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Archive for the ‘Parklets’ Category

I recently had the great opportunity to blog for one of my favorite organizations: Project for Public Spaces.  If you’re not familiar, you should be.  Project for Public Spaces is a non-profit dedicated to create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities.  There are some cities doing wonderful projects that are putting life back into under-utilized streets.  While I love reading blog postings on this site, I was always frustrated because we’ve been doing some pretty cool things here and more people should about them.  So, here it is.

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I am one of the “zealous nuts.” I live in Columbus, Ohio and I think about Placemaking and Streets as Places all the time. You can easily catch me out in the neighborhood observing street-life behavior, or taking photos of things like benches (without backs) placed randomly on isolated and ridiculously over-sized slabs of concrete void of life and asking the question, “…Why?”

I don’t remember exactly when this passion (mixed with mild-obsession) began with wanting to re-create a city prioritizing people instead of autos. I’m sure the birth of it began while living in San Francisco in the late 90s/early 2000s. I had no need to own a car; I biked, bused, walked everywhere, and everywhere you went, people were around. Life was constantly happening in the streets. I remember I experienced my first diagonal crosswalk on New Montgomery Street and I thought it was the coolest concept, but also such an “A-HA!” moment: Convenience.

I moved back to Columbus in 2002 and quickly realized I wasn’t in “convenience, multi-modal-land” anymore. I bought a used car. My car did its job for a good six years. During that time, I would attempt to bike to certain destinations, but quickly learned first-hand how unfriendly our streets were. I also realized that when I was living in San Francisco, I used my bike as a mode of transportation – not merely as a recreational item when I merely felt like it. I didn’t fully grasp this until I moved back to Columbus and experienced how much harder it was. You see, in a city as dense as San Francisco, with its various integrated modes and speeds, drivers always have to be aware and drive more cautiously. In Columbus during that time, you rarely saw a person walking or biking; cars were the dominant mode and like the majority of cities and towns across the U.S., streets were designed to seduce you to speed. I’m all for being seduced but not while biking on an arterial road that I have to “share” with cars going 40 mph.

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As it turns out, history ALWAYS finds a way to repeat itself. Adult onesies are hotter than before, video arcades are the “in” place to hang out, and also revitalization – yes, revitalization – to resuscitate a space that’s lost its vigor, is having a comeback in a major way. In the past ten years, we’ve seen a boom in Downtown Revitalization Projects that are attracting people to once again move in instead of out. Columbus is one of those cities and we’ve made incredible strides in the past ten years. We have an amazing urban park in the center of our downtown that fills with life and concerts and various organized sports during the spring, summer, and fall months. We have a riverfront that has been transformed into a destination (and is currently being expanded) for residents and tourists with a cityscape view that’ll take your breath away. And in 2014 our downtown living soared from 4,000 residents to 7,000. People are coming back and I’ve loved watching our downtown find its heartbeat again.

So, where do I come in? Well, I love Columbus but one thing has constantly nagged me about this city:  One of the most repetitive adjectives I hear when people describe Columbus is, “potential” – including myself. “Columbus has such potential if only…” I want to stop being an awesome city IF and start being an awesome city that IS, and that means DOING. So, with a little talent, hustle, and guts, I’ve been DOING.

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The concept of Placemaking here in Columbus is only about four years new. One of the “primer” projects that opened up people’s eyes and minds to the possibilities of what could be was a 2013 project called CBUS FOTO. This collective engagement project organized through Columbus’ Center for Architecture and Design, and led by the vision of Michael and Sarah Bongiorno with a group of talented young designers, asked citizens of Columbus to photograph empty, overlooked spaces and buildings in the city and come up with creative ways on how to fill them. The hope was to inspire citizens to understand that we are surrounded by under-utilized public spaces. These “overlooked” public spaces that we walk through every day and bike past everyday are blank canvasses awaiting rejuvenation. The value of this ephemeral project activated people’s imagination to see public spaces differently, as more than meets the eye.

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2014 was a very fulfilling year for me as two of my passion projects were launched to the people of Columbus:  The Columbus Parklet Project and Open Streets Columbus. Our team piloted Columbus’ first parklet for one month in September, 2014 with the help of nine business supporters. The public and nearby businesses embraced the 4th St Parklet and in 2015, we plan on implementing two more. Fred Kent said it best, “when you give people an interesting place to gather, they’ll gather.”

