Holding Pattern

Though a commission from MoMA PS1 might seem out of place in a panorama of mostly unsolicited interventions, Interboro Partners saw Holding Pattern—the winner of the 2011 Young Architects Program—as a framework to make more than 40 neighboring businesses and groups their actual client. The Brooklyn-based design studio shifted their project’s focus from temporary installation for the museum’s summer music series to long-term neighborhood gain. Interboro began by meeting with close to 200 neighborhood institutions including schools, senior centers, public housing projects, libraries, a post office, and various local businesses to develop a wish list of things for the neighborhood. The team then worked to design the elements of the installation at PS1 to both create a unique spatial experience at the museum and meet the local institutions’ needs. The resulting project, Holding Pattern, assembled eclectic objects like benches, trees, playground equipment, mirrors, flood lights, chessboards, and ping-pong in a shady and dynamic space for the series. And after the museum series ended, its parts were redistributed, with 79 objects and 84 trees were donated to more than 50 community organizations.

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.”

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.

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.


Challenging Daniel Burnham’s famous declaration “Make no little plans,” ACTIVATE! is showing how powerful smallscale, limited-budget interventions can be. Initiated by Katherine Darnstadt of Latent Design in 2010, ACTIVATE! is an international competition challenging teams to enliven a vacant site within a budget of $1,000. Iker Gil’s collective practice MAS Studio won the first year with Cut.Join.Play, a flexible DIY design for seating and planting (pictured). Though the ACTIVATE! began as a one-off, the results were so encouraging that Darnstadt, in partnership with Architecture for Humanity, turned it into an annual event. In 2013, ACTIVATE! is taking over four sites and the winning proposals will be constructed mid-summer. “Through small acts of acupuncture-style activation,” Darnstadt says, “we can repurpose public space to be more universally accessible, inclusive, age-friendly, and a builder of community.”

PHS Pops-Up Garden

In May 2011 the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) transformed an empty lot in downtown Philadelphia into a lush garden with fresh organic produce, open to the public. In a single growing season, it produced 600 pounds of vegetables, most of which went to PHS’ City Harvest, a program that distributes fresh vegetables to area food cupboards and draws from a network of community gardens. PHS also partnered with chefs from Center City restaurants, who used the produce in signature dishes. The pop-up garden attracted 6,000 visitors who attended tours and dozens of educational sessions and performances. The garden was dismantled in October, with materials either given to local garden groups or recycled. A new PHS Pops-Up was installed on a different vacant lot in spring this year.

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.”

Periscope Project

The Periscope Project is a cooperative of artists, designers, scholars, and community advocates headquartered in four shipping containers on the small San Diego lot of founder Petar Perisic. The space functions as a public amenity and a living visualization of alternative urban land use, exploiting temporary-use zoning loopholes as an opportunity to realize a new paradigm of urban citizenry – one engaged at the level of the built environment. The cooperative curates, organizes, and hosts events, exhibitions, panel discussions, and lectures in the flexible spaces, and also emphasizes educational programming to engage local youth. The Periscope Project has become a central force in rallying community activism and has evolved into a loose practice that develops public art and architecture interventions.

Participation Park

In a gesture of resistance to the mounting privatization of public space, the artist collective Baltimore Development Cooperative took over an empty lot in East Baltimore in 2007. The result is Participation Park – a nod to Berkeley’s historic People’s Park – which they continue to squat to this day, and is group’s longest running project. The park is an experiment in democratic spatial practice, in which everyone who participates in the use of the space is invited to engage in the political process of shaping it. Working with input from neighborhood residents to design and implement new uses for the land, the Baltimore Development Cooperative has effected the park’s evolution from an urban farm to a community kitchen, free store, and adventure playground.


Parkmobiles were created to enliven street life in the evolving Yerba Buena District of San Francisco. Designed for economy and durability, Parkmobiles are rugged, custom-designed industrial containers that incorporate seating and landscape into easily deployable units. Six Parkmobiles, each with a different plant mix, were moved throughout the district’s streets, creating new active public spaces. Parkmobiles was part of CMG Landscape Architecture’s Yerba Buena Street Life Plan, a community-based public space plan with 36 intervention projects for the next generation of public space in the district.

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.

Parking Plot

Despite St. Louis’ robust park system and 19th-century districts lined with shady trees, landscape architects Dorothée Imbert and Paula Meijerink sensed a disconnect between the city’s green agenda and its proliferation of paved surfaces. To foreground the contradiction, Imbert and Meijerink, working with students in Washington University’s MLA program (which Imbert leads), devised a quick and dirty intervention: Renting a wet saw, they made two incisions into a thick, impervious asphalt parking lot, filled the strips with compost, and planted seedlings collected from the ruderal forest growing on the Pruitt-Igoe site. They marked their squat “Parking Plot” in hazard yellow paint, and are monitoring the test beds to study how tough urban vegetation, encouraged to grow in unexpected places, might supplement the city’s traditional leafy canopy.

