Tag Archive | Advocacy

Would You Pay to Sit?

A paid public seating experiment in Bat Yam, Israel by Vincent Wittenberg. Photo by Vincent Wittenberg via Web Urbanist.

A paid public seating experiment in Bat Yam, Israel by Vincent Wittenberg. Photo by Vincent Wittenberg via Web Urbanist.

One of the reasons a public spaces becomes successful (meaning well-used) is because it is customizable and an important part of being able to customize your space is being able to have many different seating options. Individual, light-weight chairs which are not bolted into the ground, allow you to customize your experience by siting alone, siting in groups, moving in to the shade or moving in to the sun.

Some municipalities and businesses are weary of incorporating these types of chairs in our public spaces because they are understandably afraid these chairs will be stolen. It’s not easy to be secretive about stealing brightly colored chairs in the bustling pedestrian plazas of Manhattan, but for lesser populated areas, stealing street furniture (chairs, tables, umbrellas, trash cans, etc) can be an issue.

Artist Vincent Wittenberg asked the municipality of Bat Yam in Israel if he could research the behavior of individuals who were given the option of paying to sit in a public space and he wondered how many people would pay to customize the space for their own use. Mr. Wittenberg’s work explores the “border points” of public, private and collective spaces and says that he and his researchers “found out that the borders between those spaces are not strict and even flexible. Although ownership of space is important, many residents do cross the border by claiming public or common space for their own private use. This behaviour seems to be peacefully tolerated by the authorities and other residents.”

Mr. Wittenberg proposed that Bat Yam install benches which could also be converted in to individual seats. These seats will only be released once a five Shekel coin has been deposited but once the seat is returned, so is the coin.

Artist Fabian Brunsing tackled similar themes with a piece which criticizes the privatization of our public spaces. His “Pay & Sit” bench installation allows users to pay to sit comfortably on an otherwise spiked bench – but only for a short period of time. Thankfully, a loud warning signal alerts you to the need to get up quickly, before the metal spikes return.

"Pay & Sit" bench by Fabian Brunsing. Photo by Fabian Brunsing.

“Pay & Sit” bench by Fabian Brunsing. Photo by Fabian Brunsing.

Street furniture being stolen is an important issue but should this issue (and others concerns such as street furniture encouraging negative activity, graffiti, homeless individuals sleeping, etc) deter us from providing furniture at all? Successful public spaces are also those that are comfortable to a diverse audience (with a wide spectrum of physical abilities, those carrying heavy loads, those with children or elderly companions, etc) and therefore they are important to public spaces. These artists explore and exploit our desire for more successful public spaces.

Hurricane Sandy Brings Environmental Concerns to Light

Oil sheen in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance.

Oil sheen in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance.

After Hurricane Sandy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) posted information on its website about taking safety precautions when cleaning up after floods but many community advocates in New York and New Jersey are increasingly concerned about the levels of contamination caused by Sandy and their impact on clean up efforts as well as the environmental threat of future storm surges and rising seal levels near current and former industrial waterfront areas.

In Brooklyn, New York, two Superfund (hazardous waste) sites, the Newtown Creek and Gowanus Canal breached their banks and flowed in to nearby city streets. In New Jersey, the Raritan Bay Slag Superfund Site (containing large amounts of lead, arsenic and copper) flooded an adjacent public playground and beach and in the Arthur Kill (a channel between New Jersey and Staten Island), clean up crews working in cooperation with the Coast Guard had to use oil skimmers, vacuum trucks and a contamination boom to remove 378,000 gallons of fuel released from the Motiva oil tank during the storm.

Greenpoint Avenue (near a sewage treatment plant) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance

Greenpoint Avenue (near a sewage treatment plant) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance

Environmental justice (advocating for communities unfairly burdened by environmental pollution and contamination) advocates are requesting to meet with local city officials and waterfront businesses to inventory existing chemicals and help keep businesses up to date on floodproofing their chemical storage facilities. Kate Zidar, Executive Director of the Newtown Creek Alliance says “Learning from Sandy, we need environmental health and safety information for flooding that is specific for Superfund and relevant to the industrial business community,” and suggests potential efforts that could help prevent further contamination in the future like installing tide gates and shoreline bulkheads and the restoration of our wetland areas.

