We'd like to extend congratulations to our own Matt Zapson for recently passing his LEED Green Associate examination. Matt's dedication to environmentally sustainable and socially equitable design and construction practices is reflected in his continuing education and in the conversations we have here at the GMD office. Congrats Matt!
“We also know that the neoliberal political and economic system is so deep inside our minds and inside our bodies that we cannot think of any solutions. And yet you see that sometimes people have actually managed to gather together, like in the Occupy Movement. But the question is: how do you create possibilities? How do you think about the future? And how do you connect these different groups of people?” – Matthias Klenner (TOMA)
This Friday Lunch, we at Group Melvin Design took a deep dive, and wrestled with some of the larger questions surrounding the work we do as Planners. When we began, we discussed systemic questions related to our recent work with pop-up design: who has power in public space? what larger power structures effected change in modern American cities? how do we stay mindful of providing a voice and opportunity to everyone, equally, in public space design interventions? how do we create the possibility for multiple outcomes, rather than designing for only one solution? how has commerce and political economy driven pop-up?
As our conversation progressed, we also discussed how these topics relate to other areas of the planning field. Observationally, it feels more common for these types of discussions to manifest when the outcomes are physical objects in space, and become open to critique by the public. But these topics are often less discussed when applied to planning documents. Through our conversation, we recognized that the implications of all of these questions continue to remain valid as they pertain to our work as master plan, redevelopment plan, and zoning authors. We discussed the planner’s role in bringing these questions to light in our conversations with clients, stakeholders, and other interested groups.
Like any good philosophical discussion, we didn’t arrive at any concrete conclusions or redesign the power structure of the United States, but the conversation reminded us a bit of why we entered this profession – we are hopeful. We see the opportunity in our field to effect change in a manner that is mindful of the intricacies and tensions that arise in post-liberal America. In the end, maybe we were all reminded that we are dreamers; we strive to do work that impacts our world in a manner that is positive and inclusive, and improves the lives of all people, and the environment to boot.
Interested in reading the article that made us have thoughts so deep our brains might drown? Click here!
During our Friday Lunch this week we talked about “Form Based Codes: A Crack in the Code?” in the October issue of Planning Magazine. The article focuses on how “the hope-for cure for use-based zoning ills hasn’t quite taken off but the form-based emphasis on form has had a big impact on modern zoning.” Being a leader in FBCs in New Jersey and preparing for a new project with @NJTPA that will involve a lot of form work, we though it be good to sit down discuss. Here are a few take always from our discussion:
Basketball and soccer are two very different games. A good basketball team can become champions by riding the coattails of its best player. A LeBron James or a Michael Jordan can make a mediocre team phenomenal. A soccer team’s game time performance is often defined by the abilities of its worst player. While there are star players in the sport of soccer, even Cristiano Ronaldo relies on a solid backfield to push the ball upfield.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History, the difference in team dynamics between these two sports can be explained in terms of “links.” Basketball is characteristic of a “strong link” system—a team owner can most effectively improve their team’s odds of winning games by improving its best player. Soccer, on the other hand, is a “weak link” system—a team owner would be best served by ensuring that the team’s lower end of the roster is solid. Given a million dollars, the basketball owner would be best served using the whole sum on acquiring one superstar player, while the soccer team owner would more effectively spend it on four adept, but not phenomenal, workhorse athletes.
This Friday, we discussed some of the strong and weak linked systems which exist in cities and regions, and that are engrained in the ways in which we attempt to make strong towns and great places. As planners, we often focus on approaching urban and regional issues from a weak link approach. By advocating for increased equity, and great places for all, we imply that a city or a region is only as strong as its weakest neighborhood or town. It is easy to see how a weak link approach applies in South Jersey, our homebase. A constellation of towns and small cities scattered across the verdant landscape trade commuters and shoppers, goods and services every day. The South Jersey system is a tight-knit one, and when one community falters, it affects all the others.
A strong link approach is, however, effective in certain scenarios. Philadelphia’s revival of the past twenty years is largely thanks to the investments made in its core Center City neighborhoods, begun under the term of Mayor Rendell. By focusing resources on Center City, the city was able to make significant improvements to its strongest link, whose effects have radiated into surrounding neighborhoods. Had the investment been spread across some of Philadelphia’s weak link neighborhoods, the long-term impact of such improvements may have been diminished. Approaching urban problems from a strong link perspective may yield the most high-profile impacts, but it raises serious issues regarding equity. Weak and strong link approaches both have their advantages in addressing our cities’ challenges, but the most effective interventions may arise from a combination of strong and weak link methods—a merged system more similar to American football than to basketball or soccer.
The following was written by our very own Ben Bryant and appeared on the Knight Cities' Blog on October 22nd
Last November, a friend posted a link about the Knight Cities Challenge on Facebook. The application was so simple and straightforward – “What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?” – that I figured there was nothing to lose in giving it a shot. Feeling ambitious one Sunday afternoon, I decided to take a couple of hours out of my day to apply.
Preparations are underway for a new, exciting, and interactive return of the RPP Pop-Up!
We are excited to announce that along with the City of Camden, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, and Sikora Wells Appel, Group Melvin Design has received the 2015 Place Design Award from the Environmental Design Research Association and the Project for Public Spaces for our work on Roosevelt Plaza Park’s Pop-Up.
RPP’s Pop-Up Park, the very first of its kind in Camden, proved an accessible, sociable space where people from all walks of life gathered and interacted. Projects considered for this award had to account for their relations to surrounding environments and demonstrate how they respond to user needs. We are very proud to have played a role in the design and implementation of Roosevelt Plaza Park’s Pop-Up, and are excited to be bringing the pop-up back to Camden this year!
Group Melvin Design has been very fortunate to have several exciting and challenging projects over the past year. These projects have not been immensely rewarding for us as a firm, they have now won us some awards by the New Jersey American Planning Association!
From August to December in 2014, Roosevelt Plaza Park was home to Camden’s first Pop-Up Park. A collaboration between Group Melvin Design, Sikora Wells Appel, New American Public Art, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, and the the City of Camden, the project was temporary installation to enliven the plaza for public use. Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) totes, sourced locally, were transformed into a shade structure, planters, a piano house, and a nighttime interactive light show. Other amenities included bright yellow umbrellas, blue Adirondack chairs, and patio gliders.