the blog posts

placemaking and diversity

Thriving public spaces enjoyed and used by all in the community is what placemaking should be about. And while this blog devotes a fair number of column inches to the topic of placemaking, on reflection, the importance of ensuring 'diversity awareness' as part of the process is not emphasised at all.

Some will say "Why should it be? If placemaking is done 'properly' the public space(s) will automatically be attractive the local and broader community anyway." To certain extent that may be true. However, I can't help but remember the axiom "She who fails to plan, plans to fail," so, in reality, these things can't be left to chance.

This line of thinking was brought on by the article Is America's Civic Architecture Inherently Racist? by Dean Saitta, writing for Planetizen. Saitta, in turn, was responding to an article by Mark Rinaldi, writing for Denver Post, Did Diversity Miss the U Train in Union Station Architecture? which created something of a firestorm among Denver citizens. 

union station - cyrus mccrimmon, the denver post

union station - cyrus mccrimmon, the denver post

I would agree that bringing this debate into play around the renovation of a historic building - on which design restrictions are likely to be placed - is not completely helpful, perhaps. However, Rinaldi points to the need to envision a daily life beyond physical architecture  - get to the 'how' and 'why' diverse people use public urban spaces.

It made me think. There are clubs and activities that broadly appeal to white people in Bermuda, clubs and activities that broadly appeal to black people and, yes, those that appeal to both. When the day finally arrives and Hamilton's Waterfront becomes an urban space extrodinaire, I hope it is because the designers and programmers are sensitive to and actively seek to create a public space that draws in a great mix of economically viable uses, has 24/7 activities through all seasons, allows for accessible and flexible spaces, supports creative amenities, is reflective of our (marine) history and culture and, yes, includes diversity awareness as one of its guiding tenets so that all feel welcome and safe.

libraries as 'retail' space

I was struck by a recent article, How a New Dutch Library Smashed Attendance Records, by Cat Johnson at the online site Shareable, which nicely highlighted the potential of libraries as community centres. 

nieuwe bibliotheek - credit unknownThis was striking to me mainly because I view libraries in Bermuda as being an opportunity missed. I realise, though, much of it has to do with constrained budgets ($2.1 million in the 2014/2015 budget and probably lower still in the current year). In contrast, the Dutch clearly had ample funding available to them when devising a new approach to their library. 

Designers of the Dutch library, Nieuwe Bibliotheek, took the tack of treating it as retail space. A brilliant notion, in my opinion. Books are grouped by interest or topic, whether fiction or non-fiction. They are outward facing, as in a bookstore, encouraging you to browse. There's a cafe and comfortable sofas, in addition to the usual tables and chairs. Most important, the library is supported by a continuing programme of events. It is a destination with several reasons for you to visit, and visitors is exactly what Nieuwe Bibliotheek gets: 100,000 people in the first two months of its opening in 2010.

Can we do more in Bermuda? Probably. 'More' would involve a space that combined the childrens' library facility with the adult library. That way, parents and children could enjoy the facility together. It would have a 'drop in' centre element to it too. Legal clinics, for example, or job search services and the like could be based at the library. If you were thinking of where to meet up with a friend, the library would be one automatic option. Branches? Sure, in Somerset and St. George's. 

glen oaks branch library, queens, ny - credit unknownAre there summer job or after school work opportunities at my ideal library? Yes, absolutely. Instilling in our youth a love of reading is so important. Even the teen that's too cool for his shirt can disguise his love of books as a job.

An exhibit area or two would allow our many community groups to have a place and space for their message. Do you know what Transition Bermuda is doing? Have you heard of PechaKucha Nights?

Of course, you'll need to eat too, and a farm to table cafe would be amazing.

Are we doing any of this now? We might be. I have not been inspired to check out our library in years, and I'm a reader. However, I know we do have librarians who are a veritable fount of information. So let's build on that to create a greater connection to the community and make our library a vibrant place to be. As a centre of learning, an excellent library should not require debate.

What do you think?

starchitecture - love it or hate it?

The New York Times recently asked readers to respond a Letter to the Editor regarding 'starchitecture' by architect Peggy Dreamer. She contends architectural practitioners have been "backed into a corner of aesthetic elitism". She is dismayed at the image of architects who are portrayed by the media as insensitive and "socially tone-deaf" and is of the opinion the public is fed up of this.

It is an intriguing and timely discussion. On the one hand, it seems to me, it is starchitecture that tends to create interest in the profession, which is a good thing. On the other hand, one can't help feel, on occasion, that, to architects, the aesthetic is everything and function is the sorry second cousin. Is it just me, or are Frank Gehry's more recent designs beginning to blend together? Do Zaha Hadid's edifices work as well on the inside as they look on the outside? 

The responses to Dreamer's letter vary. Enjoy her letter, readers' views and her response in The 'Starchitect' Image. It is a worthy read.

Starchitecture isn't an issue in Bermuda. Not yet, anyway. Is that good or bad?

image - tim enthoven, courtesy of new york times