates the number of minutes it would take for a pedestrian to reach a particular, popular destination.
And for the directionally challenged, the otherwise spartan signs are equipped with a high-tech surprise. By scanning the signs with a smartphone, pedestrians can receive a specially tailored Google Map that will keep them on the right path.
Tomasulo and his colleagues at City Fabric have dubbed their effort Walk Raleigh, and have submitted the project to the Spontaneous Interventions competition, a contest sponsored by the Institute for Urban Design. In terms of impressing judges, the group is off to a good start: far from being displeased by Tomasulo’s guerrilla antics, the city of Raleigh has expressed interest in permanently incorporating Walk Raleigh’s signs into the city’s landscape.
I’m glad the city of Raleigh is encouraging this, and I hope it catches on in other places. I think it’s great to share our knowledge of neighborhoods with others and let them get to know their cities and environments a little bit better. Plus it’s just fun.
Have you seen similar signs in other cities? Tell me about it in the comments below.
I saw this article last week on Recycle Art, about a design company in Brazil that does outreach to poor communities by creating more aesthetically pleasing surroundings:
Brazilian design studio Rosenbaum and TV show Caldeirao do Huck help poor families to redecorate their homes and improve their surroundings, in the hope that they feel more comfortable and happier at home.
I’m pleasantly surprised by this philosophy. And apparently this idea is starting to pick up steam. The New York Times just published an article (also below) about a design show being presented at the United Nations right now focusing on design for third-world countries, trying to create effective, efficient, and hopefully beautiful tools, boats, and buildings.
I’m curious, however, if designing a new space or adding beauty to an already existing slum really works. Does having a more beautiful environment make you want to protect it and invest in it? Even the curators of the exhibit in the New York Times article state that building something new and getting people to adopt it are two entirely different challenges.
I know having a greener work space is correlated with better worker productivity, and many communities in the U.S. have installed public gardens or parks with some success regarding improved community involvement and improved outlook of the neighborhood. The groups featured in the exhibit claim successes all over the world. However, somewhat similar experiments have been tried out with movie stars and athletes installing movie theaters or centers in poor neighborhoods with mixed success with mixed results, as I remember.
I would be interested in seeing more studies that looked at parks or even residential gardens and patios correlated with crime rate, income, and so on.
Anecdotally, have you seen or know of anyone who has seen a correlation between greening or beautifying a space and better sociological stats?
This is an interesting follow-up/add-on to the RadioLab “Cities” episode I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. The Healing Cities Working Group of planners and health professionals in Vancouver, BC is working to create healthy environments in urban areas, particularly focusing on food and food sources.
It’s possible to interest public officials in the health impact of the built environment because Canada has nationalized health care.
“When you have a public health care system like we have in Canada, we all collectively pay the end-of-pipe costs,” said Holland. “So anything we have in our society that makes us unhealthy, we end up paying for it.” Of course, that’s true in the United States as well, but there is much less transparency and awareness of those costs because of the way our system is set up.
In Canada, Holland hopes to be able to involve doctors and public health authorities in the fight against sprawl and for more walkable and transit-oriented neighborhoods. Among the Healing Cities Working Group’s many planned initiatives is a partnership with health officials to advocate for more health-enhancing infrastructure and development at the local level.
Other studies have found that greener neighborhoods also decrease stress and make people more likely to walk or bike places. Where you live, what have you found works best for you personally to motivate you to get you outside, moving, and buying less insta-food?