Paintings for Satellites

Artist Molly Dilworth’s paintings serve the general public, even if the general public can’t easily see her work. Her ongoing series Paintings for Satellites turns buildings’ fifth elevation into dazzling murals that mitigate urban heat island effect. Some of the most environmentally aware cities in the world encourage building owners to paint their rooftops lighter, more reflective colors to reduce heat gain and cut energy use and greenhouse emissions. New York City’s CoolRoofs program and climate change advocacy group recently invited Dilworth to paint the roof of a Brooklyn high school (pictured). For the most part, however, her work remains self-generated, relying on discarded house paint and easy (not always) access to rooftops.


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.

Power House

Architect Gina Reichert and artist/curator Mitch Cope of Detroit- based Design 99 use off-the-grid technologies to instigate change in their neighborhood. Power House encourages residents to turn abandoned homes into sculptures that double as supply sources of off-the-grid energy. The pair, working with Dutch group Partizan Publik, transformed a modest 1923 wood-frame house into what Reichert calls “a test lab of sorts for ideas and methods, low and high tech building systems, and a point of conversation for the entire community.” It is demonstration home for sustainable systems, a model for long-term economic investment, a bright spot in the struggling neighborhood, and a site for knowledge sharing on solar and wind power technologies.

San Francisco Garden Registry

The San Francisco Garden Registry is an online map and social networking tool created to connect urban gardeners and to locate current or potential open spaces in the city that are suitable for growing food. By registering these “food production zones” online, a comprehensive land use portrait begins to emerge. Set up by San Francisco art and design collective Futurefarmers, the Garden Registry seeks to quantify the total farmable acreage within the city in order to better support, connect, and cultivate these spaces. To date, some 1,500 acres have been identified.


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.

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…”

596 Acres

Vacant urban land abounds, often locked behind chainlink fences in neighborhoods sorely in need of green space and other amenities such as fresh produce. A multidisciplinary group (including a programmer, designer, and artists) formed 596 Acres to encourage communities to re-envision the possibilities for the vacant lots in their own backyards. The name refers to the quantity of vacant city-owned land in Brooklyn, which the group catalogued, mapped, and printed on a poster that reads “Find the lot in your life. Contact the owner. Work out a deal. Grow something. We can help.” They hung the posters on hundreds of lots, prompting locals to action. Their interactive online map, combined with educational workshops, “labeling walks,” and more, have made 596 a valuable community resource.

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.

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.

Syracuse Downtown

Town-and-gown relations in Syracuse were long characterized by disconnect, with the thriving institution of Syracuse University geographically and culturally removed from its economically- depressed hometown. Under Dean Mark Robbins, the University’s School of Architecture (SOA) saw the struggling city as an opportunity to put scholarship into action. SOA moved its classrooms and studios downtown, and initiated over 30 projects in the city, including Storefront:Syracuse (pictured), a student-run initiative by Nilus Klingel and Stephen Klimek that transforms vacant storefronts into creative hubs. Other projects include La Casita Cultural Center by PARA- Project and the forthcoming South Side Food Cooperative. Robbins also encouraged his faculty to realize personal projects in Syracuse (see banner #111, Anda French’s Spatial ConTXTs). SOA proves that academic institutions can both study and solve urban issues.


In some cities, dead trees are as numerous as potholes, but get a lot less attention. For this reason, landscape architect Liz Barry and urban forester Philip Silva developed TreeKIT, a system to measure, map, and manage urban forests. Volunteers use simple site-survey- ing skills to map trees in urban areas. TreeKIT’s website features a map showing tree density block by block, and users can zoom in on trees to click for information about trunk dimension, genus, or species. The map also color-codes empty treebeds, stumps, and dead trees. This data is shared with city agencies and local tree steward organizations. Studies indicate healthy trees in urban areas can filter pollutants, reduce heat island effect, reduce CO2, and prevent runoff as well as create safe inviting public spaces.

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.

