5 Things That Inspire Me

Melissa Hege's picture

During these harsh economic times I've read about some of the most creative and inspiring planning and design projects in my career. Whether they are the product of the underemployed looking for a creative outlet or a resetting of our values and goals, something magical is happening in the world of planning. Below are 5 things that have inspired my inner planner.


1.   Mobile grocery. Fresh Moves is a Chicago City bus which has been retrofitted as a rolling farmer's market for communities which do not have access to fresh produce. While similar neighborhoods across the United States struggle to attract brick and mortar supermarkets in these "food deserts" with elaborate incentives and market analysis, a Chicago based community group conceived of a quick and efficient alternative which could provide a more effective method of delivery. The mobile grocery is really a brilliant idea which modernizes the old fruit and vegetable vendors which my parents grew up with and which still exist today in other parts of the world. Chicago's mobile grocery serves two neighborhoods, four days a week. http://freshmoves.org/


2.     Pop up playgrounds. This summer, the City of New York, which continues to offer inspiring planning work, initiated 12 temporary playgrounds in streets to promote exercise and provide active games for children in low income neighborhoods with high instances of childhood obesity. In an age of budget cuts in which municipalities are strapped for cash and land purchasing is not an option, the NYC Health Department along with the city's federally supported NYC Strategic Alliance for Health, have created a cheap and innovative approach to enabling people living in underserved communities to be more active. Streets are temporarily closed during the day for physical activities like yoga, tennis, running, and games and surveys showed a high rate of usage for families who would otherwise be indoors, on average one to two and a half hours! http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/opinion/sunday/presto-instant-playgrou...


3.   Pavement to Parks. The City of San Francisco has initiated a program to convert underutilized intersections and right of ways into temporary plazas or parklets. A collaboration among the Mayor's Office, the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, and the Municipal Transportation Agency, the initiative has resulted in eight test parklets which will be evaluated to be reclaimed for permanent open spaces. Besides the novel approach to adding open space by essentially swapping land which is already publicly owned, the parklets create engaging spaces to activate street corners and sidewalks. Ideal areas for new parklets have little existing public space, have community support, are surrounded by uses that will attract people to the new space, are advocated by local businesses, and can improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.  The results are fun and informal spaces which are unexpected and pleasantly surprising. http://sfpavementtoparks.sfplanning.org/


4.     Storefronts on Loan. For property owners in Newcastle, Australia's Central Business District, it was cheaper to let stores remain vacant and allow their buildings to decay while waiting for redevelopment, rather than rent the spaces out.  After years of decline, resident Marcus Westbury convinced property owners to license their storefronts to artists, creative uses, and community groups on rolling 30 day intervals to his non-profit "Renew Newcastle". As the non-profit holds the license they offer cheap space for creative uses until the properties become commercially viable or redeveloped. The results are really quite astounding as the spaces have helped incubate various creative enterprises which have brought real activity to this forgotten street. http://renewnewcastle.org/about


5.     DIY Community Outreach. Public involvement is the mantra of every planner, but it's such a daunting part of our work. Participation is never as high as we'd like and we often wonder if we were inspiring enough to provoke thoughtful comments. Enter Candy Chang who creates interactive public art projects which elicit public input with fill-in-the-blank style instruments. A chalkboard painted on the side of an abandoned building in New Orleans invites people compete the end of the sentence "Before I die____________". Clever name badge stickers are reconceived from "Hello, my name is_____" to "I wish this was ________" and are left throughout New Orleans to encourage people to think about how their city could be different and to share their ideas by placing the stickers anywhere and everywhere. Tenant post-its, which allow New Yorkers to fill in information about their housing stats like cost, size, number of bedrooms and share it anonymously on a giant post-it board. A sign on an abandoned historic building which says "Looking for Love" offers two chalkboards at the building's base for people to share memories and comments on the building's future. Other projects include chalk stencils on the sidewalk with thought provoking statements like "This would be a nice place for a tree" and my favorite-Career Path, a fill in the blank chalk installation on a Finish bike path which encourages children and adults to share their changing career aspirations. http://civiccenter.cc/

Melissa Hege, AICP, LEED AP, Director of Planning at Redevelopment Management Associates.


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