101 Small Ways You Can Improve Your City
By Patrick Sisson and Alissa Walker via Curbed
The least you can do to make a big difference where you live
Sometimes the smallest things we can do for our neighborhoods can have the biggest impact. At Curbed, we know the power of a vegetable garden planted in a vacant lot or a library installed on a sidewalk. For Micro Week, we want to share 101 urban interventions and ideas that show how even the tiniest changes can make our cities better places.
We’ve scoured cities all around the world for small ideas with huge potential, and asked some of our favorite urban thinkers for tiny ways to make outsized transformations. And we divided them all up into six sections to help focus your efforts. We hope this serves as a resource for urban inspiration—and that you’ll contribute your own thoughts in the comments.
On Your Street
1. Redesign a crosswalk. Last year, a handful of Seattle streets were reborn when a rogue designer painted colorful new crosswalks. Instead of wiping them away, the city made them a permanent part of the landscape, and even appropriated the idea, setting up a community crosswalk programso other neighborhoods could create their own colorful street art. Between promoting community pride and increasing pedestrian visibility and safety, it’s a quick, colorful step forward.
2. Green your parkway. Okay, there’s gonna be a ton of regional slang to fight through here: You know that little sliver of property between the sidewalk and the curb? Whatever you call it, replace whatever’s there with a stormwater garden that allows water to naturally percolate into the ground. It will not only alleviate flooding on your street, it will filter and clean the water on its way back underground.
3. Make a seat. “One small thing a person can do for your city is build an attractive bench and place it where it’s needed. There is an urban seating deficit the world over and some of my favorite cities are those where people frequently build their own street seats. Here are bunch of examples we once catalogued in New York City.” — Mike Lydon, The Street Plans Collaborative
4. Create a little free library. Libraries may change and evolve, but the pleasure and joy of reading a book remains. In Dallas, the Little Free Libraries/Libros Libresproject helped construct and decorate makeshift shelves positioned across the community, part of a wider community literacy project. Inspired by the wider Little Free Libraries movement, it’s creating a real-life literary community on city streets.
5. Start documenting your street. Share the beauty of your surroundings, whether it’s through an Instagram hashtag or a personal photo project. Once you start snapping pictures of everyday life there’s no telling what you’ll find or who you’ll meet.
6. Add additional bike parking. While artful racks and bikeshare stations are sprouting up everywhere, popular roadways and sidewalks can still become overcrowded with riders angling to anchor a U-Lock. Small businesses can help make a difference by placing some DIY rackspace out front to make the parking situation more bearable. Here are some creative solutions.
7. Plant a tree. Shade, serenity, sustainability—trees add so much to the urban landscape and ask so little. Many cities give away free trees, have planting services, or require tree planting permits, so check your local rules before you start digging.
8. Pick up more poop. “I have the habit of trying to pick up someone else’s dog’s poop every time I pick up my own. I am talking about old poop, as opposed to ambushing another dog’s poop-in-progress.” — Michael Bierut, partner,Pentagram
9. Forge a fancier garbage can. If there isn’t money in the municipal budget for murals or street art, there’s still creative ways to beautify the streets. Providence, Rhode Island, turned everyday urban hardware such as fences and trash cans into colorful creations with the help of a local nonprofit, The Steel Yard. By commissioning artists to create striking bike racks and railing, the city gets more exciting, eye-catching infrastructure.
10. Set up a small, interactive community art project on your corner. “Share your art with people in small ways. With our As You Wish project, our artists made versions of people’s wishes with cheap materials we had on hand. WithForensic Friends, people stopped by our artists on the street and described a friend like you would if you were doing a forensic sketch of a criminal. But, instead, the artist draws a portrait of a friend from the description. With Listening Booth, we simply have somebody sit and listens to anybody who wanted to talk.” — Jim Walker, founder and director of the Big Car Collaborative
11. Hang some chandeliers. Need a way to brighten a blah block and add whimsy to a dark sidewalk? The Chandelier Tree in Los Angeles has become a local landmark for the dozens of lighting fixtures ensconced in a sycamore. Neighbors donate to the electric bill using a repurposed parking meter. In Vancouver, aspinning, LED-lit chandelier is being installed under an bridge underpass.
In Your Neighborhood
12. Fight crime with neon. Especially in a city strapped for cash, streetlights are low on the priority list as they’re expensive to install, maintain, and keep powered. But they’ve also been proven to deter crime. Two Philadelphia artists took it upon themselves to brighten a dangerous South Philly block with a “neon mural.” The illuminated work of art has become a social-media destination after dark, putting eyes on the street at a time when the neighborhood needs it most.
