Who is this Space For? Panel on Public Space Design

On April 21, the Center for Civic Innovation hosted a panel discussion on the topic of public space design and its impact on civic life. Our exploration of this topic was prompted by years of private discussion and headlines such as these:

Panelists included Chandra Farley of Southface, Thomas Lodato of the Public Design Workshop at Georgia Tech, Becky Katz of Park Pride, Amanda Thompson of the City of Decatur’s planning department, and Wesley Brownof Central Atlanta Progress. Rebecca Posey, who serves on CCI’s Civic Innovation Council, moderated discussion and audience Q&A.

L-R: Panelists Wesley Brown, Amanda Thompson, Thomas Lodato, Chandra Farley, and Becky Katz with CCI Program Director Melonie Tharpe. Not pictured: moderator Rebecca Posey

L-R: Panelists Wesley Brown, Amanda Thompson, Thomas Lodato, Chandra Farley, and Becky Katz with CCI Program Director Melonie Tharpe. Not pictured: moderator Rebecca Posey

TOPICS DISCUSSED

  • What do we mean when we say ‘public’ design, ‘public’ space? What are our notions of public space and how do they sometimes compete with each other?
  • What purposes does exclusive/defensive architecture/design serve? Is it possible to ‘design out’ crime without designing out the vibrancy and chaos of ordinary life?
  • How do planners weigh competing interests and values in designing for public space? How are different people — artists, students, blue-collar workers, families, professionals, people living on the street — valued or prioritized differently?
  • The importance of having ‘a place to go.’ Why does public space matter? How can ‘good’ public spaces elevate community and civic life?
  • The importance of context in design (e.g. preserving neighborhood density versus planting huge inward-facing structures or campuses; sensitivity to existing neighbors)
  • How does these themes relate to large-scale projects that are underway now, like the new Falcons stadium, the Braves relocation or the revamp of Underground Atlanta?

TAKEAWAYS

  • Contrary to apparent local popular belief, sometimes having ‘nothing’ is better than developing ‘any old thing.’
  • It’s damaging to personal dignity to have a space remind you that you don’t ‘belong’ there. Exercise empathy and respect for people’s dignity in both the master plan and the little details.
  • Citizens are sometimes criticized for not taking part in formal public design discussions, but the opacity and bureaucracy of the process make participation difficult. How can we open up participation?
  • Public participation in design should be an ongoing process — not a one-time check-the-box event. Relationship is better than regulation but needs time and trust to develop.
  • All developers should have a community engagement strategy. Seek to create not just spaces, but ‘places.’
  • For citizens engaging with planners and developers: understand not just what you do not want in your community, but what you DO want.
  • Create more spaces that are adaptable and can evolve with their neighborhoods and the character of the city over generations. Build spaces that can be enjoyed by different people for different purposes. Allow room for exploration and unforeseen uses that create vibrancy, cultural richness, and a sense of authentic community.

WANT MORE?

Like this topic? Keep up with the discussion — join the Center for Civic Innovation as a member ($50 annually) and receive updates and invitations to follow-on events.

Want more right now? Check out Thomas’s blog post and Amanda’s upcoming show.