Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Temporary urbanism as a reboot of individual and community attitudes

I still have some reticence about so called "temporary" or "Do it Yourself" urbanism, not because I don't believe in civic action, but because--to my way of thinking--too often there is a failure to recognize that temporary urbanism isn't about the "temporary" it's about how to reboot how you think about your community, and taking action for improvements, and getting people involved.

Something that I always recommend to people doing various community organizing or revitalization activities is planning for "next steps" before you even hold your first event.

The thing is once people come to your first action or activity you want to be able to get them involved, and committed to participating over the longer term.

What this is about is sustained effort, because effecting change takes a long time, especially in resource constrained environments. While this discussion excerpted below is about governance and business coalitions, the way it describes involvement and the organization of stakeholder activity is just as relevant to ground up efforts as it is to top-down efforts.

In the paper, "Now What? The continuing evolution of Urban Regime analysis," political scientist Clarence Stone writes:

An urban regime can be preliminarily defined as the informal arrangements through which a locality is governed. Because governance is about sustained efforts, it is important to think in agenda terms rather than about stand-alone issues. By agenda I mean the set of challenges which policy makers accord priority. A concern with agendas takes us away from focusing on short-term controversies and instead directs attention to continuing efforts and the level of weight they carry in the political life of a community. Rather than treating issues as if they are disconnected, a governance perspective calls for considering how any given issue fits into a flow of decisions and actions. This approach enlarges the scope of what is being analyzed, looking at the forest not a particular tree here or there. [emphasis added, in this paragraph and below] ...

By looking closely at the policy role of business leaders and how their position in the civic structure of a community enabled that role, he identified connections between Atlanta's governing coalition and the resources it brought to bear, and on to the scheme of cooperation that made this informal system work. In his own way, Hunter had identified the key elements in an urban regime – governing coalition, agenda, resources, and mode of cooperation. These elements could be brought into the next debate about analyzing local politics, a debate about structural determinism.

Anyway, some people are criticizing the effort in Haiti, which involves painting in bold colors facades of buildings in the Jalousie neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, as not focused on what really needs to happen within a "slum" that lacks access to the most basic municipal services.  See the AP story "Haiti's Slum, Jalousie, Gets Colorful Makeover."

Or you can argue that it provides the opportunity for a reboot in thinking and the community's approach to revitalization and involvement.

Something that always surprises me--compared to my experience in the U.S.--when I talk to people from South America is how they mention there is very little history of civic engagement and community involvement there.

It comes down to fear and lack of trust.

This is a result of the region's history of military action, civil war, and violence.  People who made a point of being involved in community activities ended up becoming targets and could be killed. (In some countries with a history of insurrection, it was often the case that local municipal officials in distant, rural communities were assassinated by rebel movements. I can't remember, but I think this was an issue in Vietnam too.)

In the US, we just have to worry about "agency" and people's disinterest in community involvement. For the most part, we don't have to worry about being killed while doing it.

Anyway, I think the Port-au-Prince effort is noteworthy and worth watching as a way to begin to get people to engage in a zone of safety as it relates to community involvement.

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At 1:34 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

You could tie that into the public diplomacy thing as well.

(Not paying attention to that we were the ones paying for the death squads killing urban activists)

But yes, despite it all, we are a pretty high law and trust society.

I've always wondered if "urbanism" in sense of civic participation is inherently leftwing. Certainly, you can be pro-urban w/o being a leftist (Boris Johnson, Singapore, and Arlington County come to mind) but is the "design process" an inherently leftist function?

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... hmm, you're channeling _Planning the Capitalist City_. The book discusses two contradictions in property ownership, the property contradiction -- where property owners need protection from the potentially negative actions from the property owners -- and the democracy contradiction -- where the property owners have to give up some of their control over decision making concerning their property in order to get succor when necessary through planning and building regulation.

I hadn't thought of planning as inherently left wing, more as a function of capital, but you know that when you give an inch, "they" take a mile...

Of course, then you have the advocacy planning thread (Pratt Institute of Community Development, Norman Krumholtz, Tom Angotti at Hunter, etc.) in planning.

cf. de Toqueville...

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

oh, and "communicative" planning ( and radical practice planning theories of John Friedmann.

I've never ever had a conversation with a planner about these theories, well, w/one planner at Balt. County. She suggested I could have a shot staying there permanently as an advocacy planner (they had one, who had retired), but then the director wasn't retained after the 11/2010 election, so I never had the opportunity to pursue it. Even had he stayed, the county was in financial distress then and they were RIFing, not hiring.

There was another planner there that I probably could have discussed this stuff with, but never did.

One planner maybe at DCOP do I discuss around this kind of stuff, but more about the Growth Machine... Most planners, I guess, the big picture isn't worth thinking about much because they have so little efficacy wrt to it.

At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Cara Courage said...

Great article - can you give me the reference for the paper you mention?

Many thanks


At 12:37 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I don't think "Now What? The continuing evolution of Urban Regime analysis" has been published. I got a copy from Prof. Stone. I can send it to you.


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