Category Archives: Participation & Engagement

Mobilizing Power: Street Vendors and Urban Resilience

Th role of street traders in the public space of cities is constantly undermined in the extension of City Improvement Districts who see them as competition of the rate & rent paying proprietors and owners of urban land. Froth perspective of visitors and tourists and the local population street vendors add a unique ambience to the urban scene. Some problems that are used to justify the control of them and limit their spread is that they are  are often not independent, but owned / financed by hidden entrprenueurs who provide the goods and services of their trade through many small vendors who are intact just employees and this result is the street vendors not supplying anything unique, but simply multiplying the trade in grey imports of commodities such as panties and face creams, or fizzy drinks and chips,a s is ht case in Cape Town, where it is difficult to see any reason for having the rows of stalls all  still selling the same goods. Genuine  traders not selling endless commodities or poor reproductions of tourist nik-naks are hard dot find, ye the y are obviously seeing their goods to someone, but as the stall space is limited the opportunities for real traders are limited by this competition. From Urban Omnibus a report on New Yorks traders:

For more than 200 years, street vendors have been an integral part of New York City. Department store giants Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, after all, started as collectives of door-to-door salespeople. And even more so than those institutions, New York’s estimated 20,000 vendors — by way of their highly visible sidewalk sale of food, flowers, art, books, and more — are embedded firmly in the city’s collective imaginary. When it rains in Manhattan, an umbrella is so easy to come by that a T-Mobile billboard once claimed that its network was faster than an umbrella vendor’s anticipation of rain. The public nature of vending extends to the roles vendors actively take on as direction-givers or go-to sources of change for a $10 bill.

Despite their provision of sought-after services, fellow business interests and policymakers often dismiss vendors as problematic, in part because their lack of a rent payment is considered an unfair leg-up on nearby brick and mortar shops. Regulation of the profession reflects this: vendors’ sidewalk presence is managed under convoluted rules too often used to remove them from areas where they’re deemed unwanted. Tellingly, the map of the city’s Business Improvement Districts, which are funded by local business interests, is roughly congruent with the map of streets where vending is prohibited. This bias against vending extends beyond the BIDs’ domains: across the city, vendors receive on average 40,000 tickets a year. A ticket can carry a fine of up to $1,000 for an infraction as minor as operating an inch too close to the curb or failing to display a vending license around one’s neck. Vendors are arrested roughly 10,000 times a year for reasons ranging from vending without a license to failing to comply with a police officer’s order to move, even when they are lawfully set up.

The cooperation of different New Yorkers, including street vendors in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy calls for a new emphasis on urban collaboration and symbiosis in disaster planning and city planning more broadly. Rather than offering free batteries from their Power Forward truck when the electrical grid shuts down, Duracell could partner with street vendors to distribute them, increasing their coverage area and stemming the use of short-term business tactics like price gouging. Rather than hiring an extra information guide, tourist agencies could work with vendors already performing this role in Lower Manhattan, allowing them to officially do so. Rather than deploying additional solar mobile charging stations, AT&T could invest in the social infrastructure of the city by having street vendors offer charging on the street in exchange for additional revenue.

Opportunities abound, especially when it comes to retrofitting street carts or food trucks to mitigate the pollution and noise that comes with their gas generators. Rather than invest in a project like Simply Grid, which provides on-demand sidewalk access to grid electricity through fixed kiosks, we could power vendors with energy sources like solar panels or biofuels that do not reduce their physical mobility or ability to remain operational when the main energy grid goes dark. Projects aspiring to this already exist: the solar-powered GrowNYC van in Union Square, Our Lady of Detritus’ “sunbrella”-powered mobile A/V system, the Solar Power Pops Truck, and the vegetable oil-fueled BLK Projek mobile green market in the South Bronx. Encouraging such programs and incubating new partnerships would not only lessen overall demand for energy and increase the amount derived from renewable sources, but street vendors acting as ambassadors for these models would increase the visibility of alternative energy sources in our most accessible and prominent public space: the sidewalk.

