One recurring topic raised at last week’s parks and recreation workshop was creative, natural playscapes. It’s an approach to parkland development that focuses and invests in design before, perhaps more than, equipment. A park with a natural playscape aims to answer the question, “what type of place do we want to create?“
Yesterday I came across Play England and their resource “Design for Play: A guide to creating successful play spaces” (download the guide via the link). It’s comprehensive and filled with excellent ideas that apply observational studies to explain how we, children and adults, interact with public spaces. Even a “child’s play space” can needs to also function as a place where an adult feels welcomed and comfortable. Multigenerational park designs and functions were supported at last week’s workshop. Adults want to play with their children, not just be supervisors. And, if they don’t have children, they want to enjoy the space as well.
Play England’s guide begins with the 10 principles for designing play spaces that I’ll recommend to my fellow parks and recreation commissioners.
I’ll admit it, I had to double-check “bespoke.” It’s means custom-made and is another theme that residents are looking for in traverse City; places that are unique and not bought straight out of a catalog. The theme arose last week, during the bayfront planning and several other times this year.
It’s In The Design
Natural playscapes are sometimes challenged as being too expensive, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The expenses are largely upfront in paying for design; the more you invest in the right design and the right material, the more you can lessen the annual cost to keep up the space. It may even save a city money.
The investment is worth it for the benefits as well. The observations of children play reveals that creating spaces where the landscape IS THE playground allows the children to create their own play; self-created play tends to last longer and rarely repeats. Imagine children playing on a mound or a hill (like the image to the right) compared to a traditional slide where the children climb up one-way, slide down the next. How long does it take before they attempt to go up the wrong way? It didn’t take me long.
The money we invest in our parks and on recreational opportunities needs more intent to have greater impact. We can spend more, or less, and still end-up with a result that is unique to Traverse City and unique to specific parks. If play spaces are desired, Traverse City can do a lot by following some basic principles and challenging ourselves to think beyond the slide, swing-set and pre-fab one-generational playset.
Quick Announcement: The Downtown Development Authority is holding a workshop to gather comments on the design and public amenities for Garland Street. Garland is in Traverse City’s only funky district–labeled the Warehouse District.
The design of the street will largely be driven by the new hotel’s needs, although no one will likely admit that reality. This isn’t necessarily a negative as the hotel seems willing to apply a high-level of creativity and embrace the context of the space. For example, it will have underground parking at almost a minimum of it’s needs. Still, it’s a public street and the community has a role to play in shaping its design.
• The Garland Street Workshop • 3:00-6:00-pm in the space formerly occupied by Cuppa Joe’s Warehouse Lounge.
(Conveniently located next to Right Brain Brewery)
According to the press release, the emphasis of the workshop will be on the following parameters:
- Share the Street Design – Pedestrians, Bicycles, Vehicular Traffic
- Wide spacious sidewalks
- Minimal Curbs – provide maximum usable space for street events
- Community Art incorporated in the project
- Emphasize the character unique to Warehouse District
- Provide on street parking (Charging I trust)
- Provide community and activity space in the Garland Street ROW
Further questions, and I assume comments, can be directed to Garth Greenan, PE, of Greenan and Associates email@example.com
NOTE: MyWHaT contributor Lee Maynard talked about community squares and spaces back in April, that is useful for inspiration, titled “Sense of place: Traverse City needs an ‘SOB Square“. In it she calls for Garland Street to become TC’s South of the Bay hip hangout.
NOTE II: Who else thinks it’s been too long since Lee contributed a post to MyWHaT?
I received a couple of different messages about The Shweeb this week, one even as a comment on this BLOG calling for a rallying of the troops. First thing to ask, obviously, is what in the world is The Shweeb?