I fell in love with parklets years ago. I remember when I was flying to San Francisco, one of my “to-do’s” was to “hangout” in a parklet. Let that marinate in your brains for a minute.I’m headed to another city and one of my destinations is a parking space. But, I was drawn to them and I knew people in Columbus would be drawn to them too. They were unique and exciting and I loved that people filled up the space in front of a business instead of one car.Life was added.  The Columbus Parklet Project creates small yet powerful actions that will continue to show people that streets have a “double-duty” responsibility – that they are necessary for getting us from point A to point B, AND they can be places.

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Another team I led was Open Streets Columbus. After three years of work and meetings and a lot of “no’s,” Columbus finally launched its first Open Streets event in September of 2014. We closed 0.8 miles of downtown streets and it became an urban playground for people of all ages (and wages). We’ve become submissive to the ‘Arrogance of Space.’ The Danish-coined term simply implies that there’s just too much space allocated to cars and drivers, and not enough for anything or anybody else. We’ve been told for so long that roads are made only to be driven on and outdated, myopic street design proves this. Open Streets initiatives turn the outdated thinking upside-down and gives the space back, allowing people to explore, connect, and realize on their own that equitable street design can happen.

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We had roughly 600 people come out and explore their city streets, free of all obstructions. It doesn’t sound like much but it was a great success, especially for a city that has a long way to go when it comes to bike/ped friendliness. The people who came out absolutely fell in love with Open Streets Columbus and in 2015, we’re planning to grow from one to two events. We are confident that with repetition and time, Open Streets Columbus will grow into a sustaining, thriving initiative every neighborhood embraces.

Years in the making and worth every moment.

I guess I wanted to write this blog for a couple reasons. I wanted to share some of our small successes here in Columbus because I’m proud of them and we’ve only just begun. I was tired of reading article after article about cities that are thriving, partially in part due to the presence of creative Placemaking projects and Columbus not being listed. Well, we now stand out, too, and I hope that can be an inspiration for other cities like ours. Lastly, Columbus has given me the support to take these risks. I say it’s a risk because for many people, especially decision-makers, as this is still uncharted territory. But, I believe these risks (and others) must be taken by everyone in order to not be a city that’s “status-quo.” I refuse to live in a city that’s “status-quo,” and I’m ‘all in’ to stand up to make the changes I want to see. We still have quite a ways to go but I think Columbus, and smaller and larger cities, are embracing the efforts of humanizing our streets again.

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It’s been five months since my last public confession 🙂  After five insanely busy months, I have the time to breathe and update those on what I’ve been consumed with.

For almost three years, I had been persistently and patiently working on two dream projects of mine:  to bring the first ‘Open Streets’ to Columbus as well as piloting Columbus’ first ‘parklet.’  For those reading this that don’t know, ‘Open Streets’ is a free initiative that temporarily closes streets down to autos and opens them up for people to engage in fun, healthy activities like yoga, biking, breakdancing, and more.  It’s all about experiencing streets as public spaces.  When I was a kid, I played in the streets ALL the time.  I rode my bike with my best friends and that’s just what we did.  These days, streets are too dangerous.  Playgrounds are built far away from the streets because the dangers of motor vehicle speeds and distracted drivers have reigned supremacy.

The ‘parklet.’  A ‘parklet’ is when you convert on-street parking spaces into ‘people’ spaces.  I remember having this conversation with my friend Liz over two years ago.  We met for coffee and I said, ‘Liz, I wanna pilot a parklet and I want to use one of your places.’  Without hesitation, she said, ‘absolutely.’

As one of my favorite people says, ‘Sometimes you have to turn things upside down to get them right-side up’ (Fred Kent).  I whole-heartedly believe this with every ounce of my being.  My two dreams projects did just that, turned things upside down.   When it comes to parking and road space we’ve given too much to the vehicle that when we try to do what’s right and step in and change it, people go cray!  The idea of closing downtown streets to cars to let people of all ages and abilities ‘play’ in them raised eyebrows.  No matter if I came to them showing them the data of other cities putting on ‘Open Streets’ and how ridiculously successful it was/is.  Successful from a public health angle.  Successful from a business economics angle.  Successful from a community engagement angle.  Successful from a broader encouragement of multi-modal transportation.  ‘Open Streets’ has transformed cities across the U.S.  Aside from the hard data, I had the privilege of experiencing Los Angeles’ ‘CicLAvia’ last April.  When you think Los Angeles, you think of boxtox and traffic; ‘carmaggedon.’  Los Angeles’ CicLAvia / Open Streets has been such a raging success that they put on 3 / year and close anywhere between 6-12 miles of Los Angeles streets.  That is not a typo people.  The one I experienced last April, tens of THOUSANDS of people came out and participated in playing and owning their streets – free from motor vehicle danger.  What resonated with me, as I stood in the middle of Wilshire Blvd was that so many families and people of all ages and backgrounds wanted to come and have a safe place to ride or play.  There aren’t enough safe places to ride and we just don’t slow down enough to appreciate our environment.  We have the ability to change our built environment when we realize the TRUE potential.  That’s why Open Streets has been so important to me.  I’ve seen what it does to people and cities.

