"Involve energetic community-based organizations to successfully implement urban landscape programs"
In this interview American designer and artist, Damon Rich, who is currently working for the city of Newark New Jersey as the city's first Chief Urban Designer, tells about challenges in his daily work, how to connect architecture with politics and differences between European and American cities.
What are the main challenges in your daily work as a Chief Urban Designer?
Rich: ‘I'm in the 5th year of working to establish a viable public urban design function for municipal government while dealing with a more-or-less constant stream of planning crises and conundrums. That means that I spend significant team leading detailed design negotiations with private developers, especially when the public sector is an investor. In New Jersey many of the challenges involve persuading stakeholders to make buildings that connect to the public realm. These conversations are an education in the motivations of the market and the real estate formulas that operate large sections of American landscape.’ The other large part of Richs work for the city government is overseeing the design of public improvements, ranging from public art to parks to the public realm. Rich: ‘these projects are chances to create active city creation cultures that absorb and amplify the verve and eccentricity of contemporary Newark.’
Could you tell us more about how the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) connects architecture with day-to-day politics and the build environment?
Rich: 'I founded the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) in
1997, to find ways that thinking from architecture might be put to
work in the day-to-day politics of the built environment. Since
then, the organization has thrived thanks to the hard work of an
amazing staff, helpful board members, hundreds of collaborating
artists, designers, students and advocacy organizations. Under the
leadership of our fantastic Executive Director Christine Gaspar,
this has continued to lead to increasingly impactful work putting
whimsy to work for popular education about housing, finance, urban
infrastructure, and other central elements of urban life. For
example, when New York City decided in 2001 to close its only
residential landfill, CUP worked with the alternative high school
City-as-School to investigate the flow of garbage and the
surrounding business and politics of waste management. The results
of the investigation where presented through a 30-minute video, an
exhibition, and a series of super-sized information graphics on
topics including "Incinerators vs. Landfills" and
"Who runs the New York City Garbage Machine?".
CUP also operate Community Education Programs to create collaborations between community-based or advocacy organizations and designers. For example, our Making Policy Public posters are produced by designer-organization teams together with CUP staff. These posters are about topics organizations want to explain to their constituents. For example the New York City juvenile justice system through a comic format, the status of rent-stabilized apartments after the 2008 crash with a window poster of a building-eating serpent, and the rights of street vendors with an illustrated ‘how-to’ guide.
How to stimulate collaboration between policy and society in public space?
Rich: ‘As a designer, for me public space is primarily about the orchestration of program and activity. In cities like Newark, where scarce resources make the creation of high-budget spectacular spaces difficult, our resource is the vitality and spirit of our citizens. Our culture, like all cultures, is quirky, complex, darkly humorous, and enthralling, and the question is how to hitch that culture to the forces of design and development. So, for example, we seek out energetic and innovative community-based organizations as implementation partners for our urban landscape programs. These partners play a role in the design but also the maintenance and programming of the space.’
Rich: ‘Another way to weave together policy and society in public space is to leverage the educational potential of design and development processes. Discussion and debate about investment in the built environment is a deep resource for teaching young people and adults about politics in the world. The rising popularity of Participatory Budgeting, where residents develop public projects with city agencies and then vote to award funding, also demonstrates the power of making design and development public.’
To read the whole interview please visit the EMI website.