Inclusive Urban Practices on the Rise

At the Center for Architecture by • 12/18

As Miodrag Mitrasinovic, associate professor of Urbanism and Architecture at Parsons The New School for Design, pointed out at the 12.07.13 “Cultivating Engaged and Inclusive Urban Practices” forum, many people talk about the importance of inclusive urbanism and design, but don’t follow through with it in practice. Luckily, the panel comprised five individuals who walk the walk. The event was the first of two forums presented in conjunction with the traveling exhibition “People Building Better Cities: Participation and Inclusive Urbanization.” Beginning in Bangkok in February, the exhibition has been seen in 10 cities so far, including New York. Global Studio’s Anna Rubbo introduced the panel by noting that the exhibition comes at a pivotal moment for New York City, when the mayoral election, among other events, has brought inequality and inclusivity to the forefront of public conversation. In this context, architecture, planning, design, and advocacy are making great strides to address issues of social justice through the built environment. Panelists spoke about projects that are subverting traditional top-down approaches to the creation of the urban environment and bringing a public voice to various facets of urbanism.

Tobias Armborst, assistant professor of Art and Urban Studies at Vassar, and principal and co-founder of Interboro Partners, and artist Candy Chang, whose work combines public art and civic engagement to create participatory projects, spoke about temporary installations (although with hopefully ongoing effects). Both noted during the Q&A portion of the program that temporary projects allow for bolder ideas and strategies, and motivate people to step back and think about these innovations in the scheme of addressing larger questions, beyond focusing specifically on the project itself.

Armborst’s firm, Interboro Partners, was selected to design the outdoor space for MoMA PS 1’s WarmUp concert series this past summer. Seeking a temporary plan that would have a lasting impact on the museum’s Long Island City neighborhood, Interboro interviewed local organizations and businesses about what they wanted for their own use, weaving together the museum, its visitors, and its surroundings in a way that addressed the lack of inclusivity and overlap between institution and community. Interboro then purchased things like mirrors for a local dance studio, ping pong tables for a taxi dispatcher across the street from PS 1, and chess sets for a senior center. They were used in the PS 1 outdoor space for the summer season, then distributed to the organizations that had requested them at susmmer’s end. The plan promoted more crossover between the museum and neighborhood, making steps toward bridging the gap. To many visitors, the “official” cultural institution tends to overshadow the local culture, and Interboro sought to cultivate relationships and promote understanding about the different groups that share space in Long Island City.

Chang’s participatory public art projects have included vinyl stickers on abandoned buildings inviting passersby to write what they’d like to see in these buildings, and writable surfaces with prompts like “A Confession” and “Before I die, I want to…” Residents have noted more vibrancy in neighborhoods where Chang or local groups place these installations, creating gathering spots that become both social spaces and attractions. Chang saw locals express pride in their communities and make connections when they discovered shared ideas for the future of their neighborhoods. The website Neighborland was borne out of these projects. The online platform allows people to suggest improvements to be made where they live and connect with neighbors who want the same things, building collective power to share resources and effect positive change from the bottom up.

Like Neighborland, Wendy Brawer’s open source project, Green Maps, is a platform for neighbors to connect and share information about the space they inhabit by digitally or physically mapping local natural, sustainable, and cultural sites. Any individual or group can create a Green Map for a neighborhood, opening up informational access to diverse populations all over the world. Brawer invoked specific cases, including Brazil, South Africa, and Cuba, where residents have taken the platform above and beyond to address specific social issues and promote participatory planning practices.

Mitrasinovic also instills a new population with an understanding of the intersection between design and social justice through Parsons’ Urbanisms of Inclusion program, which explores global urbanism through the lens of transformative design, research, and education. Students gain an understanding of the sociospatial tensions in a certain neighborhood, and then propose new public infrastructures that empower marginalized residents.

Shin-pei Tsay, research and development director for TransitCenter, a non-profit startup advocating for innovative transportation solutions, works on the policy and advocacy side of urbanism to address the fact that many citizens feel excluded from, and overwhelmed by, policymaking. Tsay herself felt the local, human factor was absent during her time working for larger policy institutions, and has since worked to re-insert people into the process of creating policy, even on large-scale projects. Citing street design as an example of seemingly broad policy with a very personal, human impact, Tsay noted that empowering residents to get involved at every level influences people to see their spaces in a new way and not to simply accept the negatives of their physical environment.

Refreshingly, the five panelists not only spoke passionately about their commitment to social justice through design, but also demonstrated a wealth of actionable ideas for planners, students, residents, policymakers, and others. While all acknowledged there is still work to be done, it seems that Rubbo was correct in her introduction: more and more groups are collaborating and demanding greater inclusivity and engagement in the conception and planning of physical space.

Cassie Hackel is a community development professional with a background in multidisciplinary urban studies. She is currently a research associate with Plastarc Design Metrics.

Event: Cultivating Engaged and Inclusive Urban Practices
Location: Center for Architecture, 12.07.13
Speakers: Tobias Armborst, Co-founder, Interboro Partners, and Assistant Professor, Vassar College; Wendy Brawer, Founding Director, Green Map; Candy Chang, Artist, Civic Center, New Orleans; Miodrag Mitrasinovic, Associate Professor of Urbanism and Architecture, Parsons The New School for Design; Shin Pei Tsay, Research and Development Director, Transit Center; Anna Rubbo, Founder, Global Studio, and Research Scholar, CSUD, Columbia University (moderator); and Matthias Neumann, normaldesign (moderator)
Organized by: Center for Architecture, Global Studio, and CSUD, Columbia University

Comments are closed.

Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIANY and Center for Architecture
Archtober Itinerary Word of Mouth
STUDIOS Architecture's winning cake: Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan.
High-Calorie High Rises: The Great Architectural Bake-Off Reports from the Field
The AIANYS board enjoys an architect-led tour of the Algonquin Building, originally designed by S. Gifford Slocum, during the 2016 AIA New York State Saratoga Design Conference.
In Architecture, Collaboration is Key Reports from the Field
Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP, accepts the 2016 AIANYS President's Award.
AIA New York State President’s Award: Green is Beautiful Word of Mouth
AIA Presidential Profiles.
AIA Presidential Candidate Profiles Policy Pulse
1 - A New Museum Has Got Lady Liberty’s Back
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines
"Reading Room: A Catalog of New York City's Branch Libraries," through 01.07.16.
On View On View
10.01.16: Archtober 2016 kicked off its Building of the Day series with a guided tour of Samsung 837, the brand’s digital playground in the Meatpacking District, designed by Gensler (interior), and Morris Adjmi Architects (exterior).
Sighted: Archtober Edition Sighted
Classifieds Classifieds
Archtober 2016 is coming!
Archtober Fast Approaches Editor's Note
Architects, Pick Your Leaders! AIA News You Can Use
David Rockwell, FAIA
Archtober Itinerary: David Rockwell, FAIA Word of Mouth
"Authenticity and Innovation" curator Donald Albrecht.
5 Questions with Donald Albrecht On View
Architects Advocate: Action on Climate Change
Architects Advocate for Climate Change Action Policy Pulse
Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures by Thomas Ermacora and Lucy Bullivant
Oculus Book Review: Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures Book Reviews
2016 New York Architects’ Regatta Challenge
2016 New York Architects’ Regatta Challenge: More Wind, Please Reports from the Field
1 - Not Super-Tall, but Still Living the High Life
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines
"Authenticity and Innovation," opening 09.30.16
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
Renovations at the Center From the Executive Director
Archtober kicked off at Samsung 837, Building of the Day #1.
Archtober’s Cool Kick-Off Reports from the Field
Second Annual AIA I Look Up Film Challenge
People’s Choice: Vote for the AIA I Look Up Film Challenge AIA News You Can Use
New York City’s Energy and Water Use 2013 Report.
New Energy Report Highlights Architects’ Role Policy Pulse
Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson
Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson In Memoriam
John Belle, FAIA (1932-2016)
In Memoriam: John Belle, FAIA (1932-2016) In Memoriam
1 - Design for Final Piece of WTC Master Plan Revealed
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
09.23.16: Call for Entries: AIANY COTE Awards 2016
New Deadlines New Deadlines
Reading Room: A Catalog of New York City's Branch Libraries
On View On View
09.12.16: At the September Oculus Book Talk, Lucy Bullivant, Ph.D., Hon. FRIBA, Founder and Creative Director of, discussed her latest book, Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures, co-authored with Thomas Ermarcora. Following her talk, she was joined in a panel, moderated by William Menking, Editor-in-Chief, The Architect’s Newspaper, with Adam Lubinsky, PhD, Managing Principal, WXY architecture + urban design, and Alex Alaimo, Assoc. AIA, Founder, ORLI.
Sighted Sighted
Classifieds Classifieds
Tweet-for-Treat! We'll be at Samsung 837 on 98.29.16 giving away free ice cream!
Archtober Tweet-for-Treat! Editor's Note
Borinquen Court affordable and senior housing center in The Bronx, by Red Top Architects.
Aging in Place Policy Pulse
A rendering of J. MAYER H. und Partner, Architekten's latest project, XXX TIMES SQUARE WITH LOVE.
Jürgen Mayer H. Speaks on Reactivating Public Space in Times Square and Beyond At the Center for Architecture
FIGMENT: What Is This? Why Is Nothing for Sale? Why Is Everyone Smiling? by David Koren.
Oculus Book Review: FIGMENT: What Is This? Why Is Nothing for Sale? Why Is Everyone Smiling? Book Reviews
Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity by Mario Gooden, AIA.
Oculus Podcast: Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity Podcast
1 - Grafting an Expansion on a Landmark
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
The AIANY COTE Awards recognize results-oriented achievements in the urban context. Deadline 09.16.15
New Deadlines New Deadlines
“EXTRA-ORDINARY: New Practices in Chilean Architecture,” through 09.03.16.
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
Lower Manhattan Then map.
Mapping Lower Manhattan Center News
“Tentolana” by Tom Krizmanic
Imagining Olana’s Summer House Reports from the Field
AIA New York State’s 2016 Design Conference
Come, Collaborate: AIANYS 2016 Design Conference AIA News You Can Use
DOB NOW Continues Expansion Policy Pulse
Malik Knight, a second-year student at Philadelphia University, volunteered to assist students in developing their projects over the two week studio.
When Does the Education of an Architect Begin? Learning by Design