A Banner Year for Pop Up City

The CUDC’s Pop Up City initiative was honored in the past twelve months with inclusion in the 13th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale and selected to receive the Places Research Award from the Environmental Design Research Association.

From Cleveland to Venice to Chicago

The United States’ pavilion at the 2012 Venice Biennale chose the theme “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good“, focusing on the growing movement of architects, designers, artists, and everyday citizens taking the initiative to make improvements to the public realm. From August to November 2012, Pop Up City joined other activist-minded projects from the United States exhibited in Venice, Italy. Here’s an excerpt from the exhibition’s summary of Pop Up City:

Since 2007 the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative of Kent State University has run Pop Up City, a program that brings vacant urban space to life through fleeting interventions. Cleveland lost half of its population since the 1950s, and much of its urban fabric is unused and deteriorating. Pop Up City aims to spotlight some of Cleveland’s spectacular but underutilized properties, while demonstrating that vacancy can be an opportunity and an adventure, not just a liability. Past interventions have included an ice sculpture park on the banks of the Cuyahoga River; a roller-disco on a vacant floor of an old industrial building; and an inflatable music venue on top of a parking garage, demonstrating possible alternative programming for structures that are used only during certain hours of the day.

The projects included in the exhibition were also featured in a special issue of ARCHITECT magazine, providing background information and comparable data on each project. (Subtle design note: The data on each project corresponds to color-coded bands on the exhibit banners. Each project is displayed on a banner that functions like a flag, the front charts in color stripes the percentage the project contributes to information [blue], accessibility [orange], community [pink], economy [lime], sustainability [green], and pleasure [cyan]. We’re proud to see Pop Up City ranks high on the pleasure scale!) A page from the ARCHITECT magazine article, including an image from Pop Up City’s Hipp Deck event, is shown below:

The award-winning design of the Venice exhibition encouraged over 178,000 visitors to physically engage with the displays, reinforcing the exhibit’s active participation theme. As an attendee pulled down a display banner to get a closer look, a series of pulleys and cables lifted a corresponding “problem box” on the wall to reveal the design response employed by the project.  For example, the “shrinking city” problem rose to reveal the “ephemeral experiences” response.

CUDC Director Terry Schwarz was invited to participate in a panel discussion in Venice, focused on responses to urban vacancy, moderated by design critic Mimi Zeiger. A short film by Kelly Loudenberg called Spontaneous Interventions was also screened at the U.S. pavilion, which includes Terry’s response to a prompt to describe the ideal American city.

Didn’t have a chance to see the exhibit in Venice? Well, you’re in luck! Select projects from the Spontaneous Interventions exhibit, including Pop Up City, will be on display at the Chicago Cultural Center from Memorial Day (May 24) to Labor Day (September 1) 2013. The exhibit includes the interactive banners and wall displays employed at the Venice Biennale. For a complete list of the projects and schedule of events in Chicago, visit the Spontaneous Interventions website here. The website also contains a great image gallery of photographs taken at the exhibition.

Terry Schwarz will participate in a panel discussion at the Chicago Cultural Center on the topic Design for the Just City, moderated by Toni Griffin, Professor of Architecture and Director of the J. Max Bond Center. The panel discussion will take place from 5:30 – 7:30pm on Tuesday, July 16 in the Claudia Cassidy Theater. If you aren’t able to attend the Chicago exhibit or panel discussion, keep an eye out for our upcoming blog post on Terry’s perspective of the Cultural Center exhibition.

EDRA Place Research Award

To top off an eventful year, we were very excited to learn in April that Pop Up City was selected by the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) to receive the 2013 Great Place Research Award. EDRA is an international, interdisciplinary organization that works to advance and disseminate environmental design research, thereby improving understanding of the inter-relationships of people with their built and natural surroundings.

Great Places Awards recognize projects that exemplify a concern for human factors in the design of built environments, and a commitment to promoting the links between design research and practice.

Kent State’s CUDC Director Terry Schwarz and Associate Director David Jurca attended the EDRA awards ceremony in Providence, Rhode Island on June 1, 2013 and accepted the award from juror Valerie Fletcher, Executive director of the Institute for Human Centered Design.

During the award presentation, Fletcher described Pop Up City as an unconventional project in the research category and one she firmly supported during jury deliberations. In contrast to more conventional academic research methods, Pop Up City is an action-based research program, which takes a hands-on approach to changing the target environment. The research on urban reinvention strategies produced by Pop Up City isn’t conducted under the pretense of a detached observer, but rather involves direct engagement in the surrounding physical and social milieu. Pop Up City takes a stand, rolls up its sleeves, and invites others to get hands dirty together.

