Visionary Chicago

Walking through downtown Chicago, one is surrounded by buildings that mark watersheds in architectural history. But few people know about the Chicago that could have been. From Adolf Loos’ spectacular proposal for Chicago Tribune Tower to Greg Lynn’s Stranded Sears Tower, Visionary Chicago illuminates more than 100 unrealized projects from the past century that continue to haunt and inspire the contemporary imagination. The collaborative project is an iPhone app–driven tour of fantastical schemes revealed at the sites for which they were designed. It’s an extension of the version that architects Irene Cheng and Bretty Snyder created for New York City in 2009. The Chicago edition is based on the research of local architect and writer Alexander Eisenschmidt, who describes it as “a directory of ideas, ideas of how to engage the city.”


No urbanite is spared the nightmare of traffic. We might lament how much worse traffic has gotten, but only professional planners with expensive software know for sure. To enable more information collection, Brooklyn urban planner and activist Aurash Khawarzad and product designer Ted Ullrich developed TrafficCOM, a portable, inexpensive traffic counting device that can be deployed by citizens anywhere. The data collected by the battery-operated device is uploaded and published via open-source mapping software, equipping the public with timely, accurate data that may be used to influence the planning of anything from bike lanes to street closures to parks to mass transit. TrafficCom has been counting cars New York, San Francisco, Moscow, among other cities. The designers hope to improve and democratize traffic data, emphasizing that good information is crucial to good networks.


Over six weeks in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, the art and design collective known as the Museum of Contemporary Phenomena (MCP) harnessed one of the city’s greatest and most overlooked sources of energy: teenagers. In a vacant storefront, MCP conducted a series of hands-on workshops addressing the design of safe spaces. Thirty teens took part, learning about the complete design process—interviewing neighbors, mapping sites, brainstorming ideas, developing concepts, presenting them to the community, and selecting an idea to pursue at full scale. Their final project was the transformation of a parking lot into a lively place, replete with benches, flower planters, a climbing wall, and skateboard ramps which the teens built themselves. By empowering teens to improve the spaces they regularly occupy, Territory created an opening for them to positively interact with each other and their communities.

PUPstop Project

Waiting for a bus in Indianapolis is primarily a standing affair. Of the 4,000 bus stops in the city’s transit system, only 42 have benches. When demolition started on the historic Bush Stadium, former home of the Indianapolis Indians, in 2012, People for Urban Progress (PUP) salvaged 9,000 fold-up bleacher seats and began upcycling them as the bus stop seating. PUP, a nonprofit “idea incubator, design center, and do-tank,” partnered with local sustainability advocate Ecolaborative and Indianapolis Fabrications to refurbish the original red and yellow seats for sidewalk installation. Working with the city’s public transit agency IndyGO, there are now 11 “PUPstops” installed throughout Indianapolis, and more in the works. PUP’s website invites citizens to identify sites, sponsor and otherwise help more communities get their own PUPstops.

Placemaking in Bronzeville

Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood was a vibrant center of African American culture in the early 1900s, but its recent history has been marked by vacancy and economic decline. In summer 2012, architect Monica Chadha and her students from the Illinois Institute of Technology identified the intersection of 43rd and Calumet, where three of the four corners were vacant lots, for a small pilot project to create positive community gathering places. Working with residents and business owners to define the community’s needs, Chadha and her students developed a system of portable, lightweight furniture, including game tables and storage bins, as well as a Candy Chang – style community message board that invites debate about the future of the neighborhood. Residents continue to use the furniture, and the project spurred a community-led cleanup of the most derelict of the corner lots.

Piazza Gratissima

New York artists and sculptors Rahul Alexander, Jonathan Brand, Adam Brent, Ryan Roa, and Travis LeRoy Southworth formed the collective BroLab out of their shared interest in bridging design, art, community service, and placemaking. For them, a small under-utilized space in front of the Mott Haven Public Library in the Bronx seemed ripe for improvement. They sought permission from the library and city officials to develop a design intervention, and met with locals to hear what the neighborhood needed. Armed with $5,180 raised on Kickstarter, the artists created Piazza Gratissima, a multipurpose “free plaza” that amplifies the library’s position as a public commons. Like their previous collaborations, Piazza Gratissima reinforces their desire to “connect art to the live activities of both making and engagement.”

Notes for Anyone

The average American is exposed to as many as 5,000 advertisements per day. Chicago art director and artist Michael Pecirno’s Notes for Anyone attempts to reclaim a tiny percentage of our shared visual field to spread messages of encouragement and love. Describing his work as “guerilla positivity,” Pecirno started by attaching posters with messages such as “I’m Proud of You” and “Everyone Matters” to street lamps and parking signs in Chicago’s Wicker Park. Following suit with fellow Chicago artist Matthew Hoffman’s well-known You Are Beautiful project, which started as a small sticker campaign and grew into murals and art installations around the world, Notes for Anyone has spread quickly. Most recently, the Billboard Art Project, a nonprofit that transforms roadside billboards into a platform for art, has transmitted Pecirno’s upbeat messages in Baton Rouge and San Bernadino.

Moving Design: Civic Intervention

Communication design skills are most commonly deployed in the service of advertising, branding, and sales, but not all graphic designers want to apply their expertise only to commercial ends. Moving Design is a nonprofit coalition of graphic designers and artists who work with community partners to lead initiatives addressing pressing social and environmental issues. Founded by Chicago communication designers Rick Valicenti and John Pobojewski, Moving Design issues “calls to action” on a range of concerns—from water stewardship to bicycle safety to air quality—urging their profession’s best and brightest to develop creative communication campaigns that educate, engage, and activate the public. They have organized seven initiatives so far, with results taking the form of public information crusades, live events, community charrettes, and more. For Moving Design’s committed network, effective communication is necessary to catalyze change.

Imaging Detroit

For the city that spawned the term “ruin porn,” sources for a positive self-image have been hard to come by. Recognizing that image-making can be used constructively in Detroit’s economic and social recovery, three professors at University of Michigan’s Taubman School of Architecture — Anya Sirota, Mireille Roddier, Jean Louis Farges — organized Imaging Detroit, a 36-hour outdoor film festival held in Perrien Park to engage residents in debating their city’s public image. Fifty documentaries about Detroit (selected from hundreds of international submissions to an open call) were screened back-to-back inside a complex of temporary plywood structures, followed by lively panel discussions. This pop-up agora turned the park into a vibrant civic space for public dialogue, drawing passionate citizens, artists, architects, academics, writers, urbanists, and policymakers alike.

Dream It. Grow It.