Because of their mobility, position on the sidewalk, and diverse demographics, street vendors are uniquely positioned to improve urban resilience. But if we are to build upon the unrecognized social role that vendors already play to help us further mitigate, adapt to, and recover from times of crisis, we must ensure that their multiple daily struggles are addressed. When vendors’ right to the sidewalk is threatened, not only are their livelihoods in danger, but the city loses out on this potential. Let’s build on infrastructure that already exists by facilitating strategic partnerships that will valorize, legitimize, and enable street vendors to work beyond their reductionist primary function and confront broader urban issues. It is time for the City to stop treating vendors as a nuisance, and to instead recognize their latent potential as rapidly deployable social infrastructure that can address existing and future needs.

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Local pop-up shop for the homeless goes global

How to get the “haves” and “have-nots” together to share from Biz-community.com

 

From China to Cape Town, Brussels to Bangladesh, Florida to France, Mexico to Melbourne, the concept of The Street Store – the world’s first pop-up clothing store for the homeless – has gone viral both online and in the real world as it’s captured the imagination of people worldwide.
To date more than 263 people from around the globe have signed up to host the street store in their community, and the open source material has so far been translated into nine languages.
A Street Store which was set up for the homeless in Spain

As the Street Store concept rolls out globally, picking up momentum, kudos has not gone unnoticed at the 2014 Cannes Lions Festival. The agency behind the concept – M&C Saatchi Abel – was awarded a prestigious Gold Lion in the design category, a bronze in the media category, with six other shortlists, including the Grand Prix for Good Award.

Conceptualised and piloted in the Mother City

The idea was conceptualised and piloted in Cape Town by Kayli Levitan and Maximilian Pazak from M&C Saatchi Abel. The young copywriter and art director team brainstormed for months to find a way to bring the giver and the receiver together on the streets they share on behalf of The Haven Night Shelter.
The Street Store was created for The Haven Night Shelter, Cape Town’s largest network of centres for the homeless. Their vision is that no-one should have to sleep on the streets if the appropriate supportive structures are put into place by communities, government and organisations. Their mission is ‘to get the homeless home’ by empowering them to return to a sustainable life. Without presentable clothing there is little chance of them getting employment and The Haven relies heavily on donations. As with many charities, the supply and need don’t often match, which is where the creative team’s challenge came in.

Together, agency and client identified that the shelter really needed a powerful series of call to action projects that simplifies donation, while offering the receiver a dignified experience. “More importantly, we wanted both sides of society to own the process and see it through. This meant merging two totally disparate worlds in a positive and empowering way,” says Levitan.

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The thorny matter of gentrification

From Kaid Benfield’s Blog another stab at  this eternally problematic area of development – its underbelly as it were – my guess is that it was a problem for pre CE Roman administrators too, and in some distant future age t on the old colonised Planet Z there will still be this discussion – that does not mean we don’t need to address it, but the question is how…? Kaid revues some of the issues here..

a sign in Chicago (by: Eric Allix Rogers, creative commons)

A few days ago, I made a presentation to a group of thoughtful and accomplished philanthropists on sustainable land development.  I made a strong pitch for urban revitalization and was countered with a question about gentrification, the messy phenomenon that occurs if longtime residents of older neighborhoods find themselves priced out of their own communities as those neighborhoods become more sought-after and valuable.  To be honest, I don’t think I handled the question particularly well.

I never do, really, even though it comes up a lot.  The issue is just too thorny on all sides and, in most cases, racially charged, because minority populations are the ones who feel squeezed when more affluent, generally white, residents rediscover cities and move in.  I have a lot of sympathy for long-timers who fear losing control of their neighborhoods and, in too many cases, their very homes as rents and property taxes go up with increased value brought on by increased demand.  But, on the other hand, the environmental, fiscal and, yes, social benefits of revitalization and repopulation of our older, frequently distressed neighborhoods are so substantial that I believe strongly that they must continue.

Surely we haven’t reached the point where making inner-city neighborhoods more attractive to more residents is a bad thing.  And does anyone really have a right in the US to keep newcomers out?  Didn’t we have a civil rights movement largely over that very issue?