13. Begin a guerrilla garden uprising. Green thumbs often have private plots and backyards to grow, but they can also get on the front lines. Surreptitiously filling in unkempt lots or small patches of untendered land with plants and flowers, or tossing a “seedbomb” at a hard to reach patch of land, turns lost space into lush greenery. Richard Reynolds, one of the leaders of the movement, maintains a blogwith invaluable tips on how to reclaim “unloved public spaces.”
14. Look underground. “So much of what happens at the city surface is impacted by what happens underground. From sewer systems to bedrock geology to culverts, what happens below the urban crust can highlight the history of a place, revealing why and how a city develops. In Lexington, SCAPE recently went subterranean, tracing the historic buried stream channel of Town Branch, and creating a podcast tour that describes this forgotten waterway and how it shapes the city’s past and future.” — Kate Orff, landscape architect, principal at SCAPE, author of Toward An Urban Ecology, New York City
16. Get lit. Sometimes it only takes a few spotlights to completely transform a city block. Casting light on a forgotten building can bring a renewed sense of appreciation and community. Boston’s new strategy to light its city hall has enlivened its famous adjacent plaza, even for those who hate the “Brutalist punching-bag” of a building.
17. Turn infrastructure into t-shirts. It’s a simple way to achieve instant street cred. German art group Raubdruckerin uses a “pirate printing” technique that, in essence, screenprints manhole covers, a process that creates graphic T-shirts with a clever connection to different European cities.
18. Fix up your porch. “In a city like New York it’s easy to burrow inside your house and ignore the outside. But I have a neighbor with a stoop who has plants on every step, and a neighbor with a tiny vestibule who has managed to fit in one pretty copper pot by her front door. Both of their houses look brighter and friendlier, like they bothered to accessorize.” — Alexandra Lange, architecture critic, Curbed
19. Don’t despair; depave. Working under the banner “free your soil,” the Portland, Oregon-based group Depave has been kicking asphalt for a decades, turning unused parking and abandoned lots into community gardens and parks. If you discover an opportunity to literally reclaim your streets, the group has a guide on its website to help get started.
20. Make faces. German graphic designer Timm Schneider believes there’s nothing a pair of googly eyes can’t fix. By crafting pairs of eyeballs out of styrofoam and placing them on inanimate objects around his hometown of Gau-Algesheim, he’s adding a bit of Muppet-like merriment to his environment. How can you be in a bad mood when the garbage can is giving you a goofy grin?
21. Go chairbombing. Public benches and seats have been removed in many cities due to fears of loitering, which often has the sad side-effect of discouraging community interaction (cue Forrest Gump). To encourage people to sit, share, and socialize, Brooklyn group DoTank started chairbombing, upcycling discarded pallets into street furniture they set up on empty sidewalks, reclaiming the corner for the public.
22. Design fake signs. The frighteningly official looking faux signage installed byMichael Pederson stops people in their tracks and engages citizens with their cities, as they look around to see if anyone else noticed the caution sign placed next to a sidewalk crack or a rating system for the quietness of a local park. If you’re aiming to make a bigger splash, you could always take it upon yourself to fix an incorrect sign, like artist Richard Ankrom did with a spot-on replica of a Los Angeles freeway sign in 2001.
23. Turn utility boxes into civic canvases. In Philadelphia’s Washington Square West neighborhood, industrial metal utility boxes line the streets. Instead of seeing them as a mandatory, unusable part of the landscape, a group of local art students wrapped them in colorful artwork. This simple, striking beautification project, co-funded by the University of the Arts and Washington Square West Civic Association, turned more than a dozen aesthetic afterthoughts into colorful neighborhood symbols.
24. Turn a freeway overpass into a coworking hub. LA writer Kailee McGee was inspired to change up her work routine while on the road. Or more accurately,over the road. With the help of a handful of friends, McGee set up school desks on the apex of a pedestrian bridge over the 5 Freeway to create a pop-up, open-air coworking hub, complete with Wi-Fi and LaCroix (but of course). Nothing beats a change of perspective.
25. Network your alleys. Reinventing an alley can turn a dark, scary space into a vibrant place. An even better idea is to combine several alleys into a network of public spaces that stretch on for blocks. In Vancouver, the project More Awesome Now, is turning alleys (they call them laneways) into assets with basketball courts, foosball tables and shady cafes. And they’ll all be connected with a wayfinding system using bright paint and eye-catching graphics.