“Dream in a pragmatic way,” Aldous Huxley once advised. With Dream It. Grow It., urban designer Yael Breimer and architect Allie O’Neill developed a simple tool for communities and aspiring gardeners to do just that, a deck of playing cards, color-coded with simple icons to designate the various steps to plan, design, and implement a successful garden. Tags at the bottom of each card help prioritize elements for decision-making and budgeting. Offering a fun and interactive way to structure brainstorming and cooperative design, the cards have been used in youth workshops in Washington Park, Hyde Park, and Pilsen, where one garden is breaking ground in summer 2013. “Converting even just one lot to a garden has the power to change a block,” the designers state. “Dream It. Grow It. puts the ability to transform neighborhoods in citizens’ hands.”

Cleveland Bridge Project

Like many other postindustrial cities, Cleveland has more infrastructure — roads, bridges, and pipes — than necessary to meet the needs of the city’s shrinking population. The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), a nonprofit based at Kent State University and led by Terry Schwartz, has been working to transform the city’s existing assets into lively public spaces. CUDC worked with local firm Environmental Design Group to develop ideas for alternative uses of the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, which was originally designed for streetcars and has been vacant since 1954. Since 2009, they have been organizing temporary events and installations, including wayfinding to help people get to the bridge, taped-off bike lanes, modular seating, flea market stands, and a portable lawn on wheels. Ultimately, Schwartz hopes the bridge will become a permanent public space. In the meanwhile, these interventions invite people to envision future possibilities for the space and make it their own.

The City from the Valley

Fundamental shifts are underway in the relationship between San Francisco and the Silicon Valley as legions of tech workers are opting to live in the city, thus reversing the traditional suburb-to-city commute. San Franciscobased communication design firm Stamen created The City from the Valley, a map of the alternate transportation network of private buses that threads through the city daily, picking up employees of Google, Facebook, Apple, and the like, at unmarked bus stops, and carrying them southward to their campuses. Deploying bike messengers and others to track the buses, Stamen collected route information and mapped what is a surprisingly vast, high-frequency, and unregulated system. Like previous projects such as Cabspotting and Crimespotting, The City from the Valley harnesses data to visualize the flows of urban activities, ultimately helping us to understand the changing patterns and needs of the city.

Chicago Rarities Orchard Project

The Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP) is raising the bar on public green space. The new nonprofit was established to “create ‘community rare-fruit orchards’ in reclaimed urban spaces” in Chicago. Its pilot project, breaking ground in Logan Square in June 2013, will transform an empty plot into an orchard with 40 fruit-bearing trees, including rare and endangered varieties of pears, apples, and stone fruit. By planting rare-fruit orchards, CROP addresses several issues in one bundle, including crop diversity, vacancy, public space, and access to food. With partnerships with the urban land trust NeighborSpace, the City of Chicago, and landscape architecture firm Altamanu, CROP hopes to nurture a generation of custodians to ensure the orchard’s longevity.

Pop Up Lunch

With gourmet food trucks joining New York’s traditional street food vendors, it seems that everyone is getting lunch
on the sidewalk these days. But there remains the problem of too few places to sit and eat. Observing far too many messy standing lunchers, industrial designer Alexandra Pulver came up with Pop Up Lunch, a collection of “mobile eating tools” that plug into ubiquitous urban elements to create instant tables and chairs. Using magnets, hooks, or strategically placed notches, Pulver’s compact, portable interventions make traffic signposts, fire hydrants, even garbage cans into temporary lunch spots. She has even found paint to be an easy accomplice, stenciling a graphic of a Thonet seatback over a water standpipe to highlight its availability as a seat.

Place Pulse

Place Pulse players are shown two side-by-side Google Street View images along with a question (for example, “Which place looks safer?”). Players click on the image of their choice, earning points that can be exchanged for access to additional game features. Over time, Place Pulse converts opinions shared in-game into perception scores for each place, creating a quantitative measure of urban perception. Scores are mapped and used to identify areas that are most in need of improvements. Developed by an MIT Media Lab team led by Phil Salesses, this digital tool is intended to help cities become more flexible and representative of the desires of their inhabitants

Place It!

Place It! is a series of community workshops that invites the public to reflect upon, explore, participate in, and better comprehend the look and feel of the city through interactive models. Over the past three years, Los Angeles architect and planner James Rojas has led over 200 workshops in diverse communities across the country, involving schools, museums, community groups, city agencies, and more. He starts the workshops with a basic model of the local city, crafted from Legos, buttons, other toys and raw materials, and then invites workshop participants to add, subtract, and rearrange elements to envision their ideal city. Participants in a recent workshop in Raleigh, North Carolina, came up with proposed improvements including new grocery stores and farmers markets, outdoor movies, and improved biking conditions.

Phone Booth Book Share

With smart phones near universal, one might wonder why public payphones still occupy so much sidewalk space. The Department of Urban Betterment’s (DUB) Phone Booth Book Share is part of a series of urban interventions that explore obsolete street technology. It might look like a simple repurposing of phone booths into community book shares, but DUB’s motto – nascetur ridiculus mus, “and a ridiculous mouse will be brought forth” – hints at a grander objective. Architect John Locke invokes Homer to argue, “The central office has no brain. The paternalistic top- down strategy of traditional urban planning has been a waste of heroic labors. We can match modest labors with exceptional gains by turning even a few of our neighbors into consciously critical observers.”

Parkman Triangle Park

Los Angeles – based Urban Operations’ work exploits loopholes in the rules that govern the streetscape. Parkman Triangle, a wedge-shaped space that was once a turn lane, is classified by the city as an “improvement” instead of as a park. Initiated by John Southern, the pocket park is planted with native and drought-resistant trees, succulents, and grasses. City guidelines regulate boulders differently than street furniture, so the designer chose large flat rocks for seating. Local residents pitched in to help with the construction. “It fosters a sense of civic stewardship between members of the community through its maintenance and upkeep,” Southern says. The project is part of a study focusing on the identification and reprogramming of sites that do not appear in GIS databases.


San Francisco’s streets and rights-of-way make up fully 25% of the city’s land – more than the area of the city’s parks combined. This fact motivated design studio Rebar to create a micro-park that occupied a metered parking spot in downtown San Francisco for a few hours. Seven years later, PARK(ing) Day (September 21) is observed in 162 cities in 35 countries. Interestingly, the idea has made institutional inroads: In 2010 New York City, which has already converted several miles of roadway into microplazas, began issuing Pop-up Café licenses, allowing businesses to extend outdoor seating into adjacent parking spots during the summer months. And in 2011 San Francisco began issuing Parklet Permits to residents and businesses alike, as part of its Pavements to Parks program.


How can citizens help cities run more smoothly? What if cities could share software and data with other cities, learning from each other’s successes to conquer similar challenges? New York nonprofit OpenPlans, founded by transportation advocate Mark Gorton, builds tools for governments to do this, and more. Cities spend billions of dollars on closed-source technology to facilitate everything from intranets to building permits to transit operations. OpenPlans builds open software and consults city agencies on how to implement open-computing platforms to help them run more efficiently. For NYC’s Department of Transportation, for example, OpenPlans developed Shareabouts, a mapping tool that allowed citizens to suggest locations for the city’s new bikeshare system. It’s just one of many projects that advances their mantra, “Information is the currency of democracy.”