I get it that we want the rebirth of America’s long-forgotten neighborhoods to lift all boats, not just provide a haven for affluent new residents.  But I find myself stymied when trying to find a balanced solution, since the argument of anti-gentrification forces can all too easily amount to, “I don’t want the neighborhood to improve so much that properties in it become worth much more.”  No one would say it in those words, of course.  Is there a way to provide some protection to longstanding residents without providing so much that it inhibits the very improvement that so many of our neighborhoods badly need?

The paralysis of imperfect choices

The good news is that a number of thoughtful people have been thinking and writing about these things.  Writing last year in Rooflines, the excellent blog of the National Housing Institute, Rick Jacobus eloquently described how gentrification can too easily feel like a problem with no solution at all:

“The way most people talk and think about [gentrification] seems to create a black hole of self-doubt from which no realistic strategy for neighborhood improvement can escape. 

“The paralyzing thinking goes like this: We want to improve lower-income neighborhoods to make them better places for the people who live there now but anything we do to make them better a poster in LA (by: Keith Hamm, creative commons)places will inevitably make people with more money want to live there and this will inevitably drive up rents and prices and displace the current residents, harming the people we set out to help (or, in many cases, harming the very people responsible for making the neighborhood better through years of hard work) and rewarding people who drop in at the last minute to displace them.

“Once you recognize this dynamic, it is very hard to talk yourself into wholeheartedly backing any kind of action. It seems wrong to leave distressed communities to rot but it also seems wrong to turn them around. Sadly, the most common response is to try to find strategies that improve things, but not too much.”

One of my favorite recent articles on the subject was written last month by Scott Doyon for his planning firm’s blog, PlaceShakers.  Scott, who has become a friend through an online community of urbanists who check in with each other almost daily, might be described by some as an early-generation gentrifier:  he and his wife bought into a working-class, African American neighborhood some twenty years ago because it was affordable.  At the time, they had good education but almost no money.  Since then, he’s seen the neighborhood attract more and more white, increasingly affluent residents.

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Rumble in the Urban Jungle – Michael Sorkin vs. “New” Urban-ists & “Landscape Urban”-isms

Heated debate in the riposte’s & the  responses ( read the comments in the original- see link below) from the Architectural Record – Like Michael Sorkin says here – it seems  a pointless debate – one that is particularly irrelevant here in the global South – we can’t really see whats the “new” in New Urbanism or what is really different in the Landscape Urbanism from what Landscape Architects here have always done – stewarded the environment on which we all depend – and try to get their clients to do what’s best for all the actor-networks involved in the city, human & non-humann – wealthy as well as the disenfranchised- not just themselves .

August 2013

A recent book by New Urbanist authors revives an old battle with Landscape Urbanism.

By Michael Sorkin

The High Line in New York, designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is criticized by Andres Duany for being too expensive and over-designed.
Photo © Iwan Baan
The High Line in New York, designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is criticized by Andres Duany for being too expensive and over-designed.

It’s hard to keep up with the musical deck chairs in the disciplines these days. The boundaries of architecture, city planning, urban design, landscape architecture, sustainability, computation, and other fields are shifting like crazy, and one result is endless hybridization–green urbanism begets landscape urbanism, which begets ecological urbanism, which begets agrarian urbanism–each “ism” claiming to have gotten things in just the right balance. While this discussion of the possible weighting and bounding of design’s expanded field does keep the juices flowing, it also maintains the fiction that there are still three fixed territories–buildings, cities, and landscapes–that must constantly negotiate their alignment.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, one of the leading firms in the New Urbanism movement, designed a master plan in 2012 for Costa Verbena in Brazil. The designers say the plan respects the site's topography and its sensitive ecosystems, while applying a traditional street grid.
Image courtesy DPZ & Company
Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, one of the leading firms in the New Urbanism movement, designed a master plan in 2012 for Costa Verbena in Brazil. The designers say the plan respects the site’s topography and its sensitive ecosystems, while applying a traditional street grid.

