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Public space is where we build trust 25 November 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in Uncategorized.
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On this sunny Sunday morning, I just watched an inspiring presentation by Alexandros Washburn, New York’s Chief Urban Designer, at a TEDx event in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 1st September. His essential points are:
• Public space is where we build trust – where we meet each other as equals.
• Urban designers work at the intersection of politics, finance and design – and design is the weakest of the 3 forces. Things only change if these 3 forces align.
• Start with the pedestrian: make the ground floors interesting, plan pavements at last 3m wide, then plant a row of trees for shade, then a bike lane… the width of a street is finite, so you have to make choices. NB Rue de la Loi!
• The smallest dimensions matter – even the height of kerbs. This is a thing I continually notice in the Netherlands, where paving is a refined artform.
• If it’s worth remembering, it’s worth drawing – as Christopher Alexander, author of A Pattern Language, knew. It’s shame the website is payable but the book is well worth £34.

To show how to use market forces, Mr Washburn gives the example of the High Line, a linear park made out of an elevated railway line in the West Chelsea district of Manhattan. The viaduct was only preserved because the city had the power to transfer the ‘air rights’ (something I never knew existed) to plots on the edge of the area. This removed the incentive for property owners along the route to lobby for its demolition.

PS “Design is disruptive when it lowers the threshold” – an idea borrowed from Wikihouse site.

PPS This year the TED Prize went for the first time not to an individual but to an organisation, City 2.0, which is full of ideas for urban redesign.

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