New Public Sites

Artist Graham Coreil-Allen applies psychogeography and Situationist principles to the everyday urban walking tour in his New Public Sites project. After extensive research into the definitions of and legal issues surrounding public space, Coreil- Allen developed an understanding of the latent potential in empty, ambiguous, contradictory, or invisible areas of the city. Through a series of guided walking tours that use architecture and planning terminology in a “playful yet serious” manner, Coreil-Allen activates and informs citizens about the civic and social possibilities of underutilized spaces. Participants are given free maps of the area explored, and invited to read Coreil-Allen’s growing Typology of New Public Sites (available for free download) to learn more about his “radical pedestrianism” and “radical cartography.”


Candy Chang, Tee Parham, and Dan Parham developed Neighborland to allow people to share their ideas and insights for their city, support their neighbors’ ideas, and connect with people who share their interests. Informed by Chang’s “I Wish This Was” (project #53), the Neighborland website was created to provide the people of New Orleans with a platform to identify achievable goals and discuss how to accomplish them. Forums for twenty-five other cities have since been added to the site. Simple tactics like stickers, spray chalk, and physical signage bring people together oine and spark conversations in public space. The team’s goal is to help make cities more complete, compact, and connected.


Despite amenities like a farmers’ market and historic buildings, Oakland’s old business district was lacking in vibrant street life. Architect and local business owner Alfonso Dominguez and artist Sarah Filley co-founded nonprofit popuphood as a small-business incubator to revitalize the neighborhood and spark long-term economic development. Working with a landlord who agreed to provide space in vacant storefronts, Filley and Dominguez recruited five complementary businesses with the promise of six months of free rent and marketing support. The project launched before last Christmas and has so far been a success, generating buzz as a new destination unique for its hyper- local approach to retail. Three of the original retailers have signed long-term leases, and the neighborhood seems on the rise.

Post Furniture

As is the case with many American cities, the streets of Los Angeles are designed for cars and the pedestrian experience remains an afterthought. Hoping that improving the pedestrian experience might entice people out of their cars to “enjoy the cityscape and each other,” industrial designers Ken Mori and Jenny Liang created Post Furniture, a series of interventions that turn traffic signposts into urban furniture. SignBench appropriates the ubiquitous freeway sign, while SignChair is easily screwed onto any standard signpost. Espousing the belief that shaping one’s surroundings creates a sense of neighborhood ownership, Mori and Liang designed Post Furniture in such a way that anybody can easily replicate and deploy them in their own cities.

Power Cart

Street vendors have traditionally played a role in defining the urban environment, often reflecting the social and cultural particularities of a city. Knife-sharpening in India, gas refills in Africa, fake Gucci bags in Paris, and chair massages in New York City are some of today’s examples. Mouna Andraos brings another service to the contemporary city with Power Cart, a mobile unit that delivers a quick recharge for urban dwellers’ mobile devices. With sustainability in mind, Power Cart derives its energy from solar cells and hand-operated crank power. Power Cart was designed to be easily assembled by anyone using off-the-shelf pieces. Detailed instructions are available on her website www.


Ben Berkowitz was inspired to start SeeClickFix after struggling to get the city of New Haven to remove graffiti from a neighbor’s building. After repeatedly calling City Hall and getting nowhere, he realized that citizens everywhere likely had the same experience and desire to have a reliable channel to communicate with their city officials. As a website and mobile app, SeeClickFix enables citizens to report non-emergency problems (for example, potholes, fallen trees, broken traffic lights) to city officials and the media simultaneously – the company has almost 80 government partners and 700 media partners – so there is more transparency about the resolution of civic problems. SeeClickFix calls on citizens to take ownership of the problems in their communities, enabling them to be not just voters but attentive civic actors.


To enliven San Francisco’s Mid-Market District, a neighborhood with one of the highest crime rates and lowest occupancy rates in the city, architecture firm HOK initiated a charrette, teaming up with the Central Market Community Benefit District and drawing dozens of firms including Public Architecture and WSP Flack + Kurtz, as well as local residents. From these sessions emerged a proposal for simple adaptive reuse – converting disused newspaper kiosks into community-focused hubs and sites for micro-businesses. Proposed new uses include a free bicycle repair station, a florist, a café, and a venue for performance art. The city agreed to lease the kiosks free of charge for the community uses. The bike station opened several months ago, and the florist will open next.

Queens Boulevard Intervention

In 2009, after the death of cyclist James Langergaard on Queens Boulevard, a group of urban planners committed themselves to bringing safety improvements to this auto-centric thoroughfare. They formed the Planning Corps, and through monthly working sessions with activists and residents, they realized their work could have impact beyond Queens Boulevard: By educating people about complex transportation topics, they could empower them to work with the full range of stakeholders – residents, businesses, and government agencies – to bring positive changes. This resulted in the Public Engagement Tool Kit, which breaks down everything from signal timing to congestion data, and documents precedents of broad boulevards from around the world to suggest how to more safely allocate space for cars, transit, pedestrians, and cyclists.


With smart phones, smart cities, and endless tools to maximize efficiency and minimize travel time, the possibility for serendipitous encounters or discoveries is diminishing. Artist and architect Mark Shepard created Serendipitor, an iPhone app that brings out the playful explorer in all of us. Users input their selected destination, and Serendipitor provides inventive directional routes and suggested actions inspired by Fluxus, Vito Acconci, Yoko Ono, among others, helping users find something surprising and new along their way. Users can increase or decrease the complexity of the route, depending on how much time they have. Serendipitor is part of Shepard’s larger project, the Sentient City Survival Kit (supported by Creative Capital), which “probes the social, cultural and political implications of ubiquitous computing for urban environments.”

Skipping Only Zones

For most, the choice route to and from work (or anywhere, for that matter) is the fastest, most direct, or most familiar. Bent on breaking up the monotony of rote passage by introducing a little fun, Sierra Seip and Alison Uljee created Skipping Only Zones, with signs that riff off the standard pedestrian-crossing sign installed at various crosswalks, sidewalks, and pedestrian paths throughout New York City. The designers were heartened to see people follow their sign’s prompt, goofily skipping across streets or bonding with strangers over a funny, shared moment. Skipping Only Zones is part of Seip and Uljee’s larger project, Design That Moves You, a series of urban interventions that uses fun as a motivator for increased physical activity and social interaction.

Soil Kitchen

Soil Kitchen was a temporary windmill-powered architectural intervention that breathed new life into a formerly abandoned building within the postindustrial landscape of Philadelphia. For one week, the multi-use space offered visitors free soup while they waited for soil samples from their yards to be tested for contaminants. Located across the street from the Don Quixote monument in Philadelphia, the project paid homage to Cervantes with its rooftop windmill, but rather than an “adversarial giant” as in the novel, the windmill was a symbol of self-reliance. Soil Kitchen tested over 350 soil samples, gave out 300 bowls of soup daily, distributed a Philadelphia Brownfields Map, and conducted workshops on soil remediation, urban agriculture, composting, wind turbine construction, and offered cooking lessons.

