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Field Notes


Field Notes – February-March 2012

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Placing Parking

Mark Matel
March 1, 2012

Another great article by one of my favorite critics at the moment, Michel Kimmelman, on Parking.

I read Paved, but Still Alive a month ago but it relates very well to the debate I’ve been facilitating between with my Host Organization (Nuestra Comunidad), the design & construction team, and our commercial brokers over our parking lot counts at Bartlett Place. Parking lots can be places.

When I arrived in January, I was immediately sent to a meeting with the Boston Redevelopment Association and our commercial brokers to watch the presentation of our merchandising plan and I realized I was going to be developing a prototypical suburban model of a shopping center. It was shocking for me to see that the plan I saw during my fellowship interview process had changed so dramatically. Luckily one of our commercial tenants decided they would not lease one of the allotted commercial spaces unless we provided more parking. Normally this would be a hindrance to the progression of the development but I saw it as an opportunity to help the Development Team re-understand our vision for Bartlett Place and more importantly to create a better node in the neighborhood of Roxbury.

I needed to understand each of my teammates and their desired goals for the site in order to better coordinate a design that we were all happy with. So without naming names here they are:

Teammate A:  A ‘better public space’ (the current public space had diminished to a parking lot island) 

Teammate B: wanted to preserve existing buildings and retaining wall

Teammate C: Concerned about the viability of the commercial space with minimal parking.

Teammate D: Concerned of the lost promenade (the original plan envisioned a grand promenade)

Teammate E: “This is not a place but a drive through.” Wanted a mural (the current site had given way to the automobile)

So I sent everyone a couple of definitions of ‘place’ and took those definitions and highlighted key words that defined a vision for Bartlett Place. This document was present at every conversation about Bartlett Place to reinforce our vision with every re design iteration brought to the table. The conversations functioned in these teams throughout the month until our final iteration:


Each group discussed the pros and cons of each proposal but was constantly asked to make sure that the proposal met the defined vision for Bartlett Place. A single teammate created the designs but with a level of transparency that allowed for open dialogue and suggestions. The team was able to envision a plan that accommodated ample parking but allowed the lot to be used for multiple uses such as pushcart vendors and food carts. In addition to the parking spaces and bigger public space we were able to add extra retaining walls for a mural depicting the history of Roxbury.

*Images have been edited to protect client rights.

Bloody Run Creek: Partnership 

Ceara O'Leary
February 28, 2012

One month into my fellowship and I am already knee-deep in Bloody Run Creek. One of the primary projects I will be working upon during my time in Detroit, is a redevelopment project for the near east side of the city that focuses on the restoration of a neighborhood waterway. The project also comprises an extensive greenway and blueway system that traverses the city and proposes a model for mixed-use development that includes green space as a primary element and local asset. The primary project team has been developing the framework and design for the Bloody Run Creek Greenway Redevelopment Project for over two decades. However, the project hugely benefits from an intensive research and design push from the Detroit Collaborative Design Studio (DCDC) over the last year.
An early iteration and one account of the project’s inception are described here:
Perhaps serendipitously, the project’s progress presently aligns with ample energy surrounding the city’s resurgence at large and the redevelopment of the near east side in particular. As I wade into the players and partnerships that comprise Bloody Run, I am often struck by the multitude of people and projects who are already involved or whose involvement would surely benefit the overall plan. 
In addition to the core design team, the primary project partners include development gurus, civil engineers and environmental experts. Other important players include the Eastern Market Corporation (which is invested in the development of Detroit’s amazing farmers market and surrounding area, which is directly adjacent to the Bloody Run focus area) and the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (which is successfully implementing recreational greenways, including famed Dequindre Cut, which aligns with Bloody Run). The city clearly has a stake in the potential project, as do several developers who have expressed interest.
Read a slightly outdated version of the development perspective here:
Importantly, the project also champions major stormwater management improvements, which would greatly relieve the city’s sewer system. The environmental and municipal organizations invested in such issues are many, and I look forward to engaging with both city officials and nonprofit stewards as the project progresses. Through the work of a wide-ranging team with adjacent interests (which is already in progress), the Bloody Run Creek redevelopment project is more likely to encourage infrastructural improvements, provide a green public amenity, spur economic development, and contribute to the city’s revitalization at large. As a newcomer, I am presently seeking to engage with all of the players who will contribute to the project’s success.

