The Medium is the Message, or Parks as Performance

IMG00020-20110812-0852 Last night I enjoyed seeing good friend, a professional musician, perform with two bandmates. As at times in the past, I was struck by the generative power of a talented, experienced performance artist. At one moment, there are three people on a stage, poised to play. The next moment, they create something that establishes a connection not only among the producers, but among the audience, and between the two groups.

Given that a primary filter of mine is that of placemaking, I wondered what this shared musical experience means for our work in urban design and redevelopment. Current Donjek projects include an initiative on urban open space, focused on building links between residents and workers to a major riverway and to the green space itself. An (implicit) goal is connecting people to each other using open space as the medium, to create a distinct experience. Another current engagement relates to exploring reuse of a historic industrial building; a substantial element of the community’s preservation interest is to use the structure to connect people today to yesterday’s residents and the heritage of the place. In each case, physical design acts as a language that allows us to relate to others.

Music and other performances can trigger a powerful connection among us. Our places can become more vital and durable if we build and preserve them with connection in mind. 

In Search of Inzichten

Amst1 Over the last several years, readers of these periodic posts may have noticed I have had a longtime appetite for inzichten uit de Nederlandse stedebouwkunde – insights of Dutch city planning. I’m intrigued by the international nature of Dutch culture, its democratic roots, and the relationship of their planning to scarcity of land. The constant threat of flooding through their history has stimulated shifts in each of these areas.

This week, I leave for travel that will include time spent with family in Holland, and I’m looking forward to exploring another tradition’s approach to city building and public finance. A few examples I’ve touched in here at the Cents of Place include:

  • Understanding the value created both by access to transportation, and by a mixing of real estate asset types, remains a driver in Donjek projects. The Dutch connection is diluted in this piece, but I cited evidence from the Lowlands suggesting the premium for commercial real estate located near rail stations exceeds 10%.
  • Highlighting the historical connection of urban success stories and concerted public investment, I cited the model of Amsterdam as it emerged from the Middle Ages in reviewing Joel Kotkin’s 2006 book, “The City, a Global History.”
  • As a past adjunct instructor of economics, I could not be expected to forego some consideration of the fascinating period of Dutch history that centered on the mania of the tulip bulb. Similarly, I could not be expected to forego the comparison to the housing bubble, which I did in 2008.
  • Given the intensive construction underway outside the Donjek office, which will lead to easy access to nearby light rail transit, I’ve been reminded of the promising product of Dutch firm, the Ooms Avenhorn Group. Using street infrastructure for more than multimodal transportation, the geothermal systems collect and store warm and cool water beneath road surfaces for climate control in nearby buildings.

This is a small, unscientific sample of ideas. There are a great many who have both a more authoritative and more comprehensive perspective on Dutch planning and development. Call me a student. With luck, I will bring home more ideas for applying the most effective Dutch practices in American central cities.

Photo: Courtesy Flickr/Tashenka