Stairway Stories

Would you forego the elevator if climbing stairs promised a great story? That’s what industrial designers Alison Uljee and Sierra Seip hope to achieve with Stairway Stories, which is a part of their larger project, Design That Moves You, aimed at combating obesity through public design interventions. Stairway Stories entices people to take the stairs, with snippets of a story adhered to ascending risers. Uljee and Seip tested their project at the High Line park, posting a sign on an elevator suggesting visitors make the two-flight climb. Those opting for exercise were rewarded with “a romantic and educational encounter between two angler fish.” It might have been more work, but then “Her gorgeous face glowed…”

Popularise: Build Your City

As a reaction to real estate development that’s often out of touch with local wants and needs, former developer Ben Miller created an online crowdsourcing platform called Popularise to give people a way to influence how their neighborhoods take shape. Launched in Washington, D.C., with other city editions in the works, the website invites the public to suggest businesses they’d like to see occupy vacant storefronts in their neighborhoods and to offer feedback on impending projects. Builders can post descriptions and photos of projects in the works, and solicit community input. With many cities confronting the same problems, such as empty storefronts or shopping strips filled with big-chain retailers, Popularise facilitates “a new way to develop authentic places” that draws from the power of the crowd.

Pop Up City

Since 2007 the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative of Kent State University has run Pop Up City, a program that brings vacant urban space to life through fleeting interventions. Cleveland lost half of its population since the 1950s, and much of its urban fabric is unused and deteriorating. Pop Up City aims to spotlight some of Cleveland’s spectacular but underutilized properties, while demonstrating that vacancy can be an opportunity and an adventure, not just a liability. Past interventions have included an ice sculpture park on the banks of the Cuyahoga River; a roller-disco on a vacant floor of an old industrial building; and an inflatable music venue on top of a parking garage, demonstrating possible alternative programming for structures that are used only during certain hours of the day.


We all know how powerful a well-made viral video can be to advance a cause. Streetfilms has harnessed that power to promote smart transportation design and policy and its potential to create happy, healthy places to live. The New York nonprofit Streetfilms (sister organization of OpenPlans) has produced over 400 short films on subjects ranging from bikeway design to sustainable transport to parking reform, shot in locations all over the world. One of its most-viewed films is about Ciclovía, a weekly “open streets” event in Bogotá, Colombia, in which over 70 miles of streets are closed for leisurely cycling. The video has received over 200,000 hits and has helped advocates everywhere to convince their own city officials to implement ciclovías.


#whOWNSpace was founded in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York when activists occupied Zuccotti Park, a privately owned public space (POPS). A grassroots collective initiated by DSGN AGNC, along with Change Administration (formerly DoTank), Not An Alternative, and others, group members teach, research, and broadcast issues surrounding the democratic use of public space. #whOWNSpace has conducted public workshops to map these sites, and when they find illegal restrictions to access, the group pressures building owners to remove them. “Understanding what privatization is doing to our cities and open spaces is ultimately about understanding the role of space in a society,” explains Riano. #whOWNSpace’s teach-ins, tweets, and design proposals encourage community activist
use of space in the city.

Walk Raleigh: Guerrilla Wayfinding

For Matt Tomasulo, the inclination to drive in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, was a result more of perceived distance than actual necessity – a tendency endemic in many American cities. As an antidote to this misconception, he devised Walk Raleigh, an unsanctioned wayfinding system for pedestrians. Tomasulo hung 27 signs at three major Raleigh intersections, each with a directional arrow, a count of how many “minutes by foot” are necessary to reach a destination, and a QR code for more information. Though the signs were removed within days of being posted, overwhelming support from the local community led the Raleigh City Council to reinstate Walk Raleigh as an official pilot project, promoting a healthier and safer pedestrian environment in the city.

Ten New Historical Markers

In 2007 a group of Pittsburgh-based artists, activists, and amateur historians coalesced around their interest in the often- buried history of radicalism in the United States. Perturbed by the lack of visibility and appropriate perspective given to important moments of resistance reflected in the city’s existing historical markers, they formed the Howling Mob Society to research and design a series of new public signs. Their first effort focused on the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, with ten markers detailing significant events installed throughout the city, inspiring considerable local debate. To date, eight of the ten signs are still up, and an accompanying website invites readers to explore an interactive map and delve deeper into this lesser-known chapter of the city’s history.

The Uni

The Uni is a mobile, modular outdoor library designed to reinforce the potential for learning in the public sphere. Developed in Boston by Street Lab (now The Uni Project) in collaboration with Höweler + Yoon Architecture, the Uni introduces an unfamiliar use of the public realm, converting any square or sidewalk into a plein-air learning lounge. Uni’s lightweight modular structures are composed of open-faced stacking cubes, which can each hold 10 to 15 books, and can be adapted to almost any public space. The first was assembled in a street market in Lower Manhattan, and Unis have since been installed all over New York City, Boston, and recently, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with book selections varying according to location and time.

Trees, Cabs and Crime in San Francisco

On the digital data frontier, San Francisco design firm Stamen is an intrepid, advance exploratory team. Their data visualization and cartography work is imbued with a belief in the power of maps to make meaningful sense of abstract information. The firm conducts its own research alongside its client work, which has included visualization projects for the London 2012 Olympics, Esquire, and Twitter. For Trees, Cabs and Crime, partner Shawn Allen combined three distinct data sets to suss out unknown urban patterns. One layer is a map of urban tree locations; another follows taxicab GPS traces; and the last depicts crime hotspots, drawing from an earlier Stamen project, Crimespotting, a useful interactive map charting to-the-minute police reports of crimes in the Bay Area.

Version Festival 12

Bridgeport, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, has long been an Irish-American, working-class enclave but has recently showed signs of change. The Public Media Institute (PMI) – led by artist Ed Marszewski, a longtime Bridgeport resident – took a proactive look at the neighborhood’s future evolution by making it the focus of its 12th Version Festival, an annual month-long community arts event. For the Bridgeport edition, the aim was to create a temporary autonomous zone: PMI invited cultural workers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, designers, foodies, and dreamers to swarm the neighborhood, remixing twelve temporary spaces. For one month, these pop-ups – including a bookstore, performance space, home-brewing clubhouse, galleries, shops selling locally made goods, and community kitchen – invigorated the area and provided a glimpse of potential long-term cultural and economic change.

