Monday, December 8, 2008

Power challenge: What's your number?

Okay, Maureen Kelleher, if your intent with those Power of Five posts about Pilsen artists was to get us to wonder what you're talking about, it worked.

But I'm confused.

When I went to, I found out what the idea meant, except that they call it the Power of 10. Twice as good as your version?

Whatever the number, it's a terrific concept: that a "place" has to be more than one popular attraction or person or landmark, but a whole collection of things that make people want to be there. I've started tallying it up for my home community of Rogers Park and we've got Power of 100 up here -- No, Power of 1,000! – but come to think of it so do most neighborhoods.

I like it. And I wonder if the NCP neighborhoods might start creating attractive Google or Yahoo maps with photos and locations, showing their powers to the world.


Maureen Kelleher said...

Placemaking Chicago talks about "the power of 10" in a thought-provoking way here:

A great place needs to have at least 10 things to do in it or 10 reasons to be there. But, don't get fixated on a particular number. It's really a matter of offering a variety of things to do in one spot—whose quality as a place then becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Sorry, Patrick, this idea was less clear than I intended because the post where it was explained is dated November 20. Here's the key part:

Since I had such a great time at Pilsen Open Studios back in October, I've decided to create my own Power of Five challenge and tell you all about five great artists I met in five great spaces during the tour. (And I won't count the earlier post about Victor Montanez, just to raise the bar.) First up: Giselle Mercier showing her stuff at Tianguis.

Not that Pilsen doesn't have ten great artists in ten great spaces; I only happened to run across five of them in one weekend.

Michael said...

you got me thinking about the map idea. is there an example link?

Patrick Barry said...

Michael, I haven't seen a mapping application yet but the Guide to Neighborhood Placemaking in Chicago has a nice list of examples on page 17. Download it:

And I can see it now: a map with pop-up photos and descriptive captions. Please send us a link if you put one together.

Michael said...

Hi Patrick,

In 2002, I was in project management for a downtown commercial property owner in Buffalo, NY. I made this interactive map to highlight attractions around the property:

In 2006(?) i threw together a website in 2 days, dedicated to new downtown living opportunities in Buffalo, NY (namely because i couldn't talk anyone else into doing it!). here's the map to that one:

I hope to redo Near West's MRRI website from scratch over the winter & add some interactive bell & whistles.

The Placemaking session was a lot of fun and a great framework. I really enjoyed it. Though it leans too heavily on the carrot, rather than the stick for communities which safety is a top priority.

Maureen Kelleher said...

Michael, I'm interested in your comment about the carrot and the stick in creating public spaces where safety is an issue. I live in Back of the Yards and generally play the "good cop"--the nice lady who waters the traffic circle and picks up trash--while other people play the bad cop, like the actual CPD officer who lives down the block and tells the guys to get off the corner.

What I've found here is there's a lot of bad-copping but it leaves people so frustrated and angry it's hard to maintain energy. Not that good-copping is the whole answer, but I think it is especially important in places where it gets overlooked in favor of pushing out negative influences.

For example, some of the folks in the "problem building" down the street come out and help me water the plants. I think people used to hide drugs in the circle but since they know I pick up the trash in the circle regularly, they don't anymore. (Or at least they're smart about getting it out before I can find it.)

Michael said...

Hi Maureen,

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a great organization and I love attending their seminars whenever they are available. I was grateful to attend their recent seminar in Bronzeville and purchase the above referenced publication. Through PPS’s “Placemaking” tool, the organization manages to make complex urban design issues feel very intuitive to those outside the profession, and give all participants a wonderful vocabulary to exchange ideas. My distinct impression both from the recent “Placemaking” presentation and its related publication is that “Placemaking” is a mechanism at its best for making “good” places “great” by proposing a tree, bench of water fountain, etc. in the right spot and adding to the depth of an existing destination. The vast majority of best practices in the presentation and publication are of destinations/centers in far more economically stable environments than NCP communities find themselves. An isolated small town where the Bronzeville audience laughs during the presentation at a couple skateboarding kids, who are considered the biggest nuisance in town. Or a city center where traffic ranked high on a community survey concern (safety and cleaning issues were ranked as low concerns). “Placemaking” is the carrot and excels at making an existing destination even better through intuitive urban design suggestions which make a place more comfortable and attractive.