Guerrilla Grafters

The streets of San Francisco are planted with thousands of fruit trees, yet they are strictly ornamental varietals. Most cities want to avoid the mess of fallen fruit, which could lead to slippery sidewalks and the infestation of unwanted pests. Guerrilla Grafters is a grassroots group that sees a missed opportunity for cities to provide a peach or a pear to anyone strolling by. Their objective is to restore sterile city trees into fruit-bearers by grafting branches from fertile trees. The project might not resolve food scarcity, but it helps foster, in their words, “a habitat that sustains us.” So far the group has grafted about 50 trees in neighborhoods where they identify locals to take stewardship of the trees
and their harvest.

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.

Hypothetical Development Organization

The Hypothetical Development Organization is dedicated to a new form of built-environment storytelling. Founders – design writer Rob Walker, photographer Ellen Susan, and publisher G. K. Darby – commissioned architects, designers, and artists to take existing sites, often run-down, vacant buildings, and reimagine them as fantastic pieces of architecture. These fictions were rendered on 3-by-5-foot posters (modeled on conventional developer advertisements) and posted on ten locations in New Orleans, transforming each into a site of engagement, provocation, and imagination. Examples include the Museum of the Self, featuring a thumbs-up “like” icon as a marquee; a boutique maker of artisanal velvet ropes (because “boutiques and artisanal products signal exclusivity, and thus economic vitality”), and the Loitering Centre, a perfectly reasonable use for unused spaces.


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.

Intersection Repair

Sometimes all you need to create a great public space is a gesture that makes people feel welcome and comfortable: Mark Lakeman realized that public gathering places could be retroactively created out of normal street intersections in his Portland neighborhood with some paint and community effort. City Repair, the organization he founded in 1996, is an almost all-volunteer organization that gathers communities to paint murals on street crossings and to add other improvements, like benches, information boards, and plantings, yielding lively new focal points for their neighborhoods. They started with Share- It Square and Sunnyside Piazza, and have since expanded to dozens of intersections across the country, where neighbors gather annually to repaint and update their community spaces.

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.

Local Previews

A city like New York is in constant flux, but its extraordinary rate of transformation is largely driven by new developments intent on maximizing square footage and profits, showing little concern for neighborhood continuity or invigorating public space. “Construction sites beg the imagination of what could or should be built,” according to Freecell’s principals Lauren Crahan and John Hartmann. Local Previews is a series of fictitious development posters for unbuilt sites. One scheme advertises City Sort, a recycling center with a rooftop greenhouse. Another, SKY- field, proposes a vertical farm to supply organic produce to the city’s schools. “It’s a form of architectural graffiti,” they explain, “meant to capture people’s imagination and to challenge them to question the changes that are happening around them.”

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.

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.


When Theaster Gates – artist and founder of the Rebuild Foundation – led a series of classes asking students from Most Holy Trinity Catholic School and Academy to describe a healthy community, it could have ended there. Instead, an inspired parishioner donated a dilapidated multi-family building that Gates, and an army of volunteers (including students from Washington University’s CityStudioSTL), transformed into an arts center providing the cultural programming lacking in the neighborhood. Volunteers re-clad one wall of the house, known as 1415, in reclaimed hardie board, made a community theater/performance space by replacing a wall with a garage door, and established a community advisory committee to help with programming. The transformed structure now houses arts classes, workshops, and artist residencies.


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.

Aquaponics Container System

With global climate change and endless other environmental threats, the need for agriculture innovation to ensure food security is becoming a dire necessity. Architect Joyce Rosner and material scientist Ernesto de La Garza drew from their respective disciplines to design the Aquaponics Container System. Made from repurposed refrigerated shipping containers, Aquaponics houses an aquaculture and hydroponics system for farming fish and fresh vegetables. The container is transportable, soil independent, and efficient in water use. It can be set up in both urban and rural areas, consuming little energy and resources. The project exemplifies the sort of interdisciplinary work necessary to ensure a sustainable future, and holds the potential to feed communities living in food deserts or without access to farmable land.

Amphibious Architecture

Though New York is surrounded by rivers, residents have little to no interaction with the water and little understanding of the ecosystem below. The Environmental Health Clinic at New York University and the Living Architecture Lab at Columbia University created Amphibious Architecture to allow a data-driven dialogue between humans, fish and their shared environment. Installed in the East River and the Bronx River, two networks of interactive tubes contain underwater sensors and display lights above. Through a text-message feature, participants can correspond with fish and receive real-time data about water quality in response. Conceived by architect David Benjamin and artist Natalie Jeremijenko, Amphibious Architecture imagines a dynamic, participatory city in which static architecture is replaced by a kinetic and responsive built environment.


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.”