After almost three years, organizations such as People For Bikes, Transit Columbus, Jeni’s, New Belgium Brewing, Capital Crossroads SID, Columbus Public Health , CD 102.5, Mt. Carmel East, Eccolyfe Designs, CDDC, Skreened, ID2014, and the Great Photobooth; stepped up to the plate and said, ‘we get it and they all invested.’  On Sunday, September 21st, Columbus joined the long list of other Open Streets cities.  We closed 0.8 miles of downtown Rich St.  I have to say it was a fantastic FIRST Open Streets for this city.  Columbus still has a long way to go in order to be a contending ‘bike-friendly’ city.  We’re making great progress but we have a long way to go.  We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about Open Streets Columbus.  Our goal is to aim for ‘2’ Open Streets next year.  Success with an initiative like this cannot come overnight.  It must be recurring so people understand the concept and purpose.  With all the people and kids that came out and enjoyed the day, they now understand why Open Streets is so effective and successful.  All of those people will be future cheerleaders- spreading the Open Streets Columbus love as we put on future events.

I loved seeing how many kids were there.  I loved watching the parents not have any fear b/c that fear had been removed.  People laying a blanket out in the middle of the street b/c they could.  Getting people to look at their streets differently; seeing their streets as public spaces instead of only cars and parking is why Open Streets is so effective.

Here are some fun photos from Sept. 21st:

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We had about 18 high school students from the Mosiac school volunteer.  They loved it and we loved having them!

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Early on jenga users

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Headstand challenge at the intersection of High and Rich.  I can bet  this is something you don’t see everyday!
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So many people loved having the Rich St. bridge all to themselves.  Headstands, hangtime, biking, breakdancing, ska

teboarding and more. photo 3

POGA Columbus held their last ‘pop-up’ yoga for the summer at Open Streets.  What a great crowdphoto 4

Our ‘Scioto Beach’ was one of the biggest successes of Open Streets.  Yep, we built a small beach on the Rich St. Bridge.  Kid approved!zeke open streets

 

The comment above is the reason I have fought for Open Streets for so long.  This is exactly how we want people to feel.

Switch gears to the ‘Columbus Parklet Project.’  We had the great opportunity to unveil Columbus’ first parklet at the great Independents’ 2014.  Getting more eyes and butts in the parklet would only help generate more buzz for the 30 day pilot over at Dirty Franks downtown.  It sure did. It just so happened that unveiling the parklet at ID2014, was the same weekend as Open Streets Columbus.  Needless to say, I was stressed, excited, anxious, and hopeful.  No NEW project would be complete without its obstacles and we sure had some of those.  But, you push through and you take every moment as a teaching moment which I did.

The parklet was a great success at ID2014.  The following week it was moved outside of Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace where it’ll be there for one month for the public to embrace (hopefully).  Again, this is a concept happening in other cities that are getting people and businesses to re-imagine the potential within our city streets.  Over 82% of drivers are single occupancy.  You drive your car to Dirty Franks, you park right out front and its YOU…one person.  You remove that parking space, convert it to ‘people space’ allowing people to sit, eat their lunch, converse, and just be visible to other drivers passing by, you automatically create buzz.  If you’re a business owner giving people a place to sit and stay for while, chances are they’ll spend money.  The idea of the one month pilot is to introduce the concept to both the people of Columbus and business owners.  The sky won’t fall if you remove one parking space usually taken up by ONE person and you convert it to where 12+ people can share and enjoy it.  We’ll collect data over the month during different times of the day as well as public feedback.  Thus far, its been super successful (minus a few haters and there always will be).  The Columbus Parklet Project had great support from businesses such as: MKSK Designs, Dirty Franks, Kaufman Development, Creath Landscape Design, Drift Industry, DRAC, Eccolyfe Designs, Columbus Eye, Square One Salon & Spa, and Wolf’s Ridge Brewing.  What really catches my eye is that every one of these businesses has nothing to do with the other.  They all come from different backgrounds yet they all see the Columbus Parklet Project as a great, fresh concept and are willing to invest.  Our goal is to get buy-in from this 30 day pilot to where we are able to expand and build new parklets with new designs in different parts of Columbus.  These small ‘interventions’ within our streets can become ‘destinations’ for people.  Parklets are part of the ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ strategy that many cities are embracing.  When people can be a part of a project from beginning to end there’s more personal investment that happens and a sense of ownership and pride.