Communities who live near businesses like chemical plants, paper mills, and ports or infrastructure like highways are unfairly burdened by negative health outcomes and advocating for regulation of these facilities, progressive environmental planning and affordable housing in healthier communities are key to saving millions of our fellow citizens from undue suffering.

Ash Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance

Ash Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance

Mexico City Residents Build Their Own Bicycle Infrastructure

Mexico City residents build their own bicycle lanes (Photo via This Big City

Mexico City residents build their own bicycle lanes. Photo via This Big City.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the National Network for Urban Cycling (BiciRed) has launched a campaign called “5% for the bicycles and pedestrians” to ask Mexico’s government to give at least 5% of the transportation budget to non-motorized infrastructure.
In light of the Institute’s request, community groups decided to raise awareness about the issue by building a 5 km (about three miles) designated bicycle lane. Advocates raised about a thousand dollars in four days to buy paint, brushes and build wood signs and stencils to build the bike lane, and on November 6th, 80 people (cycling advocates and citizens who heard about the idea through social media) showed up to begin working.
Mexico City residents build their own bicycle infrastructure (Photo via This Big City)

Mexico City residents build their own bicycle lanes. Photo via This Big City.

After eight hours the bicycle lane was completed. Jimena Veloz, one of the advocates who participated in the event asks: “How much would it cost to actually build the bicycle infrastructure the city needs?”
Mexico City residents come together to build much needed cycling infrastructure (Photo via This Big City)

Mexico City residents come together to build much needed cycling infrastructure. Photo via This Big City.

 

VOTE

Today, I went to the polls to let my voice be heard and when I turned in my ballot, I received this incredible LA County voting sticker. Does any city’s voting sticker represent such a diverse group of languages??

Los Angeles County has such a diverse population and it’s important to remember as planners and professionals that we are sure to include a diverse group of voices in the decision-making process.

Los Angeles County voting sticker. Photo by Anna Peccianti

Los Angeles County voting sticker. Photo by Anna Peccianti

Measure J

Passengers waiting for the bus in Los Angeles. Photo by David from LA blog.

Passengers waiting for the bus in Los Angeles. Photo via Experiencing Los Angeles.



In 2008, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure R, giving our Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) $40 billlion over the next 30 years for transportation upgrades (everything from new light rail to expanded bus service to pothole repair) within the 88 cities that make up Los Angeles County. The $40 billion is funded through a half-cent transportation sales tax increase which will cost each resident around $25 per year for the next 30 years. In 2008, not only did I vote for Measure R (along with 75% of voters) but I did so enthusiastically. 

Four years later, the MTA proposed a new measure on our ballots (Measure J) which would extend the tax for an additional 30 years at the cost of $90 billion. Initially, I thought that voting for Measure J would be an obvious choice, that is until I started reading the opposition to the Measure and began to assess the cumulative impacts of Measure J – thinking regionally and locally.

In my research about the opposition, I learned that one of the unforeseen consequences of Measure R was that there were bus fare increases and service cuts which particularly effect those who depend on the bus system. Cuts that effect how they get to work, go to the store, transport children, etc. These cuts happened because the MTA has the ability to take current funds (not Measure R monies) and redirect them to other projects, taking money out of the bus system. 

20% of Measure J money will go to highway construction and expansion (including the extension of the 710 freeway which would tunnel through South Pasadena) which is something I do not support. Highway construction and expansion plus bus service cuts/fare increases means increased traffic and pollution and in my view, exacerbates our existing issues. Additionally, I looked at the development companies partnering with the MTA and how those potential projects could affect communities along the rail lines an determined that these projects could lead to a great deal of displacement in these communities.

I am a public transportation advocate and a passionate one at that. Some of the improvements proposed in Measure J seem like they would have a positive impact but many seem negative.The problem is that we can’t be guaranteed which projects MTA will choose (or who could suffer in unforeseen ways in the process ) to put our money towards and I’m not sure I’m willing to give Metro $90 billion to carry out initiatives of their choosing.