Gehl Institute is thrilled to announce the winners of our Open Call: Proposals for Public Life competition! This summer, we trained three equity-focused design teams to deploy the tools we’ve developed (some tried and true, others newer and more experimental) to study the impacts of their projects in public space.
The program’s underlying questions are: How can designers, planners, and community activists tell better stories about their work in public space? What research methods help us understand the current state of public life in our cities and how to make it more vibrant, healthy, and inclusive to all?
Neighborhood Design Center in Baltimore, Maryland
Research question: What is the relative importance of programming and infrastructure in supporting social mixing in Baltimore’s public space?
In Baltimore’s Station North Arts and Entertainment District, the Neighborhood Design Center investigated the summer activation of the Ynot Lot: a vacant lot featuring “art, performance, and design events…that center social justice, intergenerational and cross-cultural collaboration, daring arts and cultural work, and youth-run or youth-oriented [programming].” With over 14,000 vacant lots across the city, the study can inform further prototyping of small-scale public realm improvements and community-led projects in Baltimore.
Latent Design / Archeworks in Chicago, Illinois
Research question: How can we transform a private memorial into a public place of use using incremental interventions?
Perez Plaza is a little-used public space in La Villita (Little Village), Chicago. It was built as a memorial to Manuel Perez, Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient who fought and died in World War II. The plaza sits off a busy commercial corridor (and beside a popular bakery) yet fails to attract many people to sit and spend time there. As part of the Activate! Chicago program, Latent Design and Archeworks tested out quick seating options for “Mariachi Sundays” programming in the space. By developing flexible, low-cost furnishings, design agencies can enhance the city’s already existing–though underfunded and underutilized–public space network for residents.
Dotte Agency in Wyandotte County, Kansas
Research question: What is the impact of small-scale design interventions promoting awareness of physical activity in neighborhood parks?
For its “Active Living Trail,” Dotte Agency partnered with community organizations and neighborhood leaders to clean up, restore, and improve public life in two underutilized parks in Wyandotte County, Kansas. Already supported by the Center for Disease Control and Aetna to reduce chronic diseases by improving the built environment, Dotte Agency used design to develop better signage, wayfinding, and various amenities that would improve the “placement and promotion” of healthy living. Most of that work is planned to be either fabricated or installed by local YouthBuild volunteers this week. By next week, community volunteers will have a better sense of whether the improvements made to public spaces at Heathwood and Parkwood Parks will have made an impact in their community.
Stay tuned for more updates, as each team finishes collecting its data and compiles its findings!