The Shweeb is a human-powered monorail that comes with a lot of promises about the future and now a sizable chunk of Google money ($1.05m). According to the Shweeb website, they were chosen because Google “searched the globe” and selected them “as the organisation with the most forward looking transportation vision and with the relevant expertise to implement such an idea.“
This 4-minute infomercial from Popular Science demonstrates the concept, potential fun and sells the idea for The Shweeb as a transportation solution.
Fun Idea Looking for an Application
The Shweeb captures the efficiency of the bicycle, but removes the other primary advantage of the bicycle: the ability to go where ever you want.
A widespread Shweeb system would create a tiered system where motorists have access to their destinations without interruption and to the front door; kind of like we have now. Meanwhile, the shweebists are confined to a set-route removed from the street scene and all the spontaneous encounters that are possible when you share space with people.
This all said, I wouldn’t give up on the idea. The Shweeb has certain applications that could be useful. In terms of Traverse City applying for the Google grant to try out a Shweeb system, I first want to hear the Traverse City Monorail song. I also first want to trust that we have a plan to lessen the negative impact the 10′s of thousands of single occupant vehicles per day have on our community. If a robust Shweeb system comes with less public space devoted to cars, I could be persuaded.
Still, to be fair, I can see it serving a niche. Where could I see a Shweeb trial run in TC?
- Connecting the commons to downtown
- Connecting the two hospitals
- Connecting the transit center to downtown
- Connecting the opposite ends of NMC’s Campus
- Connecting the hotels on East Bay to the downtown (running over the water)
In the end, however, I’m leaning in agreement with a reader on Inhabitat’s Shweeb article:
“It took Google 1 million to fail at redesigning the perfect transportation, a bicycle. You can buy one at Walmart for $100.”
- Shweeb: Google Invests Over $1 Million In Bike Monorail (huffingtonpost.com)
- Is the Shweeb Ready for Prime Time? (treehugger.com)
- Are you ready to “shweeb” home from work? (holykaw.alltop.com)
Parks and Recreation still needs your comments. Please help the city plan for future parkland and recreational improvements and Take this short survey (new window). This is part of the process of creating the 5-year recreational plan required by the Michigan DNRE. Your comments will greatly assist in setting the goals and objectives for the next five years, and depending on your comments, far into the future. You do not need to be a city resident to take the survey.
Parks and Recreation Survey
Survey Will Pop-Up
If you prefer, you can download a PDF of the same survey and mail it into the parks and recreation department: TC Parks and Recreation Survey (PDF)
NOTE: I serve on Traverse City’s Parks and Recreation commission. We are a group 7-volunteers that work with staff to advise the city commission on issues about city parkland and recreational opportunities. Last week we held a workshop where participants reviewed a draft of goals and objectives and played with park maps to see where improvements could be made. I’ll review that meeting later this week.
Your responses are greatly appreciated.
“Thoughts On My Bike” by filmmaker Andrea Dorfman begins: “when I’m out in the city, riding my bike, my adrenaline rushes as I start to take flight…” and continues to illustrate, with words and drawings, the thoughts that many of us have had when we are out in the world and wandering under the influence of the bicycle.
She made this film for the 2009 NYC Bicycle Film Festival.
Dorfman also teamed with poet/songwriter Tanya Davis on a popular short, “How To Be Alone” making the social media rounds.
I mostly work at home. Configuring 1′s and 0′s dominates my work-days. I’m on the computer reading, image editing, contacting clients or other outreach–is there anybody out there? Sometimes it’s isolating, but that’s also why I live in a city. People are close at hand.
Accept it or not, Traverse City is the region’s urban core. Yet, as a city, it needs developing in terms of its public spaces, services and, ultimately, its culture to really own this distinction. Don’t get me wrong, Traverse City is a comfortable place to live; better than most. I don’t say that enough and don’t say it more, in part, because so many other people play the role of cheerleader. I’ve also been to and lived in many other places and it’s difficult not to see where we are deficient. One of those deficiencies is the cultural acceptance that we are an urban setting, however small it seems.
