Last week I had the opportunity to volunteer at and attend DesignDC, an annual conference co-hosted by the DC chapters of AIA, APA and other design professional groups. For me the conference was a great introduction to the DC architecture and planning world, providing a place to network and learn about new projects. I specifically enjoyed learning about public participation and placemaking in and around the District. Below are few projects that inspired me and hopefully will inspire others too.
The Benches outside of The Shay
While much can be said about a new mixed used development in the District’s Shaw neighborhood called the Shay, its benches on the side walk caught my attention. At DesignDC Andrew Griffen, the Senior Design and Construction Manager of JBG, described how these benches were constructed from the uniform steel overhangs on the Shay’s first floor retail. The building was originally designed to have identical store facades, however in the process of leasing the owners decided to encourage more diverse and engaging design on the ground floor. They decided to allow each retailer to compose their own facade without the uniform overhangs, thus there was extra steel to be used somewhere in the project. The design team then decided to work with local craftsmen to rework the material into interesting street furniture. The final outcome includes the red and yellow benches pictured above, which provide unique seating and table top surfaces.
Participation Methods Used by the DC Office of Planning
During the creation of the Mid City East Small Area Plan many different methods of participation were used by the DC Office of Planning according to one of their presentations at DesignDC. A few of my favorite methods include the graphic illustration of ideas (pictured), the Plan Van, and Textizen. For the plan’s kickoff meeting instead of just keeping notes, the city hired an illustrator to create a graphic representation of all of the ideas share. This produced a community keepsake of sorts of their vision. Later in the process the city took to the streets with their “Plan Van,” a rented moving van that they took to various spots in the neighborhood, with plans plastered to the outside of it. In each place they parked they engaged a diverse group of people. Neighborhood planners recognized that this method helped to reach many people who would not, or could not come come to traditional community meeting. Another method that brought digital participation used a service called Textizen. Textizen provides a way to collect community input and responses to questions posted throughout the community via text message. Often the questions are thought provoking ideas about urban design or development placed on posters at popular public locations, with a phone number to text answers to. This method is also helpful at reaching populations without smart phones or regular internet access as compared to online surveys.
Vibrant Streets by Streetsense
The last item that caught my attention at DesignDC was a toolkit to guide designs of streets. Streetsense, a Bethesda based architecture and marketing firm, developed the Vibrant Streets is a design toolkit originally to help guide their projects. It aims to provide design guidelines that enliven streets by being more aspirational than restrictive in its recommendations, and to develop spaces that are fascinating and full or wonder. From the presentation I listened to the design goals seemed to be similar to the ideas to Jan Gehl’s design guidelines in “Cities for People,” however Vibrant Streets is more focused on retail experiences, and specifically targets how to shift a U.S. audience familiar with suburban shopping centers, malls and sprawl, to walkable shopping streets.