URBAN SPACEship activates a forgotten piece of public space

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Kids from the neighborhood use cardboard & colorful duct tape to build temporary seating

Idea:
Urban collective URBAN SPACEship wants to encourage social interaction in a neighborhood public space in NYC.

Action:
A group of urbanists, bound together only by their love of cities and public space, volunteered their time to plan and execute an intervention to activate a forlorn concrete plaza in front of a neighborhood branch of the Queens Library as part of GOOD’s inaugural Neighborday celebration.

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SPACEshippers brainstorming in early March 2013

URBAN SPACEship’s Story:
In returning to New York after living abroad for several years, Leemor Chandally was looking for ways to connect with other urbanists who were interested in the kinds of hands-on, DIY projects that she was into. To build that network, she created the MeetUp group URBAN SPACEship, which met once a month starting in the summer of 2012 to hear a guest lecture and discuss different ideas for activating urban spaces. After observing this vigorous discussion, Chandally partnered with Neighborland to invite SPACEship’s members to share their ideas for how to encourage social interaction between people in a local public space, with the aim of actually pushing a crowdsourced idea to implementation.

Through a series of gatherings in February and March of 2013, the group discussed the various ideas that had been shared via the Neighborland site. Everything from light installations to storytelling was discussed. The group faced the challenge of organizing a diffuse membership of people who were all juggling busy schedules. Eventually, after working through several different iterations of an early idea to build a dome structure, a core group of dedicated SPACEshippers re-focused the project on its initial goal–to spark interaction between neighbors–and came up with a plan to turn a forgotten scrap of paved-over public space next to a library branch in the Astoria section of Queens into an interactive neighborhood gathering place.

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The space in question is rarely used, and very beige

Working with the library’s blessing (obtained through a member of the group, who manages a compost drop-off program at the branch), the SPACEshippers showed up on April 27th, 2013–the first official Neighborday–armed with dozens of cans of spray chalk, a pallet of discarded & collapsed cardboard boxes, and armfuls of Neighborland stickers. The idea was not just to add amenities to the space and make it more visually appealing, but to involve the locals directly in the space’s transformation. The first order of business, then, was to create and put up a large sign reading “I’m your public space…Create me!”

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“The idea was not just to add amenities to the space and make it more visually appealing, but to involve the locals directly in the space’s transformation.”

The event was an unqualified success. More than a hundred neighbors stopped to help build chairs out of the cardboard, create pieces of a sidewalk mural, contribute ideas for how to make Astoria an even better neighborhood, and just sit and chat with friends new and old. Several musicians even showed up to entertain the crowd, and at one point a five piece band, complete with a harpist, played while neighbors danced. The spray chalk was a huge hit with local kids, many of whom broke into huge smiles upon rounding the corner to find what they knew as a drab corner re-made as a colorful playground.

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Neighbors queued up all afternoon to express their hopes & desires for Astoria

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The space activation included everything from musical performances (back right) to a compost drop-off organized by the library (front right)

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And we hope to bring you more of them, neighbor!

We’re super-impressed with the SPACEshippers’ tenacity and creativity, and we can’t wait to see what they tackle next. You can join their MeetUp group if you’re in the New York area, or check out another initiative that we’re working on with Leemor out in San Francisco.