Fletcher also noted Pop Up City’s commitment to social inclusion, creating temporary spaces that embody the desires and diversity of the city. Vacant spaces often provide socially open venues, where user groups have not yet (or no longer) laid exclusive claims on a site. Attendance at Pop Up City events in these forgotten spaces feel equally unfamiliar to a range of participants. Positive memories can be forged during short-term experiences shared with diverse company in strange surroundings, expanding the boundaries for social interactions moving forward.

Pop Up City pursues the central research question, “How can temporary interventions enhance urban vitality, engage the public in urban design decisions, and support permanent development?” Over the past six years, through numerous temporary interventions, the CUDC has identified four core community benefits enabled by Pop Up City:

  • Fluidity in Response to Uncertainty: Where permanent development is infeasible, short-term interventions offer alternative versions and visions of the city. Pop Up City examines and accelerates the process of reinvention through targeted interventions in response to specific community concerns.
  • Reinforcement of Social Capital: Temporary projects create portable places of inclusion. Traditional real estate development targets a desirable market niche, excluding those who don’t fit the picture of ideal consumers. Pop Up City provides opportunities and amenities for all, fostering social interaction and engaging residents in intentional and measurable ways.
  • Tool for Civic Engagement: Temporary projects provide an effective means of community engagement. Instead of asking the public to respond to sketches and models of development alternatives, temporary installations enable people to explore a variety of alternatives and determine their preferences based on actual, on-site experiences.
  • A Path Forward: Short-term opportunites can lead to permanent change. Pop Up storefront projects have attracted permanent tenants. The Bridge Project, a temporary project for the unused lower level of a bridge in Cleveland, led to a full-blown transportation planning process for the permanent re-use of the structure, funded by the Ohio Department of Transportation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Pop Up Rockwell, a temporary streetscape project in Downtown Cleveland, helped residents and city officials understand a recently adopted Complete and Green Streets ordinance and was used to train the city’s Public Works staff in the principles of sustainable street design.

Pop Up City’s Evolution

The CUDC started Pop Up City in 2007 as a response to the twin challenges of depopulation: decreased urban activity and excess vacant space. Inspired by the temporary use projects in the international Shrinking Cities Exhibit, the CUDC embarked on an initiative to grow a movement of short-term interventions to activate the city. The first Pop Up City event was Shrinkapalooza, a celebration of music and interactive performances (including Double Dutch Will Take You Higher) intended to spark reactivation of Hyacinth Park, an underused public park in Cleveland’s Slavic Village.

Double Dutch Will Take You Higher perform and encourage bystanders to participate in their

Pop Up City has evolved over the years and sprouted numerous techniques and applications, which the CUDC incorporates into the graduate architecture curriculum and professional practice. Design-build projects undertaken in Kent State’s graduate program have produced temporary interventions, which allow students to assess the impacts of their designs during public events. Temporary interventions are woven into the professional practice of the CUDC as a method for reality-testing proposals, increasing public participation, and as a design response to our region’s continually changing weather conditions.

The Detroit-Superior Bridge Project is an example of a temporary use initiative that crossed over from student explorations into professional planning and exemplifies the powerful role short-term activation can play in the urban revitalization process. Started as the focus of a graduate community charrette course, the Bridge Project explored design improvements to the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, making the cavernous space more comfortable for human activity. A full report on the 2009 charrette can be dowloaded here. As a result of the positive experiences sparked at the first event, enough public support was gained to convince city officials to sponsor a full planning project for permanent transformation of the lower level. The planning process itself included temporary interventions to test bike lanes configurations created with duct tape and temporary signage. A final report of the Bridge Project study, completed in January 2013, is available at www.bridgeprojectcleveland.com.

Based on the number of pop up events promoted any given weekend in Cleveland now, it’s hard to believe there was a time when “pop up” wasn’t a familiar term in our area. But when Pop Up City launched, the concept was relatively new to many people. Meetings with potential collaborators often required several visual examples from other cities and a fair amount of repetition to make the concept sink in. But thanks to the openness of community development organizations, city staff, private sector developers, and a long list of partners, temporary use is now much more widely recognized in our region as a viable option in the urban activation toolkit. We look forward to exploring new ground with Pop Up City in the coming years and continuing to learn from the exciting projects popping up in our ever-changing city.

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