#602 The dream of Urban Betterment

John Locke's phone-both library

John Locke’s phone-booth library for New York City

If I were a student at Columbia University, I would be signing up for a course called Hacking the Urban Experience. It is taught by John Locke, an innovative designer whose work came to my attention when someone posted a picture of one the mini-libraries he installed in New York City phone booths.

The course description for Hacking the Urban Experience is a challenge to students to develop an urban intervention “that embraces the messy reality of our city and promotes community involvement.”

Locke has posted his students’ interventions on Tumblr, along with other temporary installations from around the world. I have my favourites, of course: the gargoyles projected onto trees in Paris, the street furniture in Hamburg, the balloons in the subway entrance.

The Department of Urban Betterment’s Facebook page is another of Locke’s ideas for engaging people to “reassert design’s potential, and our role within it, into the public consciousness as stewards of urban well being.” There are not many recent posts, but it is worth checking out what’s there (e.g., the green moss graffiti and the street hammock) and adding your own ideas.

Our urban spaces need interventions. For too long, they have been given over to developers committed to their own dreams, without regard for the quality of city life, and to municipal governments with no real vision of how to create cities that work for people.

Uglify even the most beautiful landscape, and unpleasant things start popping up. Some of them are legal, such as vast parking lots, malls, traffic jams, air pollution, and mediocre buildings all jumbled up together. Some of them are on the shadier side, such as graffiti, drugs, robberies and assaults.

It doesn’t have to stay that way. There are a lot of people working to transform our cities. They create street art, musical swings, urban farms, and pushcart classrooms.

If they are like John Locke (or his creative partner, Jackie Caradonio), they look around and envision endless creative possibilities. They give me hope.

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