A tragedy of the commons: China’s Yangtze River

An observation essay from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit focus’s attention on how rapid industrialization, together with equally rapid  urbanization, conflict with the goals of “green hydro-based power” and  ambitious bureaucrats, all result in a mighty “muddle” – is this another case of planning’s inability to deal with the complexity of large scale natural and cultural systems ? I  wonder how African countries politicians will cope with planned Chinese funded and built hydropower projects if the Chinese are unable to manage their own large scale systems? See World’s largest hydroelectric plant could finally rise in Africa | SmartPlanet

China’s longest river, the Yangtze, is becoming extremely busy as it plays a core role in government efforts to develop the country’s interior. As industry moves west, raw materials to feed it are being shipped via the waterway, which runs between major ports in the east and provinces further inland. At the same time, the river is being drawn upon for hydropower projects, industrial use, drinking water and tourism. However, along with increased usage has come a plethora of problems. Better management is urgently needed.

Shipping capacity on the Yangtze has risen dramatically over the past decade, as billions of renminbi have been poured into dredging and deepening it. The river, which runs from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau to the East China Sea in Shanghai, accounts for around 80% of China’s river cargo transport. A high priority has been placed on its development, as it is being tapped to drive growth in the regions further inland through which it winds. Heavy loads, such as iron ore, are cheaper to transport by river than by rail or road, owing to lower fuel costs and the absence of tolls.

As inland demand has boomed in the past decade, so has shipping traffic. This includes inputs for industry, such as iron ore and automotive components, as well as for consumption, such as soybeans. The Yangtze also serves as a means for inland cities such as Chongqing, where production of cars and steel is booming, to ship such goods downstream for sale or export. Shipping volumes on the river’s main course quadrupled over 2003‑12. In the first five months of 2013, container throughput on the Yangtze rose by 22.2% year on year, picking up from the 8.7% growth it recorded in the same period of 2012.

Great expectations

Efforts are under way to raise throughput further. More dredging will take place to deepen the river, enabling it to handle heavier vessels. The State Council (China’s cabinet) has announced a goal of raising inland river freight capacity to 3bn tonnes a year by 2020—double the amount transported in 2010.

Alongside this, cities along the river’s path have rolled out their own visions for the development of their river ports and logistics capacities. Plans for major ports along the Yangtze, particularly at Cuntan Bonded Zone in Chongqing, emphasise raised shipping capacities and the ability to handle larger ships. In 2012, for example, local media reported that Wuhan’s government had approved a Rmb300bn (US$48bn) five‑year blueprint to develop the capital of Hubei province into a major shipping hub.

Cadres in smaller port hubs also have great aspirations to exploit their position along the Yangtze. Officials in Anqing (Anhui province) are attempting to turn its river port into a regional shipping hub, allocating Rmb10bn for development.

Hydropower competes

But at the same time, the Yangtze is being tapped for a growing number of hydropower projects. Provincial governments are under pressure to raise the proportion of renewable sources in total energy use to 15% by 2020, and regions through which the river runs are keen to exploit it. According to local media, at least 11 hydropower projects have either been completed or are under construction on the river’s upper reaches. The Xiluodu hydropower station is being built at the Yangtze’s headwaters, also called the Jinsha. When completed later this year, it will become the country’s second-largest hydropower project after the Three Gorges Dam, which sits on the Yangtze in Hubei.

Less than 200 km downstream of Xiluodu will be the Xiangjiaba project, which will start to store water on June 21st. Xiangjiaba is slated to be the country’s third-largest hydropower project when completed in 2015, and will transmit electricity through to Shanghai. The Xiangjiaba Dam will also be used to irrigate farmland and to provide drinking water to southern Sichuan

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Mayor of Seoul: Forging Ahead with Cross-Sector Innovations

 This essay by the  mayor of Seoul, Korea, recounts his path to government office and explains why social innovation is central to the way that he governs. From the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Won-Soon Park |

 

 

SUPPLEMENT TO SSIR FUNDED BY THE ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION

We are living in a remarkable era of connectivity. People living in Seoul, Korea, for example, are becoming much more closely intertwined with people living in New York City, and finding solutions to the myriad issues we all face has become of vital importance.

