In a recent November article in The Chronicle of Education, James Proctor, Director of the Environmental-Studies Program at Lewis & Clark College, questioned what a more “cosmopolitan sustainability movement might look like?” I quickly considered my own firms efforts, of late, with local advocacy groups, public markets, and development corporations on the renewed interest in our cities connection along cultural, political, economic, ecological, or social lines – all key elements that Proctor categorized under the “rubric of cosmopolitanism”.
Aesthetic or social movements, such as these, often demand we shift our thinking about how we retool where we live in order to prepare our neighborhoods for notions of regeneration for an upcoming century. We seem to be in a climate where neighborhoods and citizens are growing increasingly less interested in the idea of one dimensional planning efforts that have become the default for organizing and development strategies in our cities. This includes predictable program models, tired community surveys, shelved master plans, and uninspired development frameworks that leave little consideration for the interdependence or success of solving complex growth issues.
Disenchanted, I’m listening to communities organize under new forms of urban typologies that tend to blur private/public relationships and are fixed on equipping their neighborhoods with re-imagined streetscapes and vision plans based on innovative infrastructure, smart growth, identity, ecology, arts, advocacy and people. These new modes of infrastructure can easily be characterized by their overlap of program functions, along with cultural and innovative uses that benefit not just the local, but an expanded network of functioning neighborhoods, retail zones, including suburbs.
These conversations are being introduced and implemented through programmatic elements such as energy installations, public pavilions, gateways, multi-model stations, playgrounds, sculpture gardens, cultural trails, pocket parks, and hybrid type public facilities that challenge the formal structure of the city, connect us, or bring communities together. These public infrastructure scenarios are popping up everywhere and being discovered daily at interchanges, bridges, production clusters, retail centers, brown-fields, and transit nodes.
This “movement” on place making has grown out a type of local activism that insists on denying formal boundaries, diversifying programmatic frameworks, and discovering hybrids and shared cultural opportunities that enhance notions of place, identity, and future. It is in many ways it is a scaled “stimulant” towards what will be the eventual integration of contemporary hybrids of landscape and architecture.
In all cases these elements invite activities once left to formal or permanent institutions to reorganize under new modes of urban place making that take on more temporary, seasonal, or transitional structures. They will take on a very different form and function than those of fifty years ago. What I believe we can all agree on is that wind-powered generators, green roofs, and organic gardens alone, will not solve the plethora of issues surrounding cities and neighborhoods in the emerging twenty-first century.