Examples from Elsewhere: NYC and Washington DC
On Tuesday April 25, the BSA Foundation hosted its second of four community conversations focused on enhancing the Emerald Necklace and Columbia Road corridor. This event, entitled “Examples from Elsewhere: NYC and Washington DC,” explored lessons learned from similar greenway and placemaking projects elsewhere on the East Coast. In particular, the conversation took a deep dive into community engagement and storytelling.
Examples from elsewhere: NYC and DC
This reflects the aim of the larger series, entitled “Fulfilling the Promise Community Building and the Emerald Necklace,” to frame the challenges and opportunities presented by the Columbia Road corridor as accurately as possible. Furthermore, the series seeks to identify actionable recommendations for successful implementation of greenway and corridor improvement projects based on other’s experiences.
Tuesday’s discussion drew specifically on the experiences of Danya Sherman, former director of public programs, education and community engagement at the High Line in New York City, and Irfana Jetha Noorani, deputy director of the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington DC.
The High Line: Lessons Learned
While the High Line has been a huge success in many respects, Sherman shared several places where she saw opportunity for improvement upon reflection. One of the key items that she noted was that it would have been beneficial to begin the process by asking the surrounding community what they wanted to see the High Line used for, rather than reaching out for programming and placemaking ideas once the plans and park were already in the works. She suggested, “Ask not what a design should look like, but what a park should do for you?”
Sherman offered the following pieces of advice for the advancement of equitable development.
- Think About Clear Intentions: Ask how a new park or public space could best serve the community.
- Set Specific, Measurable Objectives: By knowing what you want to accomplish and how to measure it, you can make sure that really you get there.
- Ensure an Inclusive Process: Designing an inclusive community process is both critical and difficult. Hire experienced community organizers who can help create new partnerships and opportunities for communities.
- Promote Accountable Governance: Think about forming an advisory committee or similar group, ideally with some political training or understanding, to help oversee the process.
- Leverage Creative Value Capture: Look for new and innovative ways to add to and share value throughout the community. (The High Line did this by distributing development rights from underneath the abandoned rail line to the surrounding area.)
The 11th Street Bridge Park: Best Practices in the Making
Like the High Line, the 11th Street Bridge Park is an iconic, elevated pedestrian connection. Set to open in 2019, this unique bridge will span not only the Anacostia River but also socio-economic differences between the neighborhoods on either side. As a result on the multi-functional nature of this bridge, Noorani and the project team put great time and effort into the development of a robust community engagement process around the project. They carefully designed their impact area around census tracks so that, just as Sherman recommends, they could easily study and measure their influences.
Based on this project’s many successes, it is possible to identify the following principles for community engagement.
- Placekeeping can be as important as placemaking: Many communities already have great cultures and identities. Consider celebrating these as part of “placekeeping,” in addition to exploring opportunities for placemaking.
- Local knowledge and global expertise make a great combination: It is critical to bring all kinds of expertise to the table during the design process. (The 11th Street Bridge Park did this by soliciting ideas from local community members as well as international design proposals.)
- Storytelling is a powerful design tool: Great designs tell great stories. Make sure that community engagement processes offer opportunities for such storytelling and sharing, so that designs can embrace these stories fully. (The 11Th Street Bridge Park actually built a traveling “front porch” to encourage such storytelling throughout the community.)
- Community connections should be physical, social and economic: Park projects should do more than form physical connections. They should also promote community building, job creation and economic development.
- Listen first, talk second: Begin by listening and encouraging knowledge-sharing in a community, rather than with a project or idea proposal.
Such wonderful insights along with a number of thoughtful questions and comments from attendees emphasized the unquestionable importance of inclusive and equitable community engagement in the design of new greenways and urban connections.