Living in the City, Thinking It’s the Countryside
I’m consistently surprised by residents who take great pains to shut themselves off from the rest of the community. There are the obvious signals noticeable when someone protests a new sidewalk in front of their homes, but it’s also noticeable by comparing people’s front yards and porches. Are they used or manicured? Or, is curbside appeal simply left for forgotten? In some places in the city, typically in front of a hostile street, the owners have given up completely by construction of a wall; the neighborhood accessed via the garage and through the windshield.
I’m lucky. I moved on to a block where most days I can simply step out the front door and at-the-least wave to the neighbor across the street who is simultaneously stepping outside with a mug of coffee of her own. You don’t get that living on 10-acres in Leelanau county. In a city, the front porch is where public interaction begins.
Interacting with neighbors is one benefit of city life. Typically, that involves people we have previously met, although not always (I still meet ‘new’ neighbors after living here for 4 years). Another aspect is the spontaneous, often serendipitous, meeting of someone new; the strangers. Traverse City doesn’t do this well. Most of us are in a routine of planned, predictable activities. Meeting someone new is left to an introduction by someone we do know.
There are ways to alter this tendency. Some solutions are institutional and we talk about them almost everyday on MyWHaT; vibrant public space is a wonderful impetus for interaction. There are things we, as the 14,000 urban residents and 50-80,000 daily visitors to city can do to increase spontaneous & serendipitous encounters. Here are five:
- Routine Shift: Have a favorite watering hole? Always go on Tuesday? Shift your day and shift your time. You’ll be surprised who you don’t recognize.
- Ride BATA: I seldom ride public transit, but when I do I always learn something about someone I didn’t know.
- Take a Moment: We have some great public spaces in the city. Have a meeting downtown? Take a moment to sit on a park bench and reflect. Read a book; someone may want to talk to you about it. You may not end up talking to anyone, but observing people in public is another means of knowing.
- Eat Lunch Alone: Counter intuitive, but you never know who will walk-in. Join them.
- Play Games: The art of getting together with a friend to play a game like chess is turning more and more to the internet, but why not splurge and play in public. If you see people playing a game, go watch. Ask to join. Invite someone, you might learn something.
I started the day with a post quoting urban planning guru Jan Gehl comparing a good city to a good party. This following quote of his addresses the issue further:
In a Society becoming steadily more privatized with private homes, cars, computers, offices and shopping centers, the public component of our lives is disappearing. It is more and more important to make the cities inviting, so we can meet our fellow citizens face to face and experience directly through our senses. Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life.” (Project for Public Spaces)
There are plenty of other activities that increase our chances of meeting someone new. What other activities are your favorites?
“A good city is like a good party – people stay much longer than really necessary because they are enjoying themselves”
~Jan Gehl, urban quality consultant & author of “Cities for People”
Gehl is at the leading-edge of planning and building urban spaces designed for people and all of our needs. His approach is to focus on the pedestrians and to plan beyond the ‘necessary activities’, which is only the first of 3 activity categories that make up a ‘Good Quality City’. Those categories are:
- Necessary Activities (like when we go to school or work)
- Optional Activities (tempting things to do that compete for our attention)
- Social Activities (where planned & spontaneous social interactions occur)
The three activities are served best in a safe, comfortable and enjoyable environment.
Gehl’s been mentioned before on MyWHaT and this won’t certainly be the last. He simply has a way of saying things that make sense. He was recently interviewed on The Diane Rehm Show in a show titled “Creating Livable Cities.” It’s worth a listen.
Park chatter: The ideas were flowing and the city’s future parkland and recreational opportunities never seemed better when a committed group of public space aficionados turned out for last night’s parks & recreation workshop. Thank you to everyone who came out!
Some quick results. People want to: walk/bike to all the parks (on trails & on streets); know where parks are located; see parks & recreation funded; see more multigenerational facilities, designs & programs; use a waste reduction program, which includes recycling; use & love the Boardman Lake & River more; and they liked the idea that publicly supported recreation begins the moment we step out the front door and that parks & recreation investment is an economic development tool.
