the blog posts

the creatives approach to city planning

As Bermuda gets ready to welcome a new City of Hamilton Plan in the coming months, one can't help having a wee bit of an "oh" feeling about it when it would be nice to experience an "Oh!" level of excitement. It could be that, with a moribund construction industry, there's little point in getting revved up.

On the other hand, this may be an opportunity to engage the public in a completely different way without the developers' sword of Damocles hanging over the planners' heads.

The image below is the City of Hamilton several years ago, when applicants seeking planning permission for tall hotels/office buildings/residences were tripping over themselves to start digging. Much of the commercial floor space was erected but the more interesting hotels did not come to fruition. The City of Hamilton Plan 2001 is something of a reflection of its time. A plan for dealing with the demand for new office spaces with expansive floor plans.

view southwest over the city of hamiltonSo, what about a different approach to public engagement? Well, Creative CityMaking is a programme in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which seeks to foster collaborations between artists and the Minneapolis city planners with the goal of "providing both with new tools for working with diverse communities."

The idea is to stimulate new ways of thinking about and planning for the city by having the creative community and civil servants view each others' challenges with fresh eyes. In particular, as outlined by  Theresa Sweetland, Executive Director of Intermedia, the organisation partnering with the City of Minneapolis, the collaborations - 

will integrate new perspectives into planning and bring more diverse groups of people to the table to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the city. We also believe that collectively, these artists and planners will create a vision and a living set of policies for the city that will result in a more active, healthy, culturally authentic and vibrant public realm.

Normally, in Bermuda, we bring forth a Report of Survey giving a run down of the studies undertaken which form the basis for the policies of the new plan. It would be nice to think outside the box (yes, a dreadfully over used expression) and gain the input of a diverse set of creative minds as we seek to make the City of Hamilton, as I've said before, a great place to live, work and play.

got any good ideas?

The good folks at GOOD (pun intended) and BMW Guggenheim Lab are challenging people the world over to come up with ideas of how they would transform a public place. This "Call for Ideas" wants to know how you would make a place in your city more comfortable.

city hall from west (before)Project details are on the GOOD website and I would say there are opportunity challenges, if you will, right here in Bermuda's City of Hamilton. Of course the new and slightly odd grass lawn in front of City Hall - who expected them to literally just fill in the pond without actually removing the pond surround? - is a great place to start! (See my March blog post on the topic of City Hall's pond.)

Check out these 'before' and 'after' pictures and see for yourself. Surely we can do better? city hall from west (after)


a great place to live, work and play

The Department of Planning is working on a new plan for the City of Hamilton and, although it is not ready yet (and I have not asked when it will be), it seems there is a renewed focus is on what is needed to support Hamilton as a great place to live, work and play. While that is the framework for the current City Plan, judging by the Department's online questionnaire about the City, the creative industries, for the first time, could actually be in line to receive more attention, and that is a good thing. 

In the questionnaire we are asked about outdoor eating/drinking areas, street artists/entertainment, city parks and open spaces, residential development and - gasp! - taller buildings. 

The creative industries often comprise small workforces of collaborators, entreperneurs, freelancers who are artists (performance and visual) and designers, as well as their suppliers.

North East Hamilton may have the greatest potential to foster the arts and culture because the real estate market is weaker there than the traditional Front/Reid/Queen Street axis. That's important too because to be sustainable into the future, the creative industries must have a model that relies more on successful production than on consumption through tourism. The creative industries need to work on a business level, and cheaper rent helps.  

As it happens, there are thriving creatives at work in North East Hamilton already. Ann Spurling Photography on Princess Street, The Design Group on Angle Street, Chewstick Foundation on Elliot image: bermuda economic development corporationStreet and, soon, DNA Creative Shoppe, also on Elliot Street. (Click on the image to see a directory of the many businesses located within the Economic Empowerment Zone of North East Hamilton.)

What planning strategies can help? Flexibility when it comes to mixed uses and encouragement of live/work options: think unconventional space size, use and allocation. More difficult will be continued affordability for artists if regeneration leads to gentrification. At this point, a problem we'd love to have.

And what are the signs of success? Well, ArtPlace is in the process of developing a set of indicators to track the vibrancy of a neighbourhood. Until those are ready, ArtPlace provides these ten signs of momentum:

1 Is the neighborhood cleaner?
2 Does the neighborhood feel safer?
3 Is the neighborhood more attractive?
4 Are there fewer vacancies?
5 Are there more people on the sidewalks?
6 Is there a popular new outdoor gathering place?
7 Is there a popular new indoor gathering place?
8 Is there new evidence of arts activity?
9 Has the local press reported on it positively?
10 Do people in the neighborhood generally agree that the neighborhood is getting better?

These signs of success are something for the Department of Planning to think about as it creates policy and regulations that will support the regeneration of north-east Hamilton and the City as a whole.