I say the following only as suggestions on how to make the “Placemaking” mechanism even better, as I presently enjoy it. However my eyebrows raised when PPS takes specific credit for the turn around for Bryant Park or suggesting a bowl of chili (p. 24) is going to reduce gang violence and drug dealing. Issues of cleaning and safety are the two base fundamentals of ANY desirable places to live, work or plat at. They’re not sexy to discuss and are generally avoided in “Placemaking”. The place diagram (p.16) is not presently equipped to address issues of “order-maintenance”. As a practitioner, the place diagram I use looks more like a pyramid, with cleaning and safety at the base, rather than a symmetrical circle.

“Order-Maintenance” as discussed in depth in Kellings book “Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities” does an excellent job of describing the flip side of the “Placemaking” coin (the side very pertinent to economically distressed communities). It’s a proactive approach towards addressing issues of cleaning and safety and is the real reason why places such as Brant Park and beyond were able to turn things around under the supervision of Business Improvement Districts (Special Service Areas on steroids) through sustainable annual revenues for the necessary programs. Dan Biederman, President of Bryant Park Corporation ( is nationally accredited for turning around Bryant Park by being one of the first to implement “order-maintenance” practices, not PPS.

To avoid getting into the particulars of West Haven’s “problem building down the street” (we got one!), let me just refer to EveryBlock Chicago:
It’s a meta search for a number of things, including crime activities. The West Haven community is maybe 1/5 (in size) of the greater Near West Side neighborhood. West Haven supports 12,031 of 57,946 residents living the greater Near West Side area. However just comparing the addresses of where these real crimes are taking place in the Near West Side area alone is a clear indication that issues of safety and cleaning are at the forefront on the minds of residents and need special attention for the West Haven community to turn the corner.

“Placemaking” is the carrot. “Order-Maintenance” is the stick. Another way to look at it is to think of the ying-yang symbol. You need both.

The Cleanslate organization is one example of Chicago answer to “order-maintenance”. The main theory behind “Fixing Broken Windows” is that when you take care of the smaller crime such as graffiti, panhandling and broken windows, it lets everyone know that this is an environment where people pay attention, and consequently larger crimes such as assault, rape and murder are reduced. The NYC subway turnaround in the ‘80s/90s is often cited as a clear example. By going around cleaning commercial corridors “order maintenance” makes areas cleaner and safer for businesses, consumers and residents, who desire an increased quality of life.

Again, I really enjoy “Placemaking”. I only suggest what I do above to make it even better. Most NCP communities face decades of disinvestment and are not natural tourist destinations. NCP communities are also not isolated rural areas, instead are tight urban communities, and there are special dynamics which come with that. NCP communities face an uphill battle towards economic stabilization and reinvestment. Issues of cleaning and safety rank very high as legitimate concerns, if our surveys of West Haven residents are any indication. When I was at the “Placemaking” presentation and read the publication, I kept thinking to myself: how great will it be when concerns about park benches, dog curbing and water fountains take over from concerns of addressing: drug dealing, robbery and prostitution?

We’re finally at the point of attracting retailers for the first time since the late ‘60s, and the community is making great strides towards stability. I look forward to a time when the “Placemaking” principals will be an even stronger fit. These were some of things running through my head during the presentation.

Maureen Kelleher said...

Michael, thanks for clarifying for me what you heard at the presentation. (I wasn't there.) You are spot-on that placemaking has to go hand-in-hand with cleaning and safety to make a neighborhood a welcoming place for both residents and guests.

And I cracked up at the image of the Bronzeville audience laughing at the idea that skateboarding kids were a neighborhood's biggest problem.

The only thing I'm unsure of is whether the pyramid you suggest still makes placemaking an afterthought rather than an equal partner. While I share your frustration that placemaking tends to assume issues of safety and cleanliness are already resolved, I do find that focusing narrowly and solely on cleanliness and crime tends to turn off people who want to find reasons to enjoy their neighborhood right now at least as much as they want to fight crime and trash with an eye on better days to come.

Hope this makes sense.