Archive for March, 2011

March 31, 2011

El Carrito: Week Ten, Thursday, March 24, 2011

Neighborhood Detectives Study the Fort Pienc Model; Photo Credit: Giovanni Roncador

Barrio Detectives

Although this Thursday afternoon was somewhat of a waiting game, we did have two new Neighborhood Detective teams that included six children and drew some of their parents to El Carrito as well.

 

New Team of Neighborhood Detectives receives Mission Instructions

Neighborhood Detectives Official Photo after Completing the Plaza Mission

Postcard Prizes for Neighborhood Detectives

Engaging Children and Parents

Space for Democracy and Debate

It is generally agreed that public space is democratic space – in other words, it is open to all people. Similarly, public participation capitalizes on this multi-opined  presence to gather wide-ranging input about an issue of concern. In our case: How do Fort Pienc residents use the public spaces in their neighborhood? Conceivably, then we (as planners, designers and catalysts for inclusive city development) can synthesize citizen contribution towards the achievement of projects for the public good.

Regarding the use of public participation towards the improvement of public space, Carlos had the following conversation with two residents at two different times regarding the Civic Center Plaza. As some background information, three cafes, a market, the library, senior-citizen housing and the elementary school all open onto the plaza.

Resident 1 remarks that the elementary school takes priority over the other uses in the plaza. Since all the recreational outdoor spaces of the school are contained within a relatively small footprint, portions of the public plaza should be given over for school use. Furthermore, he remarks that the school lacks sufficient green space like other playgrounds in the neighborhood, such as the Elementary School Ramon Llull.

Resident 2 proclaimed that the residents around the plaza are some of the luckiest in Barcelona because their public space contains so many activities beneficial for daily life. He also noted that his children, who attend the school, are more than happy with their recreational spaces.

Carlos draws some useful questions from these exchanges:

On what experience and knowledge are these perceptions and opinions founded?

Do the residents’ different perceptions of space and use, hinder or enrich participation processes?

The Waiting Game

After all the excitement, El Carrito patiently awaits further activity.

 

The Waiting Game

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March 11, 2011

El Carrito: Week Eight, Thursday, March 10, 2011

 

El Carrito in Antiga D'Horta Interior Court

In Case You Didn’t Know…

While on one hand the philosophy of Raons Publiques is based on engagement without intrusion, which is why members rarely approach people that don’t seem interested in participating, El Carrito itself is under a bit of modification. Today El Carrito proclaims its presence with a large sign:

 

A bigger presence

And, as this week is Semana Blanca, the week marking the beginning of Lent and a holiday from school, we need all the attention we can get.

Too Young to Participate

Due to Semana Blanca and the lack of school-aged children in the Fort Pienc Civic Center Plaza, we made our way with El Carrito to an interior court designed for the play of younger children. Perhaps because the children are too young here, with few over the age of five, and the parents more attentive to the youngsters’ safety, El Carrito only receives minimal attention.

 

Some interest at El Carrito...

While participation was low today, I began thinking about the nature of participation once more. The other night at our weekly meeting, I passed out small pieces of paper and asked each Raons member to write down what each person thought was the objective of this Diagnostico (study) in Fort Pienc. I expected a variety of answers, but in fact they all revolved around the theme of residents being part of city building, including decisions about policy and design. The idea that a participation process can go beyond simply stopping bad development and act as a catalyst for good or even innovative development, which results from the deep knowledge of an area and the complexity of all its history, social relations, conflicts and paradoxes, is extremely exciting.

 

People at playground

And so, there we were, with our participation El Carrito, surrounded by people, not participating. Along with the paradoxes of any robust neighborhood, there are also contradictions in the objective of Raons Publiques’ attempts to engage the residents. Probably, one of the main obstacles is that people don’t usually look at their environment and think of it as constantly changing; by the standards of how fast other technologies evolve, cities are pretty static. I also think that the process of participating in city design has some relationship to voting, although the former is obviously in its infantile stage. Nevertheless, like voting, participation requires a certain engagement with the external processes of society, and even as different groups of people fought for their right to vote, voter turnout is not a unanimous practice. As a note, voter turnout in national elections in Spain is indeed high. While there are many reasons why voter turnout suffers in some regions and flourishes in others, one of the factors is literacy. Applying this to our desire for participation in the domain of public space, I often think about the “spatial literacy” of people. How could a deeper understanding of the surrounding environment, both natural and urban (although it is somewhat unfair to make them seem so separate, when they are so interconnected), encourage productive engagement with the environment as well as participating in its creation.