I had some incredible people step up to help make this first parklet a reality: Ryan, Michael, Carey, Jess, Jerry, and Sarah.

Here are couple photos.  I encourage you to take a jaunt over to Dirty Franks within the next month.  Purchase a dog and have a seat in the parklet.

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The beginning stages.parklet progress

 

Setting up before the big ID2014 weekend.

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Lots of traffic during Independents’ weekend.  first parklet DF

Ryan and Michael finishing up moving the parklet from Franklinton to downtown
safe_imageThe Columbus Dispatch published a piece on the parklet this past weekend.

And those are two of the projects I’ve been up to:)  These two projects have meant so much to me and I believe that with time and iterations of both, the people of Columbus will embrace.  I look forward to both Open Streets Columbus and the Columbus Parklet Project expanding and becoming initiatives that people support and want to be a part of.

 

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I spent a glorious week here in the city that I can’t quit.  When ever I land into SFO and hop onto BART, I feel this sense of calmness that covers me like an invisible bubble.  I also feel that I become a different person.  A person who feels like she’s ‘home.’  The diversity of this city fills me up with such joy.  The way that this city continues to improve for the better and will become one of the most sustainable cities in the country; well, its incredible to watch this happen every time I come back.

San Francisco is a different kind of city.  Its made up of a lot of transients from all over the world.  Maybe that’s why this city has such determination from its people to become such a great city.  San Francisco is a petri dish and everyone is willing and active to put in some kind of ingredient or another which seems to be working.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to just watch the theatrics of this city by just sitting at a coffee shop.  Parklets are every where.  On-street bike corrals are so abundant that’s its almost like they’ve always existed here.  There are protected bike lanes that lead onto very heavily traffic streets such as San Jose Blvd.  There are green lanes on Market and the newly improved ‘Wiggle,’ regular bike lanes everywhere and if there aren’t bike lanes, there are sharrows.  Market St. is like High St.  Its the backbone to the city.  This morning prior to my departure, I took the BART to Powell St. Station and just watched and got my fix of early morning bustling of San Franciscans.  I felt alive.  I couldn’t keep up with pictures.  There were so many bike riders that I became over whelmed.

I want this very thing to happen in Columbus but it won’t happen until infrastructure is laid down and laid down – SMARTLY.  Infrastructure needs to be thought through with women and children in mind.  If this happens then the infrastructure should be laid down smartly and safely.  The best way to change behavior is to change the infrastructure.  When a ’roundabout’ is put in in Hillard, people are uncertain and will probably complain at first but then like anything else, it becomes habit and then just another piece of infrastructure.  It’s no different with bicycle infrastructure.

Protected bike lanes.  Green lanes.  Buffered bike lanes.  Bicycle dedicated signals.  All make for safer commutes and also draws out more riders of all levels.  San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides.  It’s only seven miles big and cannot build out.  San Francisco has to make due with what they have and they are.  They are redesigning their streets for ALL people.  If San Francisco can do this, so can we.  We need leaders who are willing to piss a few ppl off in order to make our city thrive.

Mayor Coleman said in a speech once:  ‘If we continue to stay the same, we’ll get left behind.’  I’m tired of staying the same and tired of continually playing catch up.  I want leaders willing to risk their positions in order to do GREAT and innovative things.  I’d rather be the leader who was remembered as being ballsy as opposed to a leader who was status quo.

We still have a problem retaining young people and once again, its all due to lack of options in transportation.  I am one of those people who WILL LEAVE this city if things do not change and change SOON.  I assure you Columbus, it’ll be your loss.

Here are a few pictures of this morning on Market St.  Folks commuting via two wheels.  Buses in the back ground, people walking.  A city that’s ALIVE.

Be safe and keep riding:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Etiquette:  Walking your bike through a cross-walk.

Another great example of proper biker etiquette.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for green light

 

 

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