Luther Gulick visioning process was a good example to anaylse in order to learn new ways to understand the process of designing urban spaces with a strong relationship between the neighbors and the designing team. They designed a toolkit to gather information from the neighbors and then introduce this terms into the project evaluation of needs, program, mechanisms, shapes, etc.
What is PEOPLE MAKE PARKS?
People Make Parks is a joint project of Hester Street Collaborative (HSC) and Partnerships for Parks (PFP) to help communities participate in the design of their parks. When citizens engage with government and weigh in on park design, government builds better parks, and the public continues to enjoy and care for places they helped make.
The project is placed in the Lower East Side of New York City, Immediately north of the park are the Samuel Gompers Houses and Baruch Houses and the Masaryk Towers. At the southern edge are private coops, Hillman Housing and Amalgamated Dwellings. The park lies in City Council District 1, but shares a border with District 2 to the north; many of the park users come from District 2.
CONTEXT AND CONTROVERSIES
Luther Gulick Park & Playground, also known as Sheriff or Downing Park, was built during the Depression in 1933 and expanded during the subsequent 20 years. It was renamed after Luther H. Gulick, a tireless advocate for urban green spaces and, above all, play spaces.
Long-time residents still remember the park’s vibrancy: ice-skating, ball games, relaxing on tree-shaded benches, chess and dominoes on the game tables, and a clubhouse with bathroom facilities, classrooms, and sports equipment.
During the civic and economic decline in the 1970s and 1980s, insufficient security and poor upkeep led to deterioration and unwanted behavior. The game tables and benches dotting the southwestern green space were removed in an effort to deter inappropriate activity, leaving unsightly concrete pavers. Meanwhile, the cobblestone paths in this area became extremely uneven and overgrown with unsightly weeds. The building and restrooms had long been closed and subsequently demolished. An Asian Longhorn Beetle infestation in the late 1990s forced the Parks Department to destroy 80% of the trees at the western end leaving the empty tree pits filled with dirt and rubble.
Derelict state of the park
The neighborhood is composed by a diverse ethnical groups, wich more important ones are the african, latinos and jews. The main controversy about is that every demographic group has their own interests and their own habits but in this case, Gulick park can turno intro an articulation space between diferent population sectors involving each one with specific strategies.
- Political Agents
Council Member Margaret Chin ($1,300,000)
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer ($750,000)
Former Council Member Alan Gerson ($360,000)
Council member Rosie Mendez with support from Council Speaker Christine Quinn ($250,000)
NY State Senator Daniel Squadron ($100,000 to-date, working on more)
NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (working, and coordinating with other representatives, for funding)
- Institutional Agents
Liz Christie Garden (planting and watering supplies)
LES Ecology Center (one-time fiscal conduit for private donations)
Open Space Institute (current fiscal sponsor for donations)
Abrons Art Center (tables for events)
NYC Department of Parks and Recreation
Partnerships for Parks
Ana Luisa Garcia Community Center
Hester Street Collaborative (participatory design activities, amid much else)
Henery St Settlement Youth Programs (basketball clinic)
Manny Cantor Center (family fitness activities)
New Yorkers for Parks (daffodil bulbs)
Local Spokes (bike tune-ups & decorating)
Friends of Seward Park (publicity to their e-lists)
Asian Americans for Equality (publicity/outreach)
Saint Mary’s (publicity/outreach)
Abrons Art Center
Grand Street Settlement – Beacon Center
Hillman Housing Cooperative (use of gardening area, water faucet, and wi-fi router placement)
- Business Supporters
SoHo House NY (cash)
SPiN NYC (membership prizes)
Two Boots Pizza (gift certificate prizes)
Recycle-a-Bicycle (raffle prizes)
Town & Gardens (plants)
Lightning and Trumpet (logo design work)
Roots and Vines (gift certificate donation)
Doughnut Plant (food for events)
Donnybrook (raffle prizes)
///Programming and Events
Henge Table (installation of the Ping Pong table)
SPiN NYC (publicity and tournament ref)
Frank’s Bike Shop
Vaska Advanced Botanicals
- Social Agents
Jeremy Horland (WordPress installation and technical issues)
///Programming and Events
Wally Green (May 2012 tournament fun)
Evan Forsch (caricature artist)
And all the neighbors who have come to events, gardened, signed in support, and had fun
9th of September 2009 – Community Day
Over 100 neighbors attended and met with their representatives and events were included like bike repair, face painting, origami lessons and planting.