War Gastronomy: Recipes of Relocation

It might appear to be just another sidewalk food cart, but San Francisco artists Justin Hoover and Chris Treggiari’s set-up – a mobile kitchen/café fashioned from industrial bikes and travel trunks – is actually a cultural project about globalization and dislocation. Touched by his Chinese grandmother’s tales of escaping war, and by her traditional cooking, Hoover started to collect recipes from people who have been forced to move due to conflict in their home countries. At predetermined times in public places, the pair sets up their cart and serves dishes along with the personal stories attached to them. Passersby can contribute their own recipes to War Gastronomy’s ever-growing archive, feeding a performance/participatory work that brings the communal experience of cooking, eating, and sharing stories to public space.

Guerrilla Gardening

Many urban areas sorely lack green spaces at any scale. Meanwhile, the stubborn vacant lot is a common affliction of the postindustrial city, scourge of property values and community safety. In response, greenthumbs everywhere have been greening cities, from the first squatted gardens of New York’s anti-gentrification Green Guerrillas in the 1970s to the local stewardship of countless anonymous gardeners around the world today. The practice has recently moved beyond the dirt patch to sidewalk cracks, traffic medians, and even streetscape fixtures: Disused newspaper vending boxes have been turned into spontaneous planters, while chainlink fences and telephone poles have been draped with hanging gardens. In all, these efforts are spreading greenery, beauty, and the culture of hands-on urbanism.

Harvest Dome

Any New Yorker worth their salt will recognize the frayed remains of broken umbrellas, which crowd city trashcans and litter gutters during and after a storm. With Harvest Dome, Amanda Schachter and Alexander Levi of SLO Architecture have repurposed these remains as a way to foreground the city’s accumulation of waterborne debris. Schachter and Levi worked with area teenagers and apprentice architects to gather the discarded, storm-snapped umbrellas and assemble them into a light-gauge spherical installation, which they floated in the Inwood Hill Park Inlet at Manhattan’s northernmost tip. Rising and falling with the tide, the buoyant dome called attention to the city’s waterways and watersheds and the circadian action of the water.


A once bustling street in the center of San Juan, Puerto Rico, fell into disuse when the city failed to repair broken streetlamps. The dark street was perceived as unsafe by many, and became devoid of pedestrians, garbage-strewn, and generally avoided. Urbano Activo, a research and design collective that promotes the creative use of public space, conducted a multidisciplinary workshop that included local residents, and devised Iluminacción, a one-night event that called on neighbors to converge on the street with handcrafted lanterns and whatever other means of illumination they could find. With music and a festive atmosphere, the street shone bright once again. A petition was circulated at the event, leading the city to repair the broken streetlamps.


The Insert____Here project, launched by artist Eve Mosher in response to a perceived lack of public awareness around community-driven change, capitalizes on community awareness of place and optimism. The project invites participants to place bold yellow “Insert____Here” arrows in locations in their community where they want to “insert” an urban change or intervention. By posting their ideas on site, individuals can share their proposed solutions with the greater community. Arrows have also been projected onto the sides of buildings during events, allowing passersby to text their wishes for a site and see them broadcast live to the neighborhood.

Kingshighway Skatepark

Jonathan Ware wasn’t sure whether to bring a bag of concrete along with a skateboard and pads on his first visit to Kingshighway Skatepark. “Word on the street was if you showed up and you did not contribute in some way, you would not be permitted to skate there,” says Ware, a local architect and skater. Situated below an overpass in south St. Louis, the highly popular skate park was built by an all-volunteer network of skaters in an urban dead zone. Plans to overhaul the road above now jeopardize the park’s future, but its success has galvanized larger efforts between the volunteer group now known as Kingshighway Vigilante Transitions, city officials, and the community to build sanctioned skate parks in other locations throughout the city.

KISS Popup Chapel

To celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York state, social networking hub Architizer and wedding-planning website sponsored a competition to create a temporary chapel to be installed in Central Park on July 30, 2011, for wedding ceremonies to be conducted all day. Z-A Studio’s winning KISS Popup Chapel was designed to be easily transported and assembled, with two curving walls made of layered honeycombed cardboard joined to create a playful vault. Architect Guy Zucker describes KISS as an allegory for marriage, “two separate parts, made of the same DNA but layered differently,” cardboard joined to create “a stable entity that is more than the sum of its parts” – an allegory for marriage. Twenty-four couples were married in the chapel.

LA Green Grounds

While leading urban farming courses for the LA Museum of Natural History, Vanessa Vobis noticed that her attendees were mostly white families, many of whom already have access to healthy food options. To make these skills more accessible to diverse communities, Vobis approached a neighbor in the low-income community surrounding the museum, offering to build a home garden in exchange for the homeowner recruiting friends and family to help with the physical work and to learn about urban farming together. LA Green Grounds now holds monthly “dig-ins,” like old-fashioned barn-raisings, where residents work together to convert front yards into edible gardens in one day. Trained as an artist, Vobis sees participatory engagement as central to the work of socially active artists who attempt to resist the commercialization of the arts scene.


What can be done with a prime piece of urban real estate left fallow by a stalled economy? New York developer Trinity sought advice from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council on possibilities for its property’s interim use; the LMCC’s curator recalled Interboro Partners’ previous work on dead malls and a commission was born. The Brooklyn firm designed the half-acre block on Canal Street as something more than a temporary park – it’s an innovative model for flexible urban land use. LentSpace is a sculpture garden, a platform for arts programming, and a nursery for trees that will migrate to neighboring streets when the developer wants the site back. Encircling the site is a 7-foot tall sculptural fence composed of pivoting sections with built-in benches.

Linden Living Alley

Amid the urban hubbub, Linden Living Alley provides a safe, low-speed area where pedestrians, bikes, and cars can coexist with greenery and social space. The re-envisioned throughway realizes the potential of San Francisco’s small streets and alleys, a challenge given the city’s strict standards of segregation between roadways and sidewalks. It is a modern “shared space” street – examples of which date back to the 1970s but have virtually disappeared due to accessibility requirements of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Architect Dave Winslow and designer Loring Sagan (whose studio Build Inc. is located on Linden Alley) worked for years with the city and disability advocates to develop a design that preserves accessibility
while fulfilling the vision of a truly shared space.

Local Code: Real Estates

When artist Gordon Matta-Clark created Fake Estates in the early 1970s, he spent three years combing through public records to identify 15 fallow, forgotten city-owned lots. Using GIS mapping, architect Nicholas de Monchaux identified over 1,500 vacant public lots in San Francisco in a matter of months. In the U.C. Berkeley professor’s eyes, when considered together, these residual, unmaintained spaces are a vast untapped resource. Using parametric design to optimize thermal and hydrological performance, he proposes a landscape design for each parcel, resulting in a network of urban greenways that enhances the city’s ecology and benefits citizens’ health. He has extended the research to other cities, creating a database of neglected sites that could be recuperated to create infrastructures that mend ecological and social circumstances.