26. Create a fit path. As part of the Market Street Prototyping Festival, a San Francisco celebration of creative urban intervention, one design team decided that activating the sidewalk required a different kind of action. The City Fit Pathproposal, a simple-to-set-up series of exercise stations and prompts, encourages easy and equitable workouts, no gym membership required.
28. Remake an underpass into an art space. Los Angeles has hundreds of pedestrian underpasses originally built to help students get across busy streets. But most of the underpasses have been sealed off to discourage illegal activities. In the Cypress Park neighborhood, coffee shop owner Yancey Quinones fought to reopen a nearby tunnel and fill it with art. The monthly openings spill out into the streets, activating the entire block.
29. Start a parking lot diary. Lexington’s plans for the Town Branch Commons, a linear park system that would thread together different areas downtown, is a game-changer. Part of that new system will run through the Transit Center, a huge, bland parking lot that could be put to better use. To come up with a new use for the space, the city will set up a parking lot diary and let resident feedback determine the shape and function of their new urban park.
30. Open a gallery in your living room. If you think your apartment is cramped, maybe all it needs is a few paintings on the wall: Paul Soto turned his 300 square-foot apartment in Los Angeles into a functioning gallery.
31. Take over an empty storefront. Closed for business doesn’t need to mean closed from the community. Numerous neighborhood groups, artists, and local business groups have turned empty commercial spaces into canvases and economic catalysts. From Project Pop Up, which hosted an array of displays and shops in abandoned Pittsburgh Storefronts (some of which have become permanent tenants) to initiatives such as Chashama and SmartSpaces in New York, creatives are breathing new life into these underutilized spaces.
At Your Parks
32. Fix up your local park. Does barely functional equipment take the fun out of your local playground? Would new basketball courts or equipment make the park next door more enticing? To help guide those seeking to get their public parks in tip-top shape, the Center for Urban Pedagogy created a guide for building coalitions, activating the community, and petitioning local government for change. It’s New York-centric, but the lessons can be applied everywhere.
33. Build a pop-up playground. “Explode the static notion of the playground. No city resident is too old to play, and no city space is too small to become a playscape, even if just for a few hours. Gather loose parts (wood scraps, old tires, cardboard boxes, stones) and sponsor a session of Pop-Up Adventure Play. When people of all shapes, sizes and colors come together to play in unexpected ways, communities grow stronger.” — Kate Tooke, Sasaki Associates
34. Start an urban orchard. This is more of a long-term solution to supporting parks and local agriculture. But isn’t the idyllic vision of sitting under an apple tree a few blocks from your apartment worth the wait? The Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP) will literally take root in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood, in a lot adjacent to one of the area’s main intersections. The planters/planners also have plenty of additional fruit trees growing in a nursery, ready to be spread, Johnny Appleseed-style, to different sites across Chicago.
36. Plan a pop-up dog park. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a place for dogs to run free, that’s nothing that a few yards of temporary fencing can’t fix. A pop-up dog park that’s become part of a weekly Sacramento farmers market became so popular it inspired a permanent park for pooches to be built nearby.
37. Ask kids to help design their own playgrounds. Participatory design shouldn’t have an age limit. Involving children in the creative process for local parks and playgrounds not only guarantees the end results will be more engaging to the end user, but it fosters an early appreciation for design. Firms such as Public Workshop are renowned for working with a much younger set of client when making playspaces a reality.
38. Turn a parking space into a park. Bustling streets can do much more than handle automobile traffic. That’s the idea behind Park(ing) Day, a worldwide event that encourage artists and designers to turn metered parking spots into temporary community installations. The concept has even become city policy; the Pavement to Park program allows sponsors in San Francisco to test similar projects and turn some into permanent public spaces, as does the People Street initiative in LA.
Along Your Route
39. Slow down. Driving just 5 mph slower might save someone’s life. A famous 2011 AAA study looked at 422 crashes involving pedestrians and determined that a person is twice as likely to die if they’re struck by a car traveling at 30 mph instead of 25 mph. Better yet, petition your city to implement a “20 is plenty” zone for dense urban areas—98 percent of pedestrians hit at that rate of speed will live.
41. Map a 40-minute walking circle around your house. Measure and draw a two-mile radius circle around your house to determine your “walkshed,” the places you can easily walk. You’ll realize how many local amenities are closer than you think—most people can walk two miles in about 40 minutes—and you’ll be more likely to hoof it and support local businesses.
42. Don’t forget the suburbs when building bike lanes. Making your neighborhood safe for cycling is important, but shifting suburban commutes can make a massive difference in safety and larger transportation patterns. Initiatives like the Family Friendly Bikeways program in Chicago help connect riders across local cities and towns.