7th of November 2009
Over 40 neighbors met to plant tulip and daffodil bulbs
24th of March 2010 – First funding
Senator squadron gathered 100.000$ in capital funding that will be in the Parks Department budget for Gulick Park.
27th of April 2010
They started to ask for volunteers and donations to fix the park.
16th of May 2010
Between 250-300 community members come out to share their opinions about Gulick Park and their ideas for its renovation. They do this through 6 activities designed to help capture their vision. There were also side-walk chalk and drawing areas for children, an area caricature artist, as well as an outdoor ping pong table
12th of August 2010 – Planting and painting the park
Neighbors came to the park to plant flowers for the summer and repaint the fence
29 July 2010 – Crowdfunding
They started a campaing to gather funds with t-Shirts as a reward if people donates 15$
23th October 2010 – It’s my park day
About 200 neighbors and friends came to the park for pumpkin painting, face painting, modern art activities, planting, and a ping pong tournament. Councilmember Chin and Borough President Stringer attended to say a few words and receive our thanks for helping fund a capital renovation.
1st may 2011 – Bessie’s Big Shot Puppet Show
The PuppetMobile by the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre came to Gulick Playground and performed the story of a cow realizing her dream of joining the circus. Around 100 neighbors came out to see the show with their children.
Also they made a puppet making workshop.
4th may 2011 – Participatory workshop
A design workshop on the evening of May 4th at The Abrons Art Center aiming to reflect the needs and the desires of the community.
22th May 2011 – It’s my park day
Planting more climbing roses, summer bulbs, a few trees. All accompanied by our friends and neighbors crooning along to a karaoke machine!
15th June 2011 – Scope Meeting with park designers
A brief meeting with the designers and capital projects coordinators from NYC Parks & Recreation.
The purpose of the scope meeting is for the designers to hear about how the park is used, how people want to use it.
17th June 2011 – The redesign of the park started.
20th July 2011 – Chin gathered funds
New York City Council Member Margaret Chin renewed and strengthened her support of the capital renovation of Luther Gulick Park & Playground by allocating an additional $400,000 in that year’s budget
7th September 2011 – LMDC awards Gulick Park $900,000
Gulick Park and Playground has been awarded $900,000 from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation
16th October 2011 – It’s my park day
About 400 people came through for ping pong, face-painting, pumpkin painting and lots of planting. We look forward to seeing all the flowers come up in March!
20th May 2012 – It’s my park day
Nearly 200 neighbors and ping pong players came down to show off their game in a chance to win prizes in a pin-pong contest. Wally green, a hip-hop singer performed in the park.
11th April 2013 – Public meeting for acceptance of design
Once the design from the architects team was finished, it was put into community boards in order to take the approval from the neighbors.
19th May 2013 – It’s my park day
Henry Street Settlement’s youth services division hosted a basketball clinic with a NBA former and staff organized competitives games for children.
Over 100 people took part in that celebration of the new design.
12th July 2013 – City council gathered funds.
Councilmember Chin, with help from Mendez and Quinn gave to phase 2 project 500.000$
27th October 2013
More than 200 neighbors cleaned and gardened, painted over 150 pumpkins, made masks, and told the designers their ideas for future programming.
Still in development…
They divide the whole process of projecting a new urban place into a 8 steps where you can get involved with different tasks.
It’s not necessary to understand the phases as a linear develop, but in such way they operate in this way.
As I understand, there are various controversies in that parts of the process that I will talk about into the failure paragraph.
1. Advocate for funding
This first phase is focused in gathering an initial budget from the city council putting in touch with them and trying to convince them how much is important to the city and to the neighborhood the upgrade of the park, describing general ideas for the change. In their documents they only talk about the local elected officials and, in summary, about public administration official, not about gathering money from other sectors.
2. Gather inputs
The second step is to analyze deeply the space and how it is used. They made a toolkit of activities to gather the information and share it to make everyone able to create their own process of analysis to share once finished with the designing team.
