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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Book Review: By the City/For the City

By the City/For the City: An Atlas of Possibility for the Future of New York edited by Anne Guiney and Brendan Crain
Multi-Story Books, 2011
Paperback, 352 pages

Leading up to its inaugural Urban Design Week in September this year, the Institute for Urban Design held By the City/For the City, a two-part "public ideas competition," in which New Yorkers submitted their ideas for bettering the city; designers were then asked to create proposals in response to one or more ideas. The results of the competition are collected in this book, the first title in Terreform's new imprint Multi-Story Books. From the call for ideas to the launch of Urban Design Week, with books in tow, only five months transpired, an incredibly short amount of time that is appropriate for the first part's crowdsourcing aspect but unbelievable for publishing. Hence the new imprint, I guess. Regardless the book is a great resource for ideas geared to New York City yet also applicable (at least conceptually) in various places, though occasionally the compressed timeframe comes through in the ideas and proposals.

[Art Bar by Medium | image source]

As expected, the book is split into two sections: yellow pages at the beginning document the over 600 ideas, and the bulk of the book presents the 150 proposals, which are also available online where the ten winners of the competition are highlighted (the three images here are a sample of the winning entries, a few of my favorites). At first flip the book can be a bit daunting, especially the long list of ideas, but attempts were made to index the chronological list by theme, issue, and borough. Yet they're certainly not meant to be read in order. Instead a random browse will suffice or taking aim at transportation issues, for example, to see what New Yorkers want from their city. Each idea includes a response to "Wouldn't it be great if..." as well as a location and a reason. That some are born from genuine desire or by the general public is questionable at times; one such idea asserts it would be great to recycle garbage into a drifting city off Staten Island, so people can "grow their own home by using robots to scoop the plastic" for recycling. Sounds more like a reason to include a student project...and it is, as is evident in the second half of the book.

[Expand the Narrows by Freecell | image source]

Even though some ideas and proposals extend well beyond the five-month time frame of the project, if they were omitted the book would be much smaller. And with a focus on ideas, one could argue that the more projects the better, as long as some link between design and desire is presented. At its root the competition and book are about linking designers with citizens, taking the concerns of the latter and giving them form through the efforts of architects, landscape architects, and urban designers. This process has the potential to make the wishes of the general public -- especially those under-represented or without a platform for being heard -- more convincing by allowing politicians and others in power to actually see the idea as a vision. To focus on the examples here, Medium takes over the car berth of the Staten Island Ferry (no longer used as originally designed, due to security concerns) as an art and social venue; Freecell addresses a desire for a bike/walking path across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by adding space for even more activities; and EOA integrates urban farming across rooftops while making it accessible from the street. While sustainability may be the buzz today, these and other projects show that utilizing (underused) space in creative ways is the prevailing common denominator.

[Harlem Community Rooftop Farm by EOA / Elmslie Osler Architect | image source]

To purchase the book, head over to Urban Design Week.

1 comment:

  1. For Urban Design, crowdsourcing for ideas is such a good approach! It would be nice to see this become a regular feature in cities. Really like the idea and thanks for this post!


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