These are certainly not the only ideas; there are plenty more. Come back next week for the online survey to submit your own comments.
- Poop Power for lights! Does Traverse City’s dog park need lights? Oh, wait…
- Building community resilience without even changing your clothes.
- Reflecting on PARK(ing) Day, Reinventing Parking asks what would happen if cars had to compete for the spaces with other uses. Would it be easier to raise prices?
- Talk about traffic calming: narrow streets are key to slowing traffic. To what degree? A 36 ft wide street has 487% more accidents than a 24 ft wide street. Also, an easy way to implementing a traffic calming program is to build a system that increases bicycle use.
- A report in London about sharing the road vs. separated infrastructure offers a chance to use this quote:” ‘road safety’ is an ideological construction invented by the motor lobby to resist effective action against their weapons of mass destruction.“
- World Car-free Day was this past Wednesday and it has some car activists worried. Their response? To “Protest Car-Free Day.” How? By taking a drive. Another thing to worry them is the decline in interest in automobiles among the millenials who are “likely to see autos as a source of pollution, not as a sex or status symbol.” And the even younger generation? –> –> –>
- The “whose at fault” debate surfaces again, BikingInLa weighs in with how being courteous won’t save anybody riding a bike “and pretending it does will only mean more deaths until we stop blaming the victims and address the real problems.“
- Stress Test: taking the bus or driving? Findings lead to this final question: “how long are we going to hold on to this car-obsession before we realize it’s lowering our quality of life?” Maybe we should ask a frequent BATA rider, Jim?
- The five things most likely to cause injury to children ARE NOT the five things parents mostly worry about. The list is worth pulling out.
- The Five Risks: car crashes, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide, drowning (CDC).
- The Five Worries: kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers, drugs (Mayo Clinic).
- Absolutely LOVE riding my bike to/from work. One of my favorite parts of the day. (@joelga)
- Cyclist takes rare drive yesterday, horrified at how traffic looks from inside the car (@BicycleFixation)
To wrap, an image of Black Rock City from space during the Burning Man festival that ended Sept. 6th. The event transforms an otherwise non-built landscape in the desert into a city for 50,000 participants. As is obvious from the image (notice that wonderful network), there is extensive city planning going on and perhaps a lot to learn from for more permanent cities. To boot, the city’s “leave no footprint” ethic is something all events should incorporate; by now, two weeks after the end, you wouldn’t be able to notice it ever occurred.
Have a weekend.
A final reminder for the week:
An observational walk along the downtown part of State Street is this afternoon at 4-pm.
The aim is to experience the corridor at the human scale and to generate observations of how the place operates for all users. In addition, the walk will provide a better understanding of the experience along the route; what kind of place is the corridor?
Although there is a tendency to jump to solutions (I know I go there quickly), the primary goal is to create a list of observations. However, because the DDA and the city are now considering a conversion back to a two-way street for State St., part of the walking discussion will take that issue into consideration, as well as the impact of the west Front Parking Deck.
Relevant MyWHaT reading:
- Observational walk of Division St. (re-cap)
- A One-Way Desert of Parking: State Street
- Conversion of a City’s One-way Street back to a Two-Way Begins with an Ask.
The following video taken by Bill Palladino two year’s ago highlights the corridor from behind the handlebars. It was previously posted on MyWHaT and remains relevant.
See you at 4-pm! (Oh, don’t forget drinks after the walk).
Related Articles on One-ways vs. Two-ways
- Many cities changing one-way streets back (USA Today)
- One-way Streets in downtown Flint converted into two-ways (mlive.com)
- The Return of the Two-Way Street (governing.com)
We showed this StreetFilms’ video at the 3rd coast bicycle festival. Not exactly what’s going on at tonight’s parks and recreation workshop, however, it does show what a little creativity, leadership and ownership can accomplish.