Until further developments, El Carrito waits for the Neighborhood Detectives to retrieve their Mission Portraits!

 

Mission Portraits await pick-up by Neighborhood Detectives

March 11, 2011

Collective Work Day, Monday, March 7, 2011

All Raons Publiques members came together at the Fort Pienc “Young People’s Place” (Espai Jove) to prepare for the March school activities and workshops. One of the main items on the agenda is recreating Fort Pienc on a large scale to really allow elementary students to explore their neighborhood.

Building the new Eixample

Click here for more photos from the Raons work day.

March 11, 2011

El Carrito: Week Seven, Monday, March 5, 2011

El Carrito y Carnaval

In the spirit of Carnival, we donned some masks before heading off with El Carrito to recruit Neighborhood Detectives on Saturday morning, an activity we tried out on our last participation outing.

 

Masked Participation

The Neighborhood Detectives, ranging in age from seven to twelve, are full of enthusiasm.

Neighborhood Detectives question people in the plaza

Public Space Interrogations: Complete!
Some work in groups and other independently; some groups come for clarifications after each of the five questions and one group completed the entire survey without any further help from us. In addition to the information gathered, the exciting part about this new activity is two-fold. On one hand, the activity encourages children to engage with their immediate environment and enter into conversation with adults about the surrounding space. Secondly, since we will print the photos to give the Neighborhood Detectives next time they see El Carrito, the engagement continues beyond an isolated even on a Saturday morning.

March 5, 2011

El Carrito: Week Seven, Monday, February 28, 2011

Putting down Roots (however temporary)

The first thing that charmed me about El Carrito was its mobility; and all the real and imagined possibilities of activating public space that comes with this mobility. When Raons members and I went out into public space to engage residents of Fort Pienc to participate in sharing their insights and experiences regarding the urban domain, I was eager to take El Carrito “out for a spin” throughout the entire neighborhood under study.  However, things are not quite that simple. The main reason that Raons Publiques is in the neighborhood of Fort Pienc is because it lacks many robust public spaces; as we tried to engage people at different locations, we keep returning to the most active public space in the area – the Fort Pienc Civic Center Plaza.

I was at first disappointed by what seemed as a missed opportunity to spread all this participation around. But then, today, I had a wonderful realization; El Carrito is mobile to allow it to be not just a constantly moving urban element, but rather to become a presence in the neighborhood. And this is best achieved by its recurring presence in the Civic Center Plaza; same place, same time, so to speak. And so, because of its mobility, El Carrito can take root in this successful public space, and from here, from this very spot, new things can grow.

Neighborhood Detectives

And grow they do! Although I have no idea what direction this new aspect of the project will take, I want to share the beginnings of the unfolding story of Fort Pienc Neighborhood Detectives!

Carlos explains the duties of neighborhood detectives

Carlos explains the duties of neighborhood detectives

It all started as a reaction. Raons members reacted to the fact that, while children were happy to participate, they quickly finished all tasks on hand, and it became clear that they could do more. Some responses have been recorded in these posts: drawings, draw-offs, random origami and marking space with personalized flags. And so, in order to broaden the horizons of participation, Raons members introduced the game of Neighborhood Detective to the children. We encouraged children to work individually or in teams; they preferred teams and quickly came up with names such as Corazones (Hearts). Next, each team received the following mission:

 

Ask 5 people what activity brings them to the plaza.

Ask 5 people what they think that children play in the street.

Ask an elderly person to play a game.

How many trees are there in the plaza? How many benches?

Ask a person if they have participated with El Carrito. If so, ask them why El Carrito is in the plaza.

 

Children gather info from people in plaza

 

The children were incredibly enthusiastic to delve into these questions. They in fact demanded more questions, once they completed the initial five prompts; a couple of them even came up with questions of their own to use:

“Do you like the neighborhood?”

“Do you think there is contamination in the neighborhood?”

In fact, the children can even explain our project and the methods by which to fill out the survey forms to other people. This little girl took over in explaining how to trace a path from home to the plaza to this lady:

 

she explains the form to an inquiring lady

 

 

And once they completed the questions we improvised prizes and let them choose one of the postcards depicting other urban actions taken by Arquitectos Sin Fronteras.

 

improvised prizes that day include ASF postcards of past projects

 

 

But, more than getting a postcard, they were happy to pose with their yellow cardboard detective badges with El Carrito in the background.

 

team "Corazones" with badges

team "Corazones" with badges