Such intertwining extends to government, the market, and civil society as well, requiring collaboration among the three sectors in order to create effective solutions. Indeed, our era requires deep understanding, swift decision-making, revolutionary innovations, and empathetic approaches.

In the past, society often operated according to market rationality, and winners and losers were clearly defined. But gradually, the search for solutions inspired the growth of civil society and the birth of numerous civil society organizations from diverse realms. Despite this growth, the civil sector lacked the power by itself to solve these problems. Likewise, the private sector and the government found that they, too, could not solve social problems on their own.

Such constraints led the three sectors to pursue strategic cooperation with the goal of finding solutions to complex issues. This new reality—that cooperation and collaboration, rather than conflict and competition, hold the key—is now apparent. Cross-sector innovation is a tremendous advance over the way that society had been addressing social problems.

I have made a point of soliciting greater citizen input and getting citizens more directly involved in decision-making, and expanding collaboration between government, the market, and civil society.

As author Peter Drucker wrote, “Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance. Change cannot be controlled. The only thing we can do is be in the front, and the only way to stand in front is through organic cooperation and collaboration between sectors.”

As the mayor of Seoul, I have striven to create innovative ways of governing that are based on cooperation and collaboration. I have made a point of soliciting greater citizen input and getting citizens more directly involved in decision-making, fostering social enterprises that use innovative approaches to tackle social problems, and expanding collaboration between government, the market, and civil society.

My approach to governing has been shaped over my three decades of work before taking office—as a political activist, as a human rights lawyer, and as founder of a watchdog organization, community foundation, social enterprise, and think tank. I was privileged to be part of an effort to help civil society take root in South Korea (officially known as the Republic of Korea), and I believe that my career traces the evolution of important developments in modern South Korea that have brought us to this moment of innovation and greater collaboration. And so before I detail some of the social innovation efforts Seoul City has pursued, allow me to share a bit of my own personal journey, which I hope will provide greater context.

No matter how good a job government does to involve the ideas of its citizens, we cannot expect to solve all of the complex problems we face using the perspective of just one expert or the skills of just one sector.

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Richard Sennet: The stupefying smart city

From the Urban Age Electric City Conference Richard Sennet’s talk on the different ways a “Smart City” might be performed gives forth alternative ways technology might in fact make opportunities for citizens and participants to create the city rather have it developed “top-down” by architects and bureaucrats, this despite the on-going concern that  through the pervasive surveillance and exclusion that the technologies of the Smart City entail in reducing diversity  and creating boring placeless public space. As Sennet has repeatedly  voiced his views that it  is diversity and openness that create opportunity – see for example WHY COMPLEXITY IMPROVES THE QUALITY OF CITY  LIFE

Throughout the history of technology, new tools have come into being before people know how to use them well. This is the problem we face with today’s new ‘smart city’ tools – the CCTV cameras, motion sensors, and computers capable of processing immense amounts of data. The problem is in a way understandable. It takes a long time and much experiment, entailing failure as well as success, to plumb a tool’s possibilities. This was the case, for instance, of the hardened-edge scalpel, which appeared in the sixteenth century: surgeons required nearly a century to figure out best practices and innovative operations with a super sharp knife. But tools for the smart city come with a sting in the tail. Their application can inhibit experiment by ordinary urbanites in their everyday lives. A large city can be thought of as a complex organism whose innards do not work perfectly in sync, whose parts do not add up to a unified whole. Yet there is something valuable just about these dissonances. They can create opportunities economically, when someone seizes on a market irregularity, while lack of coherent control enables personal liberty, and disorder might make subjective experience rich and multi-layered – at least novelists from Defoe to Proust hoped so. To take advantage of these possibilities, the big city needs to be learnt. The risk is that new technologies might repress the inductive and deductive processes people use to make sense, for themselves, of the complex conditions in which they live. The smart city would then become a stupefying smart city. When a new tool proves deadening rather than liberating in use, our first instinct may be to blame the machine itself. That is what Lyon’s silk weavers in the eighteenth century did; they attacked mechanised looms as ‘perfidious works of the devil’. Instead of blaming the machine, we want to ask how the new urban technologies can be used more intelligently – which is more a question about urban planning and vision than about machinery. What kinds of urban design empower people in the street to experiment with their behaviour, and to draw their own conclusions from those experiments? In the 1930s, urbanists like the American Lewis Mumford and architects like the Swiss Sigfried Giedion worried about machines and materials in relation to urban design. Mumford challenged the urban planners’ uncritical embrace of the automobile; Giedion attacked the architects’ conservative use of new building materials. Digital technology has shifted the technological focus to information processing. This can occur in handhelds linked to ‘clouds’ or in command and control centres. The issue is: who controls such information and how is this information organised? Which in turn raises new issues of urban design. The questions the technology poses are much more profound than which software to buy. In this light, I want to make first a comparison between designs that create a stupefying smart city and designs that envision a stimulating smart city. By drawing this contrast, a formal issue then appears: that of the difference between a closed and an open system. And a social possibility emerges as well: the use of stimulating, open system technology to render the city more informal. My own comments here draw on a decade of research done by Urban Age on the visual and social conditions that can enable urbanites to take ownership over their lives.

