The Nolli Map made history when it was created in 1748, largely because of its focus on public spaces. With it, Giambattista Nolli highlighted the fact that public places don’t exclusively exist in the forms of streets and parks, but also in enclosed spaces. Yet the importance of our communal areas is constantly being undermined. Our public areas exist to promote inclusion and equal opportunities, but despite that they are being forgotten and abandoned, debilitating their ability to bind communities together.
Given that the main goal of Studio Gang’s newly released, free, downloadable booklet, Reimagining The Civic Commons has been to “help communities everywhere activate their civic commons,” then, it is unsurprising that the booklet includes graphic maps reminiscent of Nolli’s visual aim. The booklet, which arose from work funded by the Kresge Foundation and Knight Foundation, focuses on the advancement of 7 types of “existing assets”: libraries, parks, recreation centers, police stations, schools, streets and transit. Since the start of Studio Gang's research, a larger, $40 million initiative has begun—funded by the JPB Foundation, The Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation along with a multitude of local donors—with plans taking shape in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis and Akron. The graphic guide is designed to offer adaptable, cost-effective and flexible approaches to these spaces, so that it can be implemented over time and in a variety of different communities. Read on for our summary of the report’s 7 strategies for improvement.
1. Open Libraries to Opportunity
Libraries house a vast amount of public resources and information, with over 120,000 libraries across the US hosting over 90 million visits per year. The physical interiors of many library buildings however, feel closed off and isolated due to their traditional function of storage and as places for individual study. As this method of information exchange gradually becomes less relevant in the new digital era, libraries have begun to adapt the services they provide, and Studio Gang believes that the buildings need to follow suit.
Opening up the façade to create a generous, accessible entrance, as well as installing large windows to visually connect the interiors with surrounding streets, will work to draw in passers-by. Once inside, Studio Gang suggests meeting areas, fabrication tools and technology rooms to support digital development in the workforce. In order to expand the library’s function as a place of gathering, an extension of the building in the form of a covered outdoor space is also proposed, serving as a new neighborhood destination for events.
2. Shape Parks into Experiences
10% of the urban area of the United States is covered in parks, totaling almost 2 million acres in total. Greenery in cities is known to improve people’s happiness, health and productivity, as well as providing “ecosystem services,” such as relieving strain from storm water systems. In order to increase their reach, Studio Gang encourages more diverse topographies to serve as gathering points, but also manage storm water. Bold and vibrant art, furniture and greenery can help to attract people into the parks, as well as visually emphasizing their presence.
3. Move Recreation Centers Towards Wellness
Despite the intended use of recreation centers as year-round social, health and education hotspots, current centers offer far less than what was originally planned. The “Civic Commons” booklet proposes the supplementation of centers with other wellness opportunities, such as on-site medical care, nutrition workshops and stress-relieving activities to attract a broader market.
Once again, the opening of facades, as well as the removal of interior walls, will open up single-purpose rooms into larger, more adaptable spaces. By connecting indoor and outdoor areas more light and air will flow into the buildings, as well as removing barriers to participation. This will hopefully also attract external service providers that can make use of the suggested leasable spaces. Finally, there is the possibility of activating entrances to mobile services such as health and food trucks.
4. Center Police Stations on Community
Studio Gang feels that police stations have become isolated from communities, often separated from the surrounding urban environment and surrounded by parking lots. This isolation minimizes productive exchanges between police, residents and city officials, instead increasing the dissonance between policemen and the community they serve. To counteract this, stations can begin by offering free Wi-Fi and ATM services to attract people inside. Implementing art and furniture at the entrance can also create a “porch”-like atmosphere for locals to enjoy. Including a roof-top canopy space may invite more shared activities such as dining and gardening, and opening retails spaces that benefit both policemen and local residents can establish lively community surroundings.
5. Cultivate Schools into Innovation Campuses
With nearly 50 million students being educated in about 97,000 elementary and secondary schools in the US, schools hold an enormous responsibility for the education, health and welfare of young people, as well as the future of the population. Unfortunately US students have fallen behind their international counterparts in mathematics and sciences, and a third of the children are overweight or obese. Implementing “laboratories” for experiential learning through the utilization of all surfaces, especially in outdoor areas, can enhance the learning environment, improve health, reduce stress and add natural beauty.
The four proposals for achieving this are: converting rooftops to greenhouses and “garden classrooms”, implementing green spaces that reach out into the surrounding neighborhood, growing agriculture on adjacent vacant land that can be used for phenological science, and incorporating student-grown vegetables in the cafeteria.
6. Make Streets into Places
Streets are used by all people, everyday. They are “the fabric that connects a city,” but how can they be transformed from thoroughfares to places? By developing a dynamic roof canopy pedestrians will be protected, improving the walkability of streets and the public health of a community. Additionally, developing storefronts and supporting local events will provide a form of entertainment for pedestrians, as well as encouraging local spending to stimulate economic growth. Planting trees can solve increasing urban heat, and designing the surface of the streets can optimize the maintenance of storm water, as well as increasing options for transit.
7. Make Transit Stops a Place to Go
Over 35 million people in the United States use public transportation every weekday, which saves them an average of $10,000 per year and increases property values by 42% when located near a high-frequency transportation service. However, public transportation nodes are often inconsistently located; they include gaps in certain routes and separate neighborhoods, causing socioeconomic divides. Studio Gang envisions future transit stops as “civic anchors,” that are communities in themselves, by expanding existing routes to create “transit hubs” where different circuits meet. In addition to this they propose adding new stops on transit lines, as well as infrastructure to supplement those new connections.
Reimagining The Civic Commons is available for download here. If you want to find out even more, you can visit Studio Gang's website.