Pierscape at Navy Pier

Daniel Splaingard
February 21, 2012

There is a lot of buzz in the Chicago design community about the exciting schemes for the Pierscape Competition that occurred last week. From an international list of entries, five teams were shortlisted and gave public presentations of their concepts for improvements of the historic pier, one of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions. Multi-disciplinary design teams included AECO, Aedas Architects, James Corner Field Operations, !melk, and Team Xavier Vendrell.

The following link generously documents the work of the teams, including their design submissions, short videos of their concepts, and even a recording of the live presentations, which took place over two days at the Museum of Contemporary Art. If nothing else these submissions warrant a look to see current trends in graphic design, ideas for remixing landscape and comparative approaches to public presentation.

In combination with the Navy Pier Flyover project to improve non-auto movement to the pier this part of the city could see dramatic changes in the next decade. Materials are currently on display for public viewing at the Chicago Architecture Foundation until mid-May and at 15 area satellite locations.

Navy Pier Blog:

Blair Kamin Blog:

CAF Blog:

Active Transportation Response to Pier Proposals:

Navy Pier Flyover:

Baby Boomer Problem
The Opportunity to Provide Sustainable, Accessible, Community Oriented Dwellings

February 20, 2012
Sam Beall

The Demographapocalypse is nigh! As the baby boomer generation gets older, entitlements will increase to unsustainable levels, and the country will collapse under the burden.
Hyperbole? I say yes, though the ability to care for our aging population will require strong commitments from both the public and the private sector. We all know the story: Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation fought the war, came home, and had children. Those children, my parents, are just now reaching retirement age. As the chart below suggests, the graying of our population will continue well into the 21st century.

In addition to the aging population, we also must deal with some misconceptions about how our elders are going to cope with changing needs.
Misconception 1: Medicare will pay for long-term care.

Most seniors, when asked how they plan to pay for long-term care, will say that Medicare will pay. Beyond the fact that Medicare spending is increasing unsustainably, Medicare will NOT pay for long-term care. As we saw in 2010, the politics of Medicare are treacherous.
Misconception 2: Seniors will age gracefully in their own homes.

This is very possible, but unlikely for several reasons. The first is the shear cost of retrofitting a home. Things like a chair lift, or a full bathroom renovation are expensive, and out of reach for most Americans. If homes are not made more accessible, you exacerbate the risk of a dangerous fall. The second reason that aging at the family home is unlikely is social. While able bodied, it’s quite easy to remain social with neighbors and family. As one grows older, and barriers to movement more latent, it becomes much more difficult to stay mobile.  I don’t mean to imply that aging at home is always a bad idea; merely that it may be out of reach for most Americans.
Here at Cathedral Square [] we’re working to alleviate this growing need for housing and care. We’re building sustainable, accessible dwellings, while working with community leaders to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the community. Through our SASH program (Support And Services at Home) [], we are creating a comprehensive care framework at our buildings. This network brings together resident managers, nurses and doctors in a holistic way to ensure our residents stay healthy, and get the care they need.
While there are significant impediments to creating a comprehensive plan to house and care for our aging population, we have to remember that this country has dealt with the baby boomer demographic before. In 1953, President Eisenhower elevated Education to a cabinet level position, shared as the department of Health, Education and Welfare. Money was funnelled into new schools and programs to facilitate the growing number of students. We’ve found a way to support our citizens in the past, and we must find a way to continue to do that into the future.

Composting for San Juan! 

February 8, 2012
Juan Calaf

Since moving to Puerto Rico I have been developing a personal interest in waste reduction and composting locally. I have gained eco-awareness quickly given that the island size is only 3,500 square miles and the city of San Juan’s landfills are filling up quickly.

So, I set myself with the task of organizing a group of neighbors into composting our own food waste. After various meetings and failed attempts to think that we could get the municipality to start a city-wide composting program we took the matter to our own hands and decided to make our own compost pile. 

The first step was to find an outdoor location to make our collective compost pile, given that having worm composting inside the apartment was becoming too complicated was going to be more costly. One of our fellow community neighbors with a strong knowledge in perma-culture decided that it would be best if we picked an area around the public neighborhood park near a Ceiba tree. After all, this area had been neglected for years and it contained some of the vital elements to start the composting pile: lots of dry leaves, some wet leaves, grass clippings, and of course the worms.  
Some weeks ago the composting team went out ready and willing to the site with gloves, stakes, chicken-wire mesh, shovels, rakes and a blue tarp. After a few hours of work and $50 later in supplies we had a working six-foot diameter circular compost pile. Now folks come around on a weekly basis with their raw veggie food scraps (no meat, bones, etc) and add them to the growing compost pile creating organic soil to be used for potting plants in the future.
This experience has already become a community building activity and an initial step for neighbors who want to compost. We hope that the City embraces this effort to reduce waste locally.  

