On October 20, 2012, designers, hackers, futurists and urbanists converged upon San Francisco to celebrate urban prototyping (UP) at the second annual UP Festival. The aim of the festival—a packed day of project expos, performances and panel discussions—was to explore ‘placemaking through prototyping’: how citizen experiments and temporary installations can transform public space.
We focus our attention on the third panel discussion of the day titled “Formalizing Experimentation: From Prototype to Infrastructure,” which brought together planners, designers and thought leaders to discuss how to go from prototypes to lasting infrastructure. Or, how citizen-driven experiments can influence city policy—much in the same way Park(ing) Day inspired Pavement to Parks, the formal permitting of parklets throughout San Francisco.
What emerged was a fascinating conversation about contemporary urbanism in SF and the urban prototyping movement at large. The panelists discussed what the movement has to offer cities and society, its role vis-à-vis institutions, and its possible limitations in this era of fiscal woes. Here we present some of the highlights. (You can watch the panel here and read the full transcript here).
But first, the players:
Liz Ogbu (moderator) is a designer, urban strategist, social innovator, and academic. She’s currently a Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Art & Public Life at California College of the Arts.
Chris Guillard is an accomplished landscape architect and founding partner of Conger Moss Guillard.
Matt Passmore is an artist, urban explorer and public space advocate as well as founder and principle at Rebar.
David Alumbaugh is a senior urban designer with the City of San Francisco Planning Department.
Ben Grant is a city planner, urban designer, curator and lecturer. He currently heads the interagency Master Plan for Ocean Beach at SPUR.
Now, the highlights:
NYC is to SF as top-down is to bottom-up?
Liz led off the discussion with a rough timeline of events leading up to the Festival, focusing primarily on parks and public space in San Francisco. Almost immediately, New York City emerged as a telling counterpoint.
The panelists cited Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC’s famously headstrong Transportation Commissioner, a “guerilla bureaucrat,” according to Matt. Her rapid transformation of NYC streets, converting spaces originally for cars into bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, stands in stark contrast to the culture of public space transformation in San Francisco, explains Ben—not in outcomes necessarily, but in style.
NYC, he says, operates largely from the top down. It has a “city government that would enable someone to do that kind of innovative, even radical reconfiguration of the streets and really get [her] back and stand up for that vision even when [she] hits bureaucratic