The opinion piece that appeared in The Lens, “Does anybody really want “parkettes” along the St. Claude corridor?” was retracted on August 10, 2012 due to the assertion that Candy Chang was “driving a process to create parkettes.”
That she may be responsible for the “parkettes” element of an ArtPlace grant to St. Claude Main Street, referred to by ArtPlace as the “Arts District & Parkette Program” was incorrect. The opinion piece should have asserted that the companies Ms. Chang co-founded, Neighborland and Civic Center, are just two parts of a much larger urban planning movement perhaps soon to hit the streets of New Orleans.
My mistake was overlooking the bigger picture, the major tool of the “city” craze sweeping the nation: Tactical Urbanism.
The current vanguard of “creative placemaking” and born out of the Congress for New Urbanism, Tactical Urbanism is the product (stress on product) of the “Next Generation of New Urbanists.” A publication was released this summer on Tactical Urbanism, by Mike Lydon, lead author and spokesperson for the movement. Not just parklets, but many similarly themed “tactics” are “popping up” in many American cities. Parklets, seed bombs, tents, and social media for the “civic economy” are all a part of this well designed package. Highlights can be viewed here:
What is Tactical Urbanism?
Also called “temporary urbanism,” “pop-up urbanism” or “spontaneous interventions” its theory and practice is best described in the words of Lydon, its main author:
“Tactical Urbanism incorporates a deliberate, phased approach to instigating change; local solutions for local planning challenges; short-term commitment and realistic expectations; low-risks, with a possibly a high reward; and the development of social capital between citizens and the building of organizational capacity between public-private institutions, non-profits, and their constituents. In short, Tactical Urbanism is a movement to reclaim our city spaces with short-term actions that are intended to lead to long-term change. Tactical Urbanism projects are typically carried at small, local scales: vacant lots, street corners, parking lots, etc.” http://eng.partizaning.org/?p=1441
Lydon formerly worked for the New Urbanist design firm Duany Plater-Zyberk, and is a co-author of the Smart Growth Manual, along with Andres Duany and Jeff Speck. Some New Orleanians might recall Duany’s “silver bullet” presentation on the planning failures of urban revitalization in the past; New Orleans hit every mark, from downtown elevated highways to aquariums, and along those lines he had valid points. Residents may also recall him serving with the Urban Land Institute as a charette leader for the Unified New Orleans Plan.
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz relayed this assessment of Duany’s New Urbanist vision:
“Into this fraught and sinister situation now blunders the circus-like spectacle of the Congress of New Urbanism (CNU): the architectural cult founded by Miami designers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk…”
“Twenty years ago, when Duany was first barnstorming the nation’s architectural schools and preservation societies, the New Urbanism seemed to offer an attractive model for building socially diverse and environmentally sustainable communities based on a systematization of older ‘city beautiful’ principles such as pedestrian scale, traditional street grids, an abundance of open space, and a mixture of land uses, income groups, and building forms…”
“In practice, however, this diversity has never been achieved. Duany and Plater-Zyberk’s Seaside—the Florida suburb so brilliantly caricatured in the 1998 film “The Truman Show”—was an early warning that kitsch would usually triumph over democracy in New Urbanist designs.” http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2005/10/gentrifying-disaster
Enter the new New Urbanism. Lydon, “a steering committee member of the Next Generation of New Urbanists,” is the principal at The Streets Plan collaborative, and they provide an attractive model too. http://www.streetplans.org/leadership_mike_lydon.php
In Lydon’s manifesto, Tactical Urbanism, “tactics” are highlighted that best contribute to urban “vibrancy.” The list includes “pavements to parks” programs, “chair bombing” and temporary tent camping as instruments to revitalize civic life. Think what you will of these “tactics”; not all are poor ideas. Mention of them here is to give evidence of what’s trending in cities today.
A “tactic” at the forefront is Park(ing) Day, created by Rebar, a San Francisco based design firm. Rebar is the group that can rightly be called the parklet or parkette pioneers. Park(ing) day is an event in which typically a metered parking spot is transformed into a small park to give attention to public space. These spaces are known variously as pocket parks, parklets, and now in New Orleans proposed as parkettes. They are featured in Lydon’s presentation linked above. So is Neighborland.
In conversation with Neighborland’s Alan Joseph Williams, he reassured me that the “parkettes” proposal for St. Claude Avenue was a solid and well considered plan. He even offered some details about Candy’s past experience creating a parklet in Vancouver. As it turns out, she notes on her website that the project was “inspired by Rebar.”