They concern not only about objective data about the park, also about emotional histories from people who lived long time ago near the park or maybe just anecdotes about the place in order to find something powerful to work with it.
We will talk about this input-gathering toolkit in the strategies paragraph.
This is an example of the interviews taken by Friends of gulick park.
3. Make a mark in your park
The third part of the project is to pre-visualize the possible future of the park and the capabilities of it when people works to conditioning the park. These activities could be like planting and caring about trees, growing a garden or creating temporary art interventions.
But also, they aim to create interventions that somehow be able to show the indentity of the neighborhood to involve the people in what is happening there and participate into the collaborative visioning of the park’s future.
4. Promote and Attend the scope meeting
This part of the project aims to set the initial objectives of the designing tasks and sharing ideas of how they can face that controversies. For that purpose, meetings are organized and they ask to come for the greater number of possible neighbors in order to gather representative opinions from the neighborhood community.
5. Weight in on Design Aproval
Once the Designing team have finished a first approach to solve the needs defined in the scope meetings, then the desing have to be approved with the Community Boards where everybody can review the design. Also they give the desing to the Parks Commissioner and the Public Design Commission or the Landmarks Preservation Commissio, lloking for their approval.
6. Stay involved during construction
While the park is closed for construction, they ask you to promote the future park distributing resources map of the future park or putting up signs to let the rest of neighbors know what is happening.
7. Celebrate the opening
Create an event to open the park where people could thank the elected official for the funding, to honor special collaborators but most important, to inspire people to keep involved with the park after the opening.
8. Care for the park
The final phase is about keeping and maintaining the park properly, cleaning, planting, painting and planning public programs to keep ensure the park will be filled of activities and use.
The main amount of strategies handled by People make parks are focused on gathering information to construct a collaborative system of designing the parks.
Some of that tools are not only for analyzing data from the park, also are useful to create visualizing processes over the park.
Story mapping – Analyze + Visualize
The methodology is to provide people several large-scale architectural maps of the park and colored markers. Participants were asked to record their park memories on specific areas of the map.
In this way, the designer team gather the general ideas of what people needs or wants but also, how this needs are distributed in the park area.
Example of history map
This tool is about creating a place to sit in there with relax and find someone to listen the park histories from the neighbors, for example elders who can tell how the park worked a lot of years ago or sportsman who can have an opposite view of the park than would the elder people.
In the specific case of Luther Gulick Park, suring two park events (Take Back Your Park day in May 2010 and It’s My Park day in October 2010) interviews were carried out to solicit and record stories and attitudes toward the park. In addition, the Urban Practices class of The New School Parsons School for Design conducted interviews of four specific groups : Friends of Gulick Park Steering Committee members, Local UJC lunch club seniors citizens, Young people using the basketball and handball courts and older people and parents using the park
Model Making – Analyze + Visualize
A site model is built beforehand, with an empty rectangle in place of the entirety of the park, and during a day participants could create models of their dream park using craft materials like plasticine and pre-made elements, like trees and plants.
Also, recorded each design with an explanation of their author about what he was trying to explain with his model.
This tool is very useful to let the people to imagine what could be the future of the park and it’s very interesting how children could be very creative, because they are capable to imagine new mechanisms of creating new urban shapes instead traditional ones (for example, they could think about a mountain inside the city with trees to imagine themselves trying to discover this new world inside the city), but also this tool is useful to measure and locate individual elements over the park area.
Mark Your Park – Analyze + Visualize
The objective of the Mark Your Park exercise was to give local residents in the community an opportunity for on-site identification of their likes, dislikes and desired changes to the existing park. Participants were given color- coded stickers, with each color representing their position on what currently exists in the park. They were asked to put the stickers on items in the park they wanted to keep, wanted to see fixed, or wanted to remove.
Questionnaires – Analyze
This is the most objective input-gathering tool, and it will show objective data about what people are living there, what are their needs, their troubles with the park, if they will involve in the project, if they will use the park once it’s finished.
But also is a good tool to detect accurately specific controversies of the park, like dangerous furniture, derelict áreas, unhealthy places, etc.
