The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of networking, brainstorming, self-reflection, and movement building for the Placemaking community. Three of our biggest events this year - Future of Places, the Placemaking Leadership Council, and Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place - brought to the forefront streets, our greatest public spaces, and how to turn them into true places for people.
The amount of information to come out of each of these gatherings is enormous and much more than we can summarize in one concise post. The following, then, is a very brief list of highlights before we elaborate on each in more detail at a later time. Enjoy!
The Future of Places conference series is a primary partnership between UN Habitat, Project for Public Spaces, and the Ax: son Johnson Foundation. Meeting in Buenos Aires, 300 public space aficionados met to discuss this year's theme: “Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity.” Place Leaders published a handy day-by-day summary you can also check out here.
A slew of speakers including Fred Kent, Setha Low, Gil Penalosa, and Michael Mehaffy, put forward their most transformative initiatives on international public space issues. The Busking Project presented what was perhaps the most humorous and interactive demonstration of what busking means to Placemaking and public spaces everywhere - and why it needs to be protected. Read Nick's summary here (and his articles on PPS here and here!)
At the conclusion of the conference, a statement was produced to summarize the current situation and outline the goals for the future:
“We affirm the role of public places as a connective matrix on which healthy and prosperous cities must grow. Public places, streets, squares and parks afford an essential human capacity for interaction, exchange, creativity and knowledge transfer. They support the capabilities of residents to improve their own prosperity, health and wellbeing and to modify their own relations to one another and adapt to conditions and opportunities. On such a connective matrix, great cities grow.
But public places have essential requirements, without which they cannot function. These requirements are largely known through evidence and history, but they are too often ignored as the result of professional and administrative limitations, and perverse incentives producing unintended consequences. Meeting this challenge will require key reforms in current practices.”
Over 100 members of the Placemaking Leadership Council gathered to discuss the future of the Placemaking movement and what actions need to be taken next to propel it into the future. New members were introduced to the core agendas and breakout workshops discussed each of these in depth. The goals:
Speakers included (in no particular order!) Dan Gilmartin (Michigan Municipal League), Peter Smith (CEO Adelaide City Council), Steve Davies (Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of PPS), Fred Kent (President and Founder of PPS), Kathy Madden (Co-Founder of PPS), Ray Gastil (new planning director of PGH), Salin Geevarghese (HUD), Paul Soglin (Mayor of Madison), Sarida Scott-
Montgomery (Community Development Advocates of Detroit), Lou Huang (Code for America), Myeta Moon (KaBOOM! on play in cities), Chris Koch (Design Center) and Stephanie Danes (Remaking Cities), Megan Lee (Southwest Airlines and our Heart of the Community program), Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur (AARP), Tyler Norris (Kaiser Permanente), Patrice Frey (National Main Streets Center), David Burney (Pratt Institute), Mary Lou Carolan (Wallkill Public Library), Beata Gutman (Senior Vice President of Edelman), Lisbeth Iversen (Anchor Consulting, Faervik, Norway), Katherine Kraft (America Walks), Marco Li Mandri (New City America), Devin Mathis (Artbridge), Holly Moskerintz (National Association of Realtors), and Andrew Pask (Vancouver Public Space Network).
The biggest conference for walking and bicycling professionals (and Placemakers!) got off to a great start on Monday following the Placemaking Leadership Council. Several council members transitioned easily into the larger hall while others arrived via bike from Washington D.C.! Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto got the crowd pumped with his opening remarks and a panel of mayors from across the U.S. who talked about why bicycle infrastructure is a necessity in their cities - not just a desire.
This year's conference was also a record-breaker. More than 1,000 people attended from all 50 states in the U.S. (including Washington D.C.) and 12 different countries! The panels also represented a wide array of topics from women and bicycling to community engagement, and tours showcased newly unveiled separated bike lanes fresh for riding on.
A major announcement also came out of the conference this year when Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a new initiative in his department to focus on bicycle and pedestrian safety issues via road diets and street improvements. In his words, it is "critical to the future of the country.”
The top priority, he said, will be closing gaps in walking and biking networks where “even if people are following the rules, the risk of a crash is too high.” He said dangerous street conditions are especially severe in low-income communities, where pedestrians are killed at twice the rate as in high-income areas, often because they lack sidewalks, lighting, and safe places to cross the street. - Streetsblog
Along with healthy doses of Vision Zero discussion, Ethan Kent of PPS rounded out the conference by advocating for Streets as Places. We are all converging around Place and we need a bolder vision for what a street can be. Gil Penalosa (who attended and contributed to all three conferences) gave the closing remarks prompting a standing ovation - and a fire drill!
We already can't wait for the next one (maybe after a short vacation first) - which has been announced for Vancouver in 2016!! A huge thank you to all sponsors, speakers, and attendees at each conference, and we hope you will bring all of this back to your communities and join us again (or for the first time) at the next ones!
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