We Own The City Global Research Update: November

Developments in ongoing urban research from New York, Moscow, Hong Kong, Amsterdam and Taipei for CITIES’ upcoming We Own The City publication.

Building Blocks: Foundations of Future Urban Development
Building from the top does not work without starting from a strong foundation.

We Own The City’s research in five cities around the world focuses on linking institutional actors building from ‘the top’ with citizen actors building from ‘the bottom,’ enabling coordinated co-creation in future urban development. Furthermore, the We Own The City publication pushes to increase integrative citizen participation, where community-driven efforts and ideas ensure higher success in architecture and urban design through actions informed by everyday users.

This work responds to the emerging urban landscape, where urban dwellers are no longer subservient ‘clients’ of urban development – they actively own their urban surroundings.

The Research Approach

“When the people lead, leaders will follow.” Gandhi’s words remain potent. As citizens are increasingly instrumental leaders in urban development, traditional leaders are forced, if not enticed, to follow. However, many architects and urban planners are struggling to build from the top with integrated knowledge of the foundation – to co-create urban space with user-designed, citizen-led initiatives.

To offer means and ways of integration, we asked the question: “how traditional top-down players are enabling the civil society to be part of the urban development game”. The research design examines four bottom-up case studies in five cities: Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Moscow, New York City and Taipei. Each city differs in social, economic and political backgrounds, providing a bright spectrum of insight. Conclusions will culminate in applicable strategies for institutional players to redesign their strategies, catalyzing newfound urban development schemes.

In each case study, researchers will tackle four particular issues:

  • Urban and historical context
  • Description of the motivations and driving factors behind the initiation of the project
  • Peculiar factors of success, problem solving actions and implementation challenges
  • Elaboration of the findings by extrapolating specific information about the role of traditional top-down players

If you would like more background on We Own The City the project, click here, and on the publication, click here. For last month’s update, click here.
For this month’s update, keep reading!

New York City

Last month we learned that Manufacture New York ­– a fashion incubator/factory hybrid – is designing a new headquarters in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. This month, Beatriz met with the real estate developer in charge of the new project, Salmar Properties. Additionally, she interviewed Thread Collective, the architectural firm designing the interiors.

At New Lots Triangle Plaza – the community-requested public space implemented through the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) NYC Plaza Program – Beatriz has been talking with Eddie DiBenedetto, the President of the Merchants Association. Additionally, she interviewed Emily Weidenhof, the DOT Plaza Program Director. Together with more informal interviews around the square, Beatriz has gathered a strong overview and feel for the case.

Equally active at the Garden of Eden – operating under NYCHA’s Garden and Greening Program – Beatriz is interviewing many of the important players. For instance, the NYCHA (despite their reluctance) and MARP and CCNY, two non-profits supporting local initiatives in the area. Adding even more texture to this case, Beatriz has implemented an ethnographic process of getting to know the gardeners.

The fourth case in NYC is a twofold examination of UrbanGlass committed to furthering the use of glass as a creative medium through studios, classes, exhibitions and publishing – and BRIC ­– a highly successful not-for-profit organization presenting contemporary art, performing arts and community media programs reflecting Brooklyn’s creativity and diversity since their beginnings in 1979. Beatriz has spoken with Cybele Maylone, the Executive Director of UrbanGlass, and completed a written interview with the BRIC Director of Marketing and Communication. She has also interviewed NYC Cultural Affairs in order to get a top-down perspective.

Hong Kong
Here we find a city famous for successfully implemented real estate development projects and top-down infrastructural planning. However, this landscape is shifting as an increasingly vocal and active public expresses a preference for redevelopments that address social and cultural needs.

For instance, The Community Workshop Team is looking into Choi Yuen Ecological Village, designed by a small local practice in the New Territories of Hong Kong. The village started as a protest against the government’s decision to force villagers to relocate for construction of a high-speed rail link, and now marks a turning point for formulating alternative planning strategies facilitating bottom-up development and organic agriculture.

Additionally, The Community Project Workshop is offering a lens into how they engage society through community outreach. As the institutional incubator for research and knowledge exchange in a university, the workshop aspires to provide a cross-disciplinary consultancy utilizing expertise from architecture, urban design, landscaping, and conservation. Through research for local districts, the workshop generates discourses and debates on pressing urban community issues.