43. Paddle to work. Bikeshare and ride share have become commonplace. But paddling to work is another thing entirely. A recently announced kayak share concept in Minneapolis would let commuters ride the Mississippi, traveling between two stations on the mighty river. Since the boat docks would be connected to the city bikeshare system, it suggests a future where both modes of transportation could be part of your morning ride to work.
44. Organize a local car-free day. Every September 22 (that’s today!) cities around the world participate in a global Car-Free Day, showcasing the possibilities of a more progressive commute and the advantages of walkable streets and biking infrastructure. It’s not too late to join the annual celebration this year—leave your car at work and walk home!—then start planning for 2017.
45. Paint a pop-up bike lane. Rather than talk about the impact of new bike lanes on the Macon, Georgia, transportation network Better Block went ahead and brought the vision to life with the help of 498 cans of paint (and support from the city and the Knight Foundation). The pop-up paint job, which linked together existing bike lanes, may be a precursor to expanding the city’s cycling infrastructure.
46. Take the bus. “Get lost in your city. Often times we avoid certain areas or simply stay within our comfort zone, but the true city dweller should attempt to reach all areas of the place they call home. You’ll be surprised to find that not everything you read—both positive and negative—is true.” — Germane Barnes,architect, designer, and city planner, Opa-Locka, Florida
47. Obey traffic laws. Cars that swerve into bike lanes or don’t watch out for two-wheeled commuters definitely deserve to be called out and ticketed. Bikers who ignore rules don’t help the cause for better bike lanes and better enforcement. Pedestrians should pay attention while crossing busy streets. Everyone: Follow the rules of the road.
48. Bicycle to new parts of your city. Slow Roll, a community bike ride series that started in Detroit, gathers riders to interact and explore new parts of the city, promoting riding in new neighborhoods, as well as expansions of bike lanes and bikeshare systems into underserved areas.
49. Form a bicycle-friendly district. The city of Long Beach, California didn’t just want to encourage cyclists to frequent local stores and restaurants, it wanted to prove that people on bikes were good for small businesses. The bike-friendly business districts provide amenities for two-wheeled patrons like racks and discounts, and serve as hubs for the city’s growing bike network.
51. Fix up your bus stop. Is there a more bland and boring seat than a typical urban bus stop, a functional, feckless box of plastic? These key parts of urban infrastructure desperately need an upgrade; community groups met that call to action with sharp redesigns, from Bus Stop Moves in Cleveland, which covers station walls with fitness instructions, or Ride, Rally, Ride in Memphis, which transforms transit stops into cycling hubs.
52. Build your own bridge. Nobody is suggesting that you try to one-up Robert Moses. But even a small span can make a difference. New York artist (and chief engineer) Jason Eppink often walked beneath the leaky Hell Gate Bridge Viaduct which flooded the sidewalk with a large puddle of dirty water. His satirical remedy, the Astoria Scum River Bridge, a miniature elevated wooden walkway, earned plaudits from locals, and eventually shamed the bridge owners into fixing the leaky pipes.
53. Host a transportation hackathon. Pedaling meets prototyping at the worldwide innovation workshop Cyclehack, which gathers designers and riders in cities around the globe to build and test new concepts for a better bike tech.Transportation Camp is an annual “unconference” for tackling tough transit problems.
54. Just ride a bike. Yes, riding a bike really can save the world. According to a2015 study by the University of California at Davis, if 14 percent of all urban trips worldwide were taken on bicycle, the planet would be able to reduce emissions dramatically enough to achieve the Paris climate goals. That seems especially feasible when you consider that half of all urban trips are a very bikeable six miles or less.
55. Organize a park-and-pedal. David Montague, the owner of a Boston company that makes foldable bicycles, wanted to encourage cycling in an area where many faced long commutes, and hit upon an ingenious hybrid solution: organize a cycling-based version of the park and ride systems utilized by city commuters. His Park&Pedal system, which utilizes existing parking lots and trails to encourages people to split their commute between biking and driving, now includes 19 lots around the Boston area.
56. Swim your local waterways. Urban rivers, lakes, and harbors are being revitalized at an astounding rate. Organizing events where people can use waterways for recreation—even for one day!—helps visualize change. In Boston, the annual swimming events sponsored by the Charles River Swimming Club have bolstered restoration efforts for the once-polluted, now-swimmable river.
With Your Neighbors
57. Organize a bar crawl. Phoenix’s Meet Me Downtown functions as a weekly after-work mixer as well as a fitness event that gets people out on the streets and into local bars and restaurants. A variety of routes send participants into new neighborhoods and participating businesses offer deals for those who walk or run.
