There’s a lot of talk these days about DIY (do it yourself) approaches to urbanism, with everyone from taggers to neighborhood residents taking control of their built environment and bypassing the authorities to do so. This interesting article in The Atlantic Cities talks about crowd sourcing techniques in the urban setting, and how some cities are starting to rewrite their rules to take advantage of this grassroots civic energy (above is one of many tree wells scattered through public right-of-ways in Birmingham which, in the absence of trees or sustained municipal care, have been unofficially adopted/planted/maintained by adjacent merchants or residents).
Graffiti is an ancient method of transforming public space without official sanction; above is the announcement of the next phase of an art project at 20th Street North and First Avenue at the vacant Brown-Marx building coordinated by Space One Eleven and Operation New Birmingham (see our earlier post). Blank sheets of plywood that would have been prime targets for random graffiti are instead sanctioned for graffiti.
In San Francisco, that bastion of “people power” with its history of bucking societal norms, it is perhaps no surprise that the city has taken DIY to a new level of seriousness and sanction. Back in 2005 an art project consisted of feeding a city meter, then rolling out some grass into the parking spot to reclaim that little piece of asphalt as green space. Today the city’s “parklet” program allows neighborhoods to petition to officially–and semi-permanently– close down parking spaces and design and install (at their own expense) tiny park spaces (above). Permits are renewed yearly, so if the neighborhood decides it really needs that parking space back, they can do it. It’s been a fascinating example of how grassroots DIY ideas have broken through the “system” and changed the rules. And in this case, an illustration of the triumph of human needs over those of the automobile–a few spaces at a time.
[Parklet photo courtesy of Wells Campbell via Atlantic Cities)