Making Policy Public

While the effects of public policies can be widespread, the discussion and understanding of these policies are usually not. The Center for Urban Pedagogy’s (CUP) Making Policy Public series aims to make information on policy truly public – accessible, meaningful, and shared. Four times yearly, CUP pairs communication designers with advocacy organizations to translate complex policy issues into easy-to-grasp visuals that are then widely distributed within the community most affected by the policy. Previous posters include Predatory Equity: The Survival Guide, which arms tenants and landowners with the tools to avoid foreclosure; I Got Arrested! Now What?, which educates those caught in the juvenile justice system; and Vendor Power!, which helps street vendors defend themselves against needless fines.

Marcus Prize Pavilion

Dotted with brownfield sites, Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley is just one of the nation’s many damaged postindustrial corridors in need of revitalization. Through a design-build studio at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Barkow Leibinger Architects and Professor Kyle Talbott introduced a catalyst for the process of its rehabilitation. The studio created the Marcus Prize Pavilion, a permanent structure to serve as a meeting point and storage facility for volunteer gardeners working to restore the surrounding landscape. The pavilion’s design is inspired by local ecology, with a light, plywood-beamed roof mimicking the structure of leaves. It’s meant to be the first of a series of interventions to create a support network for the valley’s environmental reclamation.

Mobile Dumpster Pools

The dumpster is a ubiquitous object in any city, but swimming pools? Not so common. Brooklyn-based real estate development group, Macro Sea, conceived of Dumpster Pools a few hot summers ago, transforming a junkyard into a temporary “lo-fi country club,” replete with lawn chairs, cabanas, in addition to three hygienic refurbished dumpster pools. With their permanent and interim projects alike, Macro Sea is intent on energizing neglected parts of the urban landscape, favoring the use of everyday objects as building blocks for unexpected experiences. In 2010, New York City invited Macro Sea to install the Dumpster Pool on Park Avenue as part of its annual Summer Streets event; the improved design is mobile and code compliant, ready to deploy wherever needed.

Museum of the Phantom City

The Museum of the Phantom City is a public art project that uses personal digital devices to transform the city into a living museum. The downloadable mobile app reveals visionary speculative design proposals for various sites in New York City – Buckminster Fuller’s dome over Midtown, for example, or Raymond Loewy’s helicopter landing field planted over Bryant Park, or Michael Sorkin’s scheme for a homeless colony on the West Side railyards. Architects Irene Cheng and Brett Snyder’s project explores how mobile technology might go beyond traditional navigational functions to transform the way we experience the city. Inspired by the Situationists who strived to make ordinary landscapes appear unfamiliar and strange, this “museum without walls” hopes to intensify urban experiences, introducing pleasure and mystery to the metropolitan condition.

MyBlockNYC is an interactive, user-generated mapping website populated with personal video accounts of the life and culture of New York City. The public is invited to upload videos and tag them to the exact time and location where they were shot. The MyBlock map conveys not just the geography of the city but the stories, culture, and style that define a location. Videos are searchable by location as well as by time of day and topic (for example, street fair, pizza, playgrounds). The goal of MyBlockNYC is to harness the creative potential of the city’s occupants and visitors, and to paint a rich, intimate, constantly evolving portrait of the city to be shared with others.

Tactical Urbanism Handbook

While large-scale planning schemes definitely have their role, Mike Lydon and his colleagues at the Street Plans Collaborative believe that the work of improving the livability of towns and cities starts at the scale of the street. They saw small-scale, short-term projects happening all over the country, and decided to create a resource for would-be interventionists. The Tactical Urbanism Handbook, now in its second volume, gathers examples of low-cost incremental improvements that spotlight specific problems and generate support for more substantial investments in the future. From guerrilla gardens and weed-bombing (tagging overgrown weeds with eyepopping colors) to food trucks and pop-up town halls, the Handbook documents dozens of useful and replicable tactics. Available free online, volumes one and two have each been downloaded nearly 30,000 times.


The informal code that vagabonds developed in the 19th century to offer warnings and help each other cope with the uncertainties of nomadic life inspired the QR_Hobo_Codes project by Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab, a Pittsburgh-based research network devoted to enriching the public domain through the development of creative technologies and media. F.A.T. Lab created 100 QR codes (freely downloadable lasercut-ready stencils) to provide advice and warnings to modern-day digital nomads. Codes include “vegans beware,” “hidden cameras,” and “those aren’t women.” QR_Hobo_Codes is one in a suite of what F.A.T. calls its “homebrew infoviz graffiti tools for locative and situated information display.”


Whereas guerrilla activists tackle the lack of bike lanes through late-night painting, LightLane literally sheds light on the problem. Created by industrial designer Evan Gant and mechanical engineer Alex Tee, LightLane is a small device affixed to a bicycle that uses bright LEDs and high-visibility lasers to project a cyclist’s personal, protective bike lane. “Instead of forcing cyclists to adapt their behavior to the existing infrastructure, the bike lane should adapt to the cyclist,” the designers say. Originally developed for a 2009 design competition, LightLane gained attention in 2010 after being featured in the exhibition Hyperlinks at the Art Institute of Chicago. Gant and Tee are in the midst of getting their product to market, though several knock-offs have already appeared in Asia.

Astoria Scum River Bridge

For more than twenty years, pedestrians in Astoria, Queens were faced with trudging through a cesspool of standing water on a heavily trafficked stretch of 33rd Street. Caused by leakage from a pipe on the Amtrak bridge overhead, the Astoria Scum River, as it became known, presented a situation that was unpleasant at best, and hazardous at worst. Urban interventionist Jason Eppink and street artist Posterchild responded by constructing a bridge from materials found on the street, including a work bench and screws from a trashed desk. This unauthorized but long-overdue pedestrian bridge was a tactical urbanist triumph: It got the attention of a local councilmember and spurred Amtrak to fix the problem. Within weeks, the bridge was no longer needed.


AirCasting is a platform for recording, visualizing, mapping, and sharing environmental data using smart phone technology. Aimed at enhancing the impact of community voices on building greener cities, users can use their local measurements of sound, temperature, humidity, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide, and share their data with a worldwide community via the AirCasting CrowdMap with the goal of creating a set of “actionable data.” According to its creators, HabitatMap, a New York nonprofit devoted to environmental health justice, “Much of what happens in our immediate environment passes without note, despite the positive contribution that recording and crowdsourcing these moments may have on our understanding of our health and the health of our communities.”

Imagination Playground

When architect David Rockwell started spending time in playgrounds with his young children, he was disturbed by the lack of imagination and variation in the way kids interact with standardized playground equipment. He spent five years developing the Imagination Playground, seeking private-public partnerships to see it realized. Inspired by Froebel blocks and adventure playgrounds, the Imagination Playground features a wide range of elements that allows children to create their own environments and their own course of play. Since the first Imagination Playground opened in Manhattan (with the support of several city agencies), Rockwell has developed a more portable, scalable version – packed into a cart or box – that can quickly transform small, unused spaces into dynamic playgrounds. It has been deployed in hundreds of locations worldwide, including Haiti and Bangladesh.