Last month Lin and her team experienced an excursion in as part of the Huaguang Neighborhood: Mobilising Place Memories initiative and learned about the Taipei Urban Regeneration Project.

This month, team members have been conducting interviews and field studies while gathering information. Lin and her team also had their second editorial meeting, establishing plans for case study reviews and discussion to facilitate the writing process. In reviewing each written piece for the cases so far, they concluded to focus on an urban socio-spatial context.

In this context, they noted the capital city of Taipei’s power of governance consolidates through a process of spatial planning that is readable through the urban landscape. For example, they found prisons to be one of the first public facilities when colonial regimes started making the city – not only in Taipei, but also in Hong Kong and Dalien in China – highlighting socio-spatial developments and raising questions on whether Taipei is today considered a post-colonial city or continues to multi-colonial.

There have been recent discussions of doubling Moscow’s size, and to plan the region of ‘Greater Moscow’ in the southwest of the city. With architectural and planning at the fore of the city’s discussions, people have been responding through their own efforts. These bottom-up initiatives and instances of DIY urbanism illuminate architecture and planning continuing to build from the top without aligning to the citizen’s foundation. Nevertheless, Shriya is actively examining initiatives finding ways to collaboratively align.

Last month, we learned of developments in the cyclification of Moscow. This month, Shriya interviews Sergei Nikitkin, one of the pioneer urbanists behind the initiative. Additionally, Shriya is speaking with Alexey Mityaey. He has been responsible for spearheading initiatives including the first cycle path along the river in Moscow, installing bicycle racks at all of the metro stations, and organizing a car free day in the city for people to begin to learn more about bicycles, cycling culture and its benefits. Shriya will also examine cycling activism in Troparevo Nikulino from 2011- 2012, a district on the border of the city, where there are several activist cycling groups.

Cooperative Urbanism in Mitino – the project between local community organizations, government and institutions attempting to give people a voice in transforming their own district. First, Shriya will speak with Katya Girshina of the Strelka Institute, one of the project’s partners, to understand the role of the institution and its motivations. Second, she will interview the municipal deputy Vladmir Demidko to understand the ways in which he has been able to realize neighborhood level changes. Finally, She will meet with Tony Kolobakhen, one of the most active residents from the district of Mitino. (Photos of Mitino’s parking lot project below).

Building on Shriya’s research into the marathon event Delai Sam – a citizen initiative aiming to create an ecological and sustainable city by 2020 in response to the plans for greater Moscow – she will speak with Tatyana Kargina and Darya Melissina, two of the founders and leads of the festival, about its origins, and how it has spread even beyond Moscow. They will also discuss the role of various governmental departments and initiatives in the city who have become partners of this effort over time.

In addition to case studies, in Amsterdam, Mark is conducting and organizing interviews with select organizations to generate more comprehensive insight. This month he has been talking to Winy Maas from MVRDV, David Gianotten from OMA and Bart Reuser from NEXT Architects. The questions focused on how traditional architecture practice is evolving in order to enable more bottom-up development. The interviews have been inspiring and also challenging from both sides.

Amsterdam / Project Process and Progress

Amsterdam’s case study research and writing is complete. You will have to wait for the publication for all the juicy details. However, we will share insight into the current progress and process of the project.

This month, Francesca, the book editor, traveled to NYC and Moscow to meet DESIGN TRUST FOR PUBLIC SPACE and Strelka Institute. Besides sharing editorial meetings about the case studies selection and the work of the local researchers, a tentative date for local book launches in 2014 has also been discussed. On the other side of the world, a digital meeting has been organized with the team in Taipei to explore the possibility to integrate the book’s launch and workshop into wider programs next year.

Writers will be submitting case study chapters by December 15th. Preparing to write the concluding chapters, we are currently seeking an international platform to host the whole research team this January, where all can criticize, comment and co-construct concluding remarks. If you have an event and are interested in hosting, please contact projects@citiesfoundation.org.

More To Come

Until then, find out more on the upcoming publication We Own The City: Enabling Community Practices in Architecture and Urban Planning here, subscribe to our newsletter (top right of page), and/or follow our Facebook page for additional updates.

Photos from Mitino, Moscow
Taken from a workshop to transform a parking lot that people felt negatively towards. A portion of the parking lot, with permission from authorities, was allocated to architects and citizens to co-design a social space.

Moscow Mitino parking lot kid

Moscow Mitino parking lot

Created on 03 December 2013

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