Observations from Wandering Cities

In 2015, I attended the Growing in Place conference in Raleigh, NC to address how children can learn and play in urban environments:

“How can urban design expose and restore urban nature so children and youth engage with compelling, equitable places for creative play and learning? How can nonformal education in nature enrich playful learning in the arts and sciences in the city?”

Jay Walljasper was one of the speakers. He used to be journalist and described himself as a “hunter-gatherer”. He wrote The Great Neighborhood Book chronicles his observations from wandering cities.

Here are my notes from his talk:

  1. Give people a place to hang out. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or expensive. This is where people make connections and get to know each other.
  2. Give people something to see like street buskers, public art, etc. Public art doesn’t have to be great, it has to be a tool for community building.
  3. Give people something to do. Toronto has public bread oven in park (big Portuguese community).
  4. Give people a safe pleasant place to walk. It promotes health and creates a strong sense of community. Many cultures have a ritual of post dinner walk, like USA promenade.
  5. Give people a place to sit.
  6. Give people a safe and comfortable place to bike. Protected bike freeways spur development.
  7. Give people reliable and comfortable public transit. There is stigma involved. Bad bus stops reinforce the stigma.
  8. Make the streets safe. The safest communities have the most people on the street. Organize walking groups to eliminate crime. Put people on the streets.
  9. Make streets safe from traffic. The streets belong to all of us. “If you widen the streets, my world will shrink.”
  10. Don’t forget about older folks. When we plan, non-drivers don’t exist. To lose driving almost makes you a non person.
  11. Don’t forget about kids. Kids live under house arrest because they can’t walk anywhere. Less than 10% of kids walk to school. We need safer routes to school programs, like a walking school bus.
  12. Let your community go to the dogs. Dogs want what we need- indicator spieces.
  13. Reclaim your front yard.
  14. Make a village no matter where you are. A city is a bunch of villages stitched together.
  15. Keep in mind that people like people. Are we building the slums of the future right now?
  16. Don’t give up hope.
  17. Build on what works to make things better. Have a vision.
  18. Remember the people of the people. Social capital.
  19. Never underestimate the power of a meal.
  20. Plant flowers.
  21. Take time to enjoy your community.

There’s a lot that ordinary citizens can do to engage their neighbors and make their block a better place to live. The Tactical Urbanism guides can help you “implement short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyze long term change.”Short term projects are great because they change perspective, leading to new policy and physical change.

Think street furniture made out of discarded pallets, intersection repair with leftover paint, and reclaimed setbacks with benches and libraries. These can end up as new plazas and parks, complete streets, and community gathering spots.

The only thing I can add is: How can we do all this and keep it affordable and equitable for everyone?

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