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Djenne: An Evolving Cultural Landscape

See on Scoop.itUrban Choreography

Who manages a cultural landscape that has global importance? Does the United Nations have final say or the local community? It turns out a complex web of interests shape these evolving cultural lan…

Donovan Gillman‘s insight:

Whose culture is it anyway?

See on dirt.asla.org

Food Security, Food Gardens and Social Responsibility Investment

This information from Eddie Bisset of  Herbex whose Happy Child Foundation have been involved in helping Khayelitsha home owners with establishing food gardens as part of their on going social responsibility investment.

Benji at the centres veggie garden
Benji at the centres veggie garden

We have been working on a ‘backyard veggie garden’ project in Khayelitsha to increase food security and reduce malnutrition.
This project will be established in Nganini shack land which has over 70% unemployment and zero facilities.

We are in co-operation with Benji of Inity to roll out this initiative.He has identified 15 home owners who are prepared to use their little plots to establish veggie gardens.
The Happy Child Foundation is funding this project with an initial investment of nearly R40,000.
IMG_5069

Yesterday Andre, Nichelle and I went out with Benji and met some of the homeowners involved in the project.
These are all wonderful people with little hope of stable employment.To put you in the picture I’ve used one family’s story as an example.

Continue reading Food Security, Food Gardens and Social Responsibility Investment

Stronger Citizens, Stronger Cities: Changing Governance Through a Focus on Place

A welcome emphasis on actor-network associations and the politics of place rather that the usual focus on the built environment’s morphology , the paving, benches and “littering” the site with street furniture by 

caption / Photo: PPS

“If vibrancy is people, then the only way to make a city vibrant again is to make room for more of them.” / Photo: PPS

A great place is something that everybody can create. If vibrancy is people, as we argued two weeks ago, the only way to make a city vibrant again is to make room for more of them. Today, in the first of a two-part follow up, we will explore how Placemaking, by positioning public spaces at the heart of action-oriented community dialog, makes room both physically and philosophically by re-framing citizenship as an on-going, creative collaboration between neighbors. The result is not merely vibrancy, but equity.

In equitable places, individual citizens feel (first) that they are welcome, and (second) that it is within their power to change those places through their own actions. “The huge problem with citizenship today is that people don’t take it very seriously,” says Harry Boyte, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College. “The two dominant frameworks for citizenship in political theory,” he explains, “are the liberal framework, where citizens are voters and consumers of goods, and the communitarian framework, where citizens are volunteers and members of communities. In other words, for most people, citizenship is doing good deeds, or it’s voting and getting things. We need to develop the idea of civic agency, where citizens are co-creators of democracy and the democratic way of life.”

It is bewildering, when you take a step back, to realize how far we’ve gotten away from that last statement. We have completely divorced governance from citizenship, and built thick silo walls around government by creating an opaque, discipline-driven approach to problem-solving. Busting those silo walls is imperative to creating more equitable communities. Rather than trying, haplessly, to solve transportation, housing, or health problems separately, as if they exist within a vacuum, government should be focused on building stronger place.

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