Bartering and Sharing Networks

Sharing cars and bikes has become commonplace, but what about sharing tools, skills, and just about everything else? In recent years there has been an explosion of sharing and bartering networks, allowing people to swap, for example, their power tools for knitting classes or surplus garden vegetables. While primitive economies have historically depended on the smallness and familiarity of one’s village or tribe, the resurgence of interest in capital-free exchange is fueled by websites that help people take advantage of urban density by facilitating their trade with others who might live on the same block (or same building!). OhSoWe, OurGoods, Trade School, and e-flux’s Time/Bank are just a few recent endeavors that help expand people’s access to resources while avoiding more consumption.

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.

Greenaid Seedbomb Vending Machine

Made from a mixture of clay, compost, and seeds, seed bombs can be tossed anonymously into derelict urban sites to green the city. Los Angeles design firm COMMONstudio created the coin- operated Greenaid dispensary to make guerrilla gardening more accessible. Marketing the machines to businesses to rent or to own, the designers have installed more than 150 since 2010, each equipped with a mix of native seeds. The seed bombs are hand-rolled by workers contracted through Chrysalis, an LA nonprofit that helps homeless and low-income residents earn a living wage and work towards self-sufficiency. The vending machines invite people to become casual activists, taking part in the incremental beautification of their environments – using only the loose coins in their pocket.

Grassroots Mapping

The Grassroots Mapping project began in the summer of 2010 when a group of activists, educators, and technologists known as the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) began documenting the BP oil spill on the American Gulf Coast using balloon mapping – an accessible and low-cost alternative to satellite imaging. Recognizing the power of “community satellites” to subvert the power dynamics associated with cartography, the project has since expanded to nine environmentally compromised sites across the country. Their website includes how-to instructions for balloon and kite mapping as well as other low-cost DIY environmental sensing devices. Awarded a $500,000 grant last year by Knight News, PLOTS is expanding its work to support community action through locally produced environmental and civic data.

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.

Field Guide to Phytoremediation

According to the New York Department of City Planning, more than 6% of the city’s land is vacant, adding up to approximately 11,700 acres of underutilized land. Many of these lots are plagued with contaminated soil as a result of previous constructions and industrial uses. To educate property owners about how they can initiate cost-effective toxic clean up, architect and planner Kaja Kühl created the Field Guide to Phytoremediation, a do- you-it-yourself (DIY) handbook that is available online and as a downloadable pamphlet. She also launched the Field Lab, an experimental garden in the South Bronx where she tests and demonstrates DIY brownfield remediation techniques to citizens.

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.

Edible Schoolyard

For WORKac’s Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, “Urban farming became a way of talking about the sustainable city.” This long-time interest led them to chef Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse Foundation, and in 2011, the two teamed up with P.S. 216 in Brooklyn to design the first of Waters’ Edible Schoolyards on the East Coast, an organic garden that is wholly integrated into the school’s curriculum and food program. The design includes a Kitchen Classroom where students can prepare and eat meals together, a greenhouse roof that creates growing space in the winter and retracts in the summer, water reclamation, and composting. For the project’s design coup de grâce, all of the components are interlinked to form an off-grid, self-sustaining system.

Edible Estates

Edible Estates, founded by Los Angeles–based artist Fritz Haeg, is an ongoing initiative to replace domestic front lawns with kitchen gardens, allowing families to grow their own food. Haeg has overseen the remaking of more than a dozen gardens across the U.S. and in Europe, ranging from small suburban lawns to public housing estates in New York (pictured) and the UK. Each garden is designed to respond to the unique characteristics of the site, the desires of owners, and the site’s history, climate, and geography. These simple, low-cost gardens promote a more productive use of the land between our homes and the street, and a closer relationship with neighbors, our food, and the natural environment.


One of the most well-publicized success stories of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans is the series of architect-designed houses built by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods. Less known is the foundation’s nearly three dozen innovative community development projects that fulfill the everyday needs of the reconstructed neighborhood, including shared gardens, a comprehensive stormwater-mitigating landscape plan, a micro farm, and a playground. Eco-Playground, designed by landscape architect Tim Duggan, uses recycled materials as well as state-of- the-art playground equipment including a solar-powered digital component that encourages children to play physically active games. Make It Right’s work in the Lower Ninth Ward is a model of ecological and innovative neighborhood revitalization.

Detroit, Demolition, Disneyland

When a collective of Detroit artists calling itself Object Orange started painting some of the city’s 7,000 abandoned and dilapidated buildings bright orange, they meant to bring beauty to decay. When four of the original eleven painted houses were quickly demolished by the city, the group’s endeavor turned to raising awareness about the hazardous conditions associated with blight: low morale, depressed property values, and crime. This ongoing project, dubbed Detroit, Demolition, Disneyland (the latter referring to the paint, from Behr’s Disney Color series) has evolved into a call to action, with the group declaring, “These buildings aren’t scenery. Don’t look through them…Pick up a roller.”