58. Bake some pies. Small businesses struggled to stay open in the economically depressed downtown of Greensboro, Alabama. PieLab started as a pop-up shop to create a neutral space for food, community, and conversation, and, working with a local housing nonprofit, quickly evolved into a job-training center and full-service restaurant that all Main Streets need.
59. Get to know your neighbors. “We bring the trash cans out every Monday for our 85-year old neighbor and keep an eye out for him generally. We swap our lemons for another neighbor’s superior kale. My husband bartered with our house painter neighbor: he designed the painter’s website and the painter painted our house! We are on a first-name basis with all the store owners in our little ‘downtown,’ from bakery to bookstore. Our neighborhood has a Yahoo group—so old school—and through it I’ve found my daughter’s preschool, a new dog walker, numerous babysitters and first learned about the hood’s fabulous 4th of July parade. A neighborhood feels pretty special when we know we’re all looking out for each other.” — Allison Arieff, editorial director, SPUR
60. Provide dignity. Extend basic services to help your city’s most marginalized residents feel more welcome. Mobile showers and easily accessible public restrooms give people a moment of privacy and peace.
61. Start a YIMBY group. Across the country, pro-development, pro-housing fans are organizing against NIMBYs with unified YIMBY—that’s “Yes In My Backyard”—movements. This year the first national YIMBY conference was held in Boulder.
62. Launch an oral history project.From Studs Terkel to StoryCorps, there’s a rich tradition of storytelling as a time capsule of modern life. Documenting your neighbors’s stories preserves the fabric and history of a neighborhood, giving context to why this place and its people matters.
63. Don’t eat so much meat. A 2016 Oxford University study showed reducing the amount of meat in Western diets by half could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save over $31 trillion (trillion, with a T) in healthcare costs. The #MeatlessMonday movement has gotten governments and schools all over the world pledging to stick to veggies one day of the week. (If you already don’t eat meat the rest of the days of the week, you’re ahead of the game.)
64. Volunteer. There are dozens of groups in your neighborhood doing their part to make your city a better place. Spend a few hours pitching in.
65. Share your idea with your neighbors. “Often, your neighbors need a little help figuring out how to make their ideas happen, and you can easily share suggestions or donate money on Neighborland. There is real power in sharing our ideas openly, connecting with others who share the same desire, and working together to make great ideas happen, like this streetscape improvement for the Mission District of San Francisco.” — Dan Parham, founder, Neighborland
Check out the the photo credit!
Jamaica Plain residents belly up to a homemade snow barhttp://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/02/23/jamaica-plain-residents-belly-homemade-snow-bar/INrVTLwQjPZf1sJD685XgI/story.html?event=event25 … via @BostonGlobe
Jamaica Plain residents belly up to a homemade snow bar – The Boston Globe
Chris Haynes used a day off work to hollow out an outdoor cocktail lounge from the snow in his yard.
66. Turn snow piles into sidewalk ice bars. Last winter, Boston architect Chris Haynes and his wife Kristy Nardone turned #Snowmageddon into happy hour by carving a bar out of the massive mounds of snow accumulated on their block. Inspired by the Quebec Ice Hotel, their subzero watering hole boasted Bluetooth speakers, lighting, and the finest Moscow Mules (no word on whether the ice was hand-carved).
67. Talk to someone for 10 minutes. In Charlotte, the Take 10 project recruits city workers to function as “ambassadors” who engage in simple, direct engagement with residents, asking them what they like about their city and their ideas to make it better. Crowdsourcing at its finest, the initiative also give people a direct, personal connection with the municipal employees that make their hometown work.
68. Set the table for community conversation. After breaking bread with someone, it’s hard to consider them a stranger. That’s the philosophy that informedThe Longest Table, a 400-person feast put together by community groups in Tallahassee, Florida, last year to break down social barriers and get neighbors talking to each other. After a successful launch last October, the group held a series of 100 smaller dinners across the city earlier this summer.
69. Stage a scene. The public pranks of Improv Everywhere might seem like frivolous fodder for viral videos. But there’s something about witnessing a spectacle that can bring people together like nothing else. Their “No Pants Subway Ride,” which started in New York in 2002—and is exactly what it sounds like—has become an annual tradition in dozens of cities.
70. Take a person experiencing homelessness out for lunch. “Listen to their story. A lot of people just want to be heard or seen as human. I think it would be emotionally very hard to be ignored or overlooked the way our community is in San Francisco. How did they lose their