In order to not overreach, because the function an characteristics of many of the activities have similarities, I only will mention the rest of the interventions of the toolkit.
Design hoops: A way to gather people’s needs through a sportive activity.
Voting boards: A democratic way to take an important decision over the park.
Wish objects: Quite similar than Story Map but without locating the information but adding the creative aspect to attract children to participate.
As in understand, this process worked well in NYC because the structure of the public administration and the public policys about parks, because this case is not capable to be translate into any place, because it needs to fund large amounts of money (2M$) from the city council and the government platforms. This is probably because they understand the way to revamp the park as a traditional park built with new furniture, as a permanent change, not temporary.
Also, they only focus the feedback and the participation of the people in the initial phases, not in the whole process, for example, during the construction, taking profit of unemployed people who could work in the park in exchange of something and creating a barter system to the common benefit.
Understanding the develop of constructing a new park only thinking about hiring private companies to do all the work, as we have seen, is extremely expensive and, what will be the benefit for the neighbors?
Because probably this could be an isolated case of participation of the government, because to amortize 2M$ of budget means that the park will must be very used by a large amount of people.
It means probably this case it’s not economic sustainable? Probably this budget was useful to this neighborhood but, what happened to others neighborhoods that had the same problem? Everyone of them took that huge amount of investment? Probably not and probably they are still abandoned. Is this probably as a result of a political campaign?
And finally we have a consecuence of taking the idea of democratize the designing process into an extreme. This consecuence is about going through historical solutions to face the park problem, because common people that aren’t aware about architecture or creativity will appeal to known mechanisms to shape a park. But it will take us into a more deeper discussion about the capabilities of the citizenships to take decisions over themselves of it the citizenship are too degenerated to manage themselves.
So we must to be conscious that we have to democratize some aspects of the project, like the shape or colors or whatever, but, in other ways maybe we have at first to show them new strategies and new mechanisms to let them know that there are so many others solutions than the traditional ones.
Their succes as i understand mainly focus into involvin neighbors into the designing and visioning proces of the park.
The cultural benefit of the Project was to involve the people into the Project and let them to express themselves to send this opinions to the designing team, so now they already now that if the park is for them, the desing must be subject to the collective needs instead personal and artistic desing of one architect that could lose this common benefit out of his main objectives.
The project is suposed to solve the controversy of the lack of publick spaces in the near area, and when the project will be finished and built, the people will be enjoy his installations, but probably the project could have been focused in a more wider way, trying to take more ambitious objectives and also, creating friction between different uses to keep ensure the park will be used due to the pull phenomenon when there are a multiuse space.
This means that if the community changes and evolves as the society evolves, and in a near future, the ping-pong not remain as a popular sport in the neighborhood, probably the use of the park will decrease as happened in the past.
For that reason we should fill spaces in a more complex overlap of interest networks.
Probably one of the most controversial benefit, because there’s no doubt that the park will be used by the neighbors but, there is no way to self-manage the maintenance of the park.
For sure, neighbors will collaborate, but a big investment in expensive furniture means big future investments in expensive maintenance.
Finally, the park is an improvement of the environmental status of the neighborhood because the greening of the park instead the old concrete surfacing and the large amount of trees planted will transform the park into a more nature place and more pleasing place.
As we have seen the project is very powerful and useful to translate to San Antón but keeping in mind there are huge distances between specific aspect of the context and probably translating directly this project in our area, it will not work.
But the reason to have choosen this project is the richness of strategies to gather information from the neighbors and create horizontal structures of management to take decisions over the public space.
There are similarities between Luther Gulick near area and San Antón, both of them were very urban active areas in the past, holding a lot of activities in their public spaces and due to a success chain and policy changes, they started to get abandoned.
Maybe that was the reason that awoke my interest, to gather these kind of old stories about the neighborhood and how it worked in the past, and recover this life in the streets.
That is something that i’m concerned about in my personal develop of the project and in this case i found a list of toolkit of interventions, clearly defined each one into pdf sheets in their website in order to create the same interventions to gather data about San Antón.
But also, here I found the importance to previsualize the activity in the park to take the interest of the people if I want to involve people to participate in later events.