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.


When Depave founder Arif Khan tore down his garage in 2005 and replaced it with a grove of fruit trees, he realized the same action could be applied on a much larger scale. Three years later, Depave’s first parking lot transformation was complete: Khan and 147 volunteers transformed an under-utilized asphalt lot into the Fargo Forest Gardens, a community garden. The nonprofit will mobilize workers to remove impervious paving for anyone who asks; past depavings have included school playgrounds, businesses’ parking lots, and residents’ driveways, amounting to 100,000 square feet of asphalt that is no longer contributing to the negative effects of polluted stormwater runoff. Depave also helps in the process of replacing these spaces with native-plant gardens.


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.

Community Living Room

The Community Living Room project grew out of a challenge familiar to many urban communities: How can the quality of a neighborhood be improved without opening it up to gentrification? In 2002, Steve Rasmussen Cancian’s Shared Spaces Landscape Architecture and ‘Hood Builders started working
with local community members in several low-income California neighborhoods to explore the question. Drawing from the tradition in many predominantly black neighborhoods of locals gathering on stoops and street corners, often improvising seating from crates or scrap wood, the designers created groupings of outdoor furniture that make neighborhoods better for current residents in a way that might also make them less attractive to gentrifiers. They have realized dozens of outdoor living rooms in Northern and Southern California.

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.


When San Francisco passed the Sit-Lie Ordinance in 2011 banning sitting or lying on sidewalks, it crystallized a stance that many cities worldwide seem to have adopted over the years, to dissuade public sitting by removing benches or implementing other subtle anti-loitering urban design measures. Enter chair-bombing. This tactic involves placing homemade seating in public spaces “to improve comfort, social activity, and [their] sense of place,” in Aurash Khawarzad’s words. Khawarzad is an urban planner and leader of DoTank, a Brooklyn-based activist design collective that fashions Adirondack chairs from discarded shipping pallets. “These benches are more than places to sit,” reads a note pasted to a San Francisco bench-bomb in protest of Sit-Lie. “They are a visual resistance to the privatization of public space.”


International Design Clinic, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to realizing much-needed creative work with communities around the world, conceived of chainlinkGREEN in response to the often lacking community spaces for underfunded schools and community organizations. ChainlinkGREEN is a construction system that uses materials commonly found on abandoned lots, including chainlink fencing, steel pipes, standard 90 degree angles, reclaimed lumber, and rubble, to create a lightweight and easily constructed structure that serves as an outdoor amphitheater/gathering space for the community. It demonstrates that affordable, accessible, inviting spaces may be created within previously overlooked landscapes.

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.

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.

Bat Cloud

Bats are a critical part of urban ecosystems, yet many city-dwellers see them as pests to be chased away. Joyce Hwang created Bat Cloud to combat their negative perception by giving them greater visibility, emphasizing the important role they play in controlling populations of insects such as mosquitoes. This cloudlike canopy of hanging vessels is designed to provide a habitat for bats and other urban wildlife that have been increasingly driven to cities due to habitat loss and climate change. It is currently installed at the in Tifft Nature Center, a preserve that was created on a landfill site in an industrial part of Buffalo, New York.


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.

Art in Odd Places

Drawing on sources as diverse as Dadaism, Situationism, Jane Jacobs’ urban activism and Abbie Hoffman’s pranksterism, Ed Woodham’s Art in Odd Places (AiOP) is a self-sustaining, collaborative project that aims to expand the conventions of communication in the public realm. Active in New York City since 2005, AiOP is Woodham’s response to a sense of diminishing public space and contracting civil liberties within those spaces. AiOP works to locate the cracks in public space policies, and then co-opts that space for a month of visual and performing arts interventions each year. For AiOP, public space is social space, and artworks can be actively integrated into the exchanges that take place in this realm to inspire the popular imagination.

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.

BK Farmyards

BK Farmyards is a large decentralized urban farming network based in Brooklyn. Since its founding, the coalition of experienced urban farmers – working under the tag line, “You have the land. We grow the produce” has been flooded with requests from people with spare land, ranging from private small-lot owners to a public school principal with a full free acre to an old municipal airport. Today, BK manages several acres of land and brings healthy food directly to residents of Central Brooklyn, where many lack affordable, fresh food options and suffer from health issues related to high poverty rates. BK offers a subscription service for eggs, flowers, and vegetables, as well as adult farm training and a youth program, creating employment opportunities for locals.