In April, 2011, Ms. Chang attended an Alaskan design forum where Rebar also participated: http://commonspace-ak.org/design-labs/
This past February, the other company Ms. Chang co-founded, Civic Center, collaborated with Rebar here in New Orleans for the Evacuteer’s “Evacuspots” design competition: http://www.artfulplaces.com/artfulplaces.com/Blog/Entries/2012/2/6_Evacuspot.html
And next month, Rebar is guest-curating a new Civic Center “intervention” in Hong Kong: http://www.cnngo.com/hong-kong/life/detour-2012-187646
The assertion that the idea for parkettes came from Ms. Chang and walked over to St. Claude Main Street via Mr. Williams, her employee, while he was on St. Claude Main Street’s board, stems from conversations I had with Mr. Williams. The retraction maintains that idea was in error. Here is a snippet from Ms. Chang’s comment on The Lens:
“To be clear: Parkettes are not my idea or initiative, let alone a “pet project” of mine. They are an initiative of St. Claude Main Street, the organization that received the grant from ArtPlace.” http://thelensnola.org/2012/08/10/apology-to-candy-chang/
The real error may have been connecting Ms. Chang or her related companies to parkettes alone, rather than the larger Tactical Urbanism (TU) movement. As the local face of Neighborland and Civic Center, it seems reasonable that the burden of responsibility has fallen at her feet. To be sure, New Urbanism in New Orleans did not begin with Ms. Chang, but TU is chockfull of her projects; she is continuously featured at sponsored events.
How many Before I Die walls are there? Capetown, Taiwan, Auckland, Toronto, the list keeps growing. There are many, many more.
This autumn, the 13th International Architecture Exhibitionla Biennale di Venezia hosted “Spontaneous Interventions,” a showcase of the major players in TU. A sampling of projects connected to TU author Lydon includes Rebar, Neighborland and Civic Center. They are natural allies in their fields, and working together is understandable to a point. But there are a lot of competing brands of “tactics” out there, and the ones on Lydon’s team are winning. http://www.spontaneousinterventions.org/
How is Neighborland involved?
In the Tactical Urbanism publication, Neighborland is a featured component, allied to help build the “civic economy.”
This past September, Neighborland presented at a Memphis TU salon hosted by Lydon. Incidentally, Rebar was there as well:
Neighborland co-founder Dan Parham has joined the movement with gusto. His bio states he is “a designer and product strategist,” and that he was formerly a “Director of User Experience at Yahoo, working for the Marketplaces and Advertising Platform teams.” http://danparham.com/
But Parham has seemingly expanded his field beyond marketing, and this summer gave a talk on TU at home in San Francisco: http://iconathon.org/2012/07/09/san-franciscos-iconathon-recap/
In response to criticism or queries, Neighborland tends to reply that their “product” continues to “evolve.” Is the Tactical Urbanism business the newest model? Recently, an announcement appeared for a “Community Manager” position at Neighborland’s San Francisco office, the same position helmed in New Orleans by Alan Joseph Williams. The link is provided below, but here are some choice elements of the job description (emphasis mine):
Our community management team creates and cultivates meaningful relationships with our members and partners, both on social media channels and through tactical urban events on the ground. We are looking for people passionate about the cultural and economic development of their cities. Here are a few of the roles our Community Managers play:
Listener. You develop strong ties with our neighbors, helping them to understand how to best use the tool. You guide conversations on our platform and other media channels on a daily basis.
Creator. You create valuable content for our local Handbook, and manage our brand on other social media channels like Twitter. You measure and report the performance of your effort.
Neighbor. You are a respected resource for neighbors to better understand their cities, and how to get things done. You will identify existing resources, community groups, and leaders that neighbors should be aware of.
Catalyst. You conceptualize, plan, and execute local public art and tactical urbanist events to build awareness of the platform, and help build our community in the real world.
Coordinator. You choose the right stakeholders and decision makers to participate on the platform, and you manage these relationships. You also manage local press interest in the platform.
A Neighborland “listener” guides conversations. The community manager executes “tactical urbanist events to build awareness of the platform,” ie: Neighborland. To build their community. Should we now expect parkettes and art “bombs” or other methods of creative placemaking to help us better know the Neighborland brand? Like its mother company Civic Center, is Neighborland now in the public art business too? Or just a catalyst for projects they deem worthy of promotion?
On August 3, 2012, in an interview with ArtPlace, St. Claude Main Street Manager Michael T. Martin noted:
“In terms of parkette design, we plan to employ tactical urbanism processes…”
“physical manifestations of vibrancy are also crucial to supporting the corridor’s rebirth. Our parkettes aim to do just that…”
To recap, “Does anybody really want “parkettes” along the St. Claude corridor?” was retracted August 10, 2012 because it suggested a relationship between Ms. Chang and parkettes.
As it turns out, Neighborland and Civic Center, the companies Ms. Chang co-founded, are deeply connected to the Tactical Urbanism movement, of which parkettes are only one “tactic” out of many “spontaneous interventions” perhaps soon coming our way.
I apologize for the error.
Christine P. Horn