Air Quality Egg

Air Quality Egg is an open-source initiative that enables citizens to measure environmental conditions where they live. The project, a collaborative effort between designers, scientists, and citizens, grew out of workshops in New York, Amsterdam, and London. From those conversations emerged an online wiki, the Google Group Air Quality Egg, and a community-prototyped Air Quality Egg system which consists of an outdoor sensor and an egg-shaped base station that wirelessly receives air quality data and has a visual display with real-time data updates. An online database continually collects data from all the Air Quality Eggs deployed in the world, and generates alerts, maps, and other creative applications using these measurements.

Guerrilla Bike Lanes

Bicycling has only recently become a serious planning consideration, and the vast majority of American city streets remain intimidating places for cyclists, despite their growing numbers. With city planners moving slowly to adapt, cycling advocates are taking matters into their own hands, painting bike lanes, share-the-lane “sharrows,” and other signage, often under cover of night. Many guerrilla bike lane painters point to Toronto’s Urban Repair Squad as the pioneers of the practice, but some of the most voracious adherents can be found in Los Angeles, including an anonymous group of activists working under the aegis of the Department of D.I.Y. Do-it-yourselfers have also installed bike route signs, “pass with care” posters, and even “softened” unfriendly square curbs with blobs of concrete.

Ghost Bikes

Quiet protests for bicycle safety, Ghost Bikes are somber reminders of the inadequacy of urban cycling infrastructure. The simple memorials, bicycles painted white, often festooned with flowers, commemorate bicyclists killed by motorists. The bikes are typically chained near the location of the accident and accompanied by a plaque with the name, age, and sometimes photo of the victim, as well as the date of the accident. The first Ghost Bikes were created in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2003, and have since appeared in over 150 locations around the world. The NYC Street Memorial Project set up to document the memorials, which serve not only as markers of loss but as vivid reminders to motorists and cyclists alike of dangerous traffic conditions.

Fresh Moves Mobile Market

Fresh Moves Mobile Market is a single-aisle grocery store located in an unlikely venue: a retrofitted Chicago Transit Authority bus, which was purchased from the city for $1. Architecture for Humanity Chicago partnered with local nonprofit Food Desert Action to design the bus, which brings fresh produce to the 500,000 Chicago residents living in neighborhoods that are classified as food deserts. Fresh Moves’ website lists its hourly schedule, and the mobile market not only sells produce but also offers classes on cooking and nutrition. The organizers are documenting the impact of Fresh Moves to support the possibility of scaling the operation up in Chicago or replicating it in other cities.

For Squat / Reuben Kincaid Realty

Reuben Kincaid Realty invites people to “Be Your Own Agent!” Describing itself as a “certified Rehousing Consultancy,” the faux real estate website features listings of abandoned or recently foreclosed-upon properties available for squat. A project of the nonprofit Public Media Institute (PMI), the listings are often crowdsourced, with entries mimicking brokers’ enthusiasm (“stunning two-bedroom townhouse, skyline views; owner recently evicted,” or “Perfect location! Abandoned church ready for occupation or weekend parties!”). PMI installs “For Squat” signs on available properties, and encourages people to download the sign and join their campaign to fight for the basic human right to shelter. A foil to the satire is the website’s links to articles and organizations that address the homeless crisis.

Faubourg St. Roch Project

Founded by architect Drew Lang, the Faubourg St. Roch Project is dedicated to the full-scale revitalization of the city’s St. Rochelle neighborhood, which suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Katrina but had also endured decades of neglect. Since 2005 Lang has been studying, planning, acquiring permits, and working with the community to enact a plan that involves renovating damaged housing, invigorating public space, and reintroducing commercial and cultural ventures along a nine-block segment of St. Roch Avenue. Lang, who has offices in New York and New Orleans, recently completed thermal retrofits of seven homes and opened a community garden. He wants not only to create a sustainable, affordable neighborhood for residents, but to develop a model of community-based urban renewal for other neighborhoods to follow.

Edible Wall

The Bronx suffers many burdens, including high rates of unemployment, poverty, obesity, and food insecurity. In response, local high school teacher Stephen Ritz came up with the idea of using gardening to engage his troubled students. As the students’ in-class farm flourished, so did their academic performance: Daily attendance jumped from 40 to 93%, while 25,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables have gone into school lunches or have been sold to community members. Green Living Technologies developed the mobile growing walls that enable Ritz’s team to grow vertical farms in even the smallest classrooms, or on rooftops, side lots, subway canopies, public buildings. The program has evolved into a successful job-training program, generating paid work for 2,200 students, including contracts with private homeowners.

Dérive App

While most smart-phone technology is designed to map locations and information more precisely, Dérive is an application for getting lost. Designed by architect Eduardo Cachucho, Dérive deals users a task card detailing an action, such as “follow a couple,” or “find a tree.” Users are dealt a new task card every three minutes, prompting an unplanned journey through the city. Inspired by the Situationist concept of the dérive (or “drift”), which was in part a political gesture against the monotony of everyday life, this interface facilitates an important aspect of the original spirit – the enduring power of subjective experience in an era of information saturation.

Day Labor Station

The San Francisco nonprofit Public Architecture (PA) believes designers can play a role in identifying larger social problems as well as in solving them: The 117,000 day laborers in the U.S. gather in parking lots and on street corners in hopes of finding work, leaving them exposed to the elements and, often, the anger of those who oppose immigration. In response, PA developed the Day Labor Station to serve as a meeting place and amenity for laborers. Though it hasn’t been deployed, it launched an advocacy effort around the working conditions of laborers. The ongoing campaign has led to outreach with about a dozen worker networks across the country, and PA hopes it will inspire others to identify problems where social consciousness and design can beneficially intersect.


Chicago-based collective MAS Studio used off-the-shelf materials to build an artificial landscape in a disused lot in the city’s Little Village district. Plywood framework served multiple uses: benches, recycling containers, graphic signage, and planting beds for grass, flowers, and herbs. The project was built with community participation and changed how residents perceive their neighborhood. The team created simple instructions to accompany the design and made them available online so that a wider audience may construct their own pop-up planter/bench/park. Awarded first prize in the 2010 Architecture for Humanity Chicago Street Furniture competition, the project’s ultimate success is that city of Chicago recognized the impact of Cut.Join.Play and donated $100,000 to turn the former parking lot into an official park.

Crown Heights Participatory Urbanism

The remnants of an 1887 shuttle train connecting the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Coney Island is still in use, but its elevated structure is surrounded by an underused and neglected corridor that divides a diverse and complex neighborhood. Manuel Ávila founded Crown Heights Participatory Urbanism, a community-based planning and design project, to invite residents to re-imagine this passage into a series of public spaces that would unify the neighborhood. Their feedback, collected at community meetings, on local blogs, and in several notebooks strategically placed in local stores, informs designs for five sites along the corridor. With input in hand, Ávila is working with elected officials to obtain the permits and funding to realize these modest but transformative ideas.

