El Carrito: Week Two, Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Need Good Public Space to Get Good Public Space

Today I joined the group at the Plaza Fort Pienc once more; although they began close to the soccer game across the c/ Marina, the lack of people convinced them to return to the most successful public place in the barrio. (A post on the reason Plaza Fort Pienc is so successful is forthcoming) It is ironic that often, in order to gain the necessary participation that will help launch the creation of successful public space, such a space needs to already exist to some degree.

However, even in a populated public space, participation from the public is not always easy. As such I am anxious to see how the methods of engagement develop over time. Although I arrived at half past eleven, we did not see the first participants until a quarter to one. Soon after the first couple, an older gentleman began speaking with Eva; and before long everyone was engaged with at least one participant.

The Importance of Story Exchange: Forms versus Conversations

The presence of some participants draws more. The same, however, is not true for the amount of volunteers at any given time. Too many volunteers, all who work together so well actually creates an insular atmosphere, rather than an open one, around El Carrito. It is also a fine balance of how many volunteers to have working at El Carrito at any given time. Too few and a strain is placed on the volunteers present. In addition, it is increasingly evident that the qualitative aspects of space often require the exchanges gained from conversations that go beyond simply filling out forms; talk about space transforms into stories and narratives, not easily communicated through simple surveys.  The passionate demeanor of neighborhood people in conversation creates an atmosphere of possibilities.  And so, although one volunteer might be able to manage the intake of forms filled out by the residents, they would lose out on the spontaneous exchange that results from dialogue.

Raons at work on the Civic Center Terrace

The Importance of Showing Up

One of the surprising aspects of today’s activity actually came during the lulls in public participation. It was at this time that all of us in the group started brainstorming about how to improve the process. Being present in the middle of the plaza creates the ideal venue to consider how to engage people in that very space. And so, even though we did not collect as many documents from the public today, the entire endeavor continues to evolve in intriguing ways.

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