New Fellow Orientation

February 8, 2012
Ceara O'Leary

A team of community design and development greats and the year’s first snowfall welcomed us to Wellesley, Massachusetts for the new fellow’s orientation weekend last month. In a particularly poignant moment, the one bystander in the office—only peripherally bitten by the community-minded bug—noted the palpable passion and commitment that the incoming five fellows and veterans contributed to the weekend-long conversations.
After being warmly welcomed and very well fed, we spent the following day sharing our work and attempting to soak up the wisdom of the Enterprise team. Throughout the morning, Sam, Sam, Mark, Nate and I presented the trajectories that led us to the fellowship. Our inaugural Pecha Kucha—the first of many, I am told—was all the better for Nate’s virtual attendance, which was particularly admirable given the immobilizing snowstorm and three-hour time difference him and us. We were also lucky to hear from Ed Rosenthal, Alma Balonon-Rosen, Ray Demers and Cheryl Gladstone, all pivotal players in the far-flung Enterprise network who provided valuable insight into the organization.
We took the afternoon to become better acquainted with the fellowship from the perspective of our own prospects as well as the work of past fellows. I believe I speak for all five of us when I say that the introduction to fellowship alumni was incredibly invigorating, particularly as we go about scheming our future plans in the field. We also gained a deeper appreciation for the support network that buoys our work and encourages even our most ambitious “stretch” projects. We are privileged to have such reinforcement and benefit from the shared knowledge and experience embodied within the fellowship.  As we continued to navigate the necessary quarterly reports and fellow responsibilities, we could not contain our excitement to get back to our respective cities and dig in.
The orientation weekend allowed us to whole-heartedly initiate a three-year long conversation about community design and development. This dialog continued on a trek across Boston, including a tour of Bartlett Yards, the Roxbury redevelopment project in which Mark is already knee-deep. The weekend effectively underscored the collegial bonds of the fellowship, in part by means of a terrifically snowy city tour, cozily close quarters, and many communal meals.

One Night Count 2012 – Because Everyone Counts

February 2, 2012
Joann Ware

In the very early morning hours of Friday, January 27, eight hundred volunteers quietly made their way through King County Neighborhoods to count unsheltered women, men and children. This annual effort organized by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) is part of a nationwide point-in-time snapshot of homelessness.

The One Night Count has two parts. The first is a “shelter survey” of emergency shelter and transitional housing programs conducted by the King County Community Services Division – Homeless Housing Program. The second is the volunteer driven “street survey” of people sleeping outside, in vehicles, makeshift shelters or on public transit. This year, volunteers found 2,594 people surviving outside.
Beyond the shocking data, the purpose of the count is to spur greater engagement in advocacy and action around issues of homelessness. SKCCH offers advocacy workshops, mail campaigns and newsletters to equip folks moved by the One Night Count with methods for having conversations within the community and with policy makers.

Visit the SKCCH website for more information about the One Night Count:

The Popsicle Stick Fallacy

February 2, 2012
Jason Wheeler

In a desperate attempt to live the American dream, I bought my first home 18 months ago at the beginning of my Rose Fellowship in St. George, Utah. 
My wife and I left the kids with Grandpa for a weekend in Illinois and caught a plane to southern Utah’s desert metropolis in search of the perfect place to settle down.  After three days of driving around the area, we found a home that more-or-less met our criteria:  It was conveniently situated near my work, and likewise close to a good elementary school.  It had three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a yard, a fence, windows, a roof, and most-importantly, air-conditioning (it can get as warm as 120 in St. George in August).  Recently remodeled, the kitchen sported stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, and the front room was fitted out with a lovely fireplace.
Despite my past experiences with energy-efficient construction and my training as an architect, not once did I think about how much the home would cost me in monthly utility bills.  I didn’t look closely at the water heater or the heat pump AC unit.  I didn’t poke my head in the attic to see how much (or even if!) insulation was present.  I failed to notice the 1970s aluminum window frames that conduct both heat and cold most beautifully.

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