City Farm

It makes sense that the Resource Center, the venerable Chicago nonprofit that has led the way in innovative recycling, upcycling, and farming techniques for 35 years, would also be a pioneer in urban farming. Their mission to deflect the abundant waste in cities while improving the quality of life of urban dwellers extended naturally to agriculture. Turning neglected fallow land into sustainable farms, the center operates more than 20 productive plots that are financially self-sufficient, employs neighborhood residents, and sells vegetables on site and to local restaurants. The center’s flagship City Farm sits in the middle of a downtown housing project and has played a key role in strengthening its community. City Farm is a proven model that supports the local economy by growing food, jobs, beauty, and change.

Cart Coop

One day Carey Clouse and Zachary Lamb found themselves charged with a brood of baby chickens and nowhere to house them. Architects by training and founders of design studio Crookedworks, the pair developed an inexpensive mobile chicken coop made from a shopping cart and street-scavenged materials. They then disseminated the design among students and urban farmers, hoping, they joked, to instigate a “Cartcoop Revolution.” Crookedworks also developed a downloadable Urban Farming Toolkit, a set of “recipes” on how to deal with urban gardening issues. With these and similar projects, Crookedworks envisions a participatory framework for a city in which design and planning tools can be utilized to improve food justice, economic self-sufficiency, and ecological vitality.


Campito calls attention to historic and contemporary working conditions of rural immigrant workers in the American West. Denver-based artist collective M12 studied the sheepherder’s wagon, or campito, which still resembles its pioneer predecessor, and developed a new design that incorporates solar energy, composting toilets, and portable gardens. But more than just a redesign of a trailer, Campito is a project to raise awareness about everything related to modern-day sheepherding, including contemporary food production, immigration patterns, and workers’ rights. M12 towed a typical campito through the streets of Denver, passing out posters documenting their research. “By suggesting the sheep wagon be redesigned,” explains M12 co-founder Richard Saxton, “we are admitting that the current living and working conditions of sheepherders are unacceptable.”

By the City/For the City

The Institute for Urban Design created By the City/For the City to turn the traditional design competition process on its ear by sourcing the sites and situations to be addressed directly from the people of New York City, rather than choosing a site and “parachuting in.” A digital public input site, built on Project for Public Spaces’ Ushahidi-based PlaceMap, asked people to complete the phrase “Wouldn’t it be great if… ” From this, 600 ideas were generated and analyzed, and an open call brought in 150 proposals by designers who proposed responses to the ideas that intrigued them most. The resulting publication, An Atlas of Possibility for the Future of New York, provides a snapshot of possible futures.

Bunchy Carter Park for the People

One afternoon in 2009, an official-looking declaration appeared on a construction fence at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. The sign announced the impending construction of a “park for the people” in honor of Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, a 1960s activist and Black Panther Party leader. The graphic design was convincing down to its administrative logos, city contact information, and translations (into Korean and Spanish), though it was actually a provocation by a team of grassroots activists who cite the “Situationists, Yes Men, and anarchists everywhere” as their inspiration. Days later the sign was removed, but this provocation raised questions about what people really want and need in their neighborhoods.

Bench Press

In recent decades, benches started disappearing from bus stops as a way for cities to discourage homeless or loiterers. BroLab, a collaborative of artists and sculptors, created BenchPress, a modular system of temporary benches for bus stops along major bus routes between Brooklyn and Queens. While the two neighborhoods foster vibrant artistic communities, between them lies a nondescript, alienating landscape with few street amenities. BroLab’s modular benches provided the missing comfort of seating for commuters for one day in October 2011 (as part of events organized by the Congress of Collectives at Flux Factory in Queens). Between 4:00 am and 9:00 pm, they assembled, dissembled, and relocated benches that appeared at each of the route’s 80 stops.


Bubbleware is a modular, inflatable public furniture system that invites visitors to develop new forms of informal social interaction, creativity and collaboration within the often rigid structures of the city. The large and pillowy Bubbleware modules, meant for lounging and relaxing, provide a visual and tactile contrast to the typical urban hardscape. Designed by San Francisco – based art and design studio Rebar, Bubbleware modules can be reconfigured and adapted to support a variety of social encounters and informal collaborations, from small lounge spaces to aggregates that support large group gatherings. Both playful and critical, Bubbleware invites the viewer to consider the role of design in structuring our social experience of the city.


For all the foot traffic that crosses the stepped block of East 165th Street of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, New York, one would assume it would also receive a modicum of maintenance. But like so many out-of-the way corners of New York, it was run down, trash-ridden, and crime-heavy. AFHNY Studio thought it had the perfect makings of a new social space for the local community, with its multiple levels and landings where people might cross and gather. ARTfarm is comprised of planters fashioned from found objects like cabinet doors and carpet remains (rolled into cylinders), and the planted perennials are maintained by the locals who helped build the space.

78th Street Play Street

This project addresses a critical need for more open space in Jackson Heights, Queens, which ranks second-to-last in available park space per resident of all the neighborhoods of New York City. The Jackson Heights Green Alliance (JHGA) has worked with the Department of Transportation over several years to close a one- block stretch of 78th Street off to cars in order to create a play space. At first, the street was closed only on odd weekends; then it was for whole summers. Now the city has agreed to close the block permanently. Overcoming neighbors’ and business’ fear of losing parking spaces, JHGA succeeded with an incremental approach that convinced residents that having more open space was worth the trade-offs.

Brooklyn Night Bazaar

Motivated by the desire to create a dignified platform that elevates the flea market to the quality of its artisans, the Brooklyn Night Bazaar provides a curated environment for the best local art, design, music and food. This mobile mega- pop-up merges crafts and concerts, art and social causes, design and handmade delights while providing homegrown talent and budding entrepreneurs an inexpensive place to test their creations. Inspired by the night markets of Asia, the roving weekend-night event has taken place on a stalled development site, an industrial waterfront lot, and an empty 40,000-square-foot warehouse – the latter featuring temporary furniture designed by architect Julient De Smedt. Funds raised on Kickstarter helped finance some of the basic set-up costs.

Better Block

What makes some city streets thrive, while mere blocks away, others flounder? Activists Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard in Dallas wanted to propose some answers, so in 2010, they transformed a blighted street into a “better block” for 24 hours – with bike lanes, sidewalk cafes, food stalls, and other amenities. A Better Block was born. These “living charrettes” demonstrate that obsolete zoning or commerce restrictions often pose obstacles to such things as outdoor seating or music, and encourage communities to actively participate in the shaping of their own neighborhoods. City officials are now recognizing Better Block as a useful economic development tool. In the past two years, 32 Better Blocks have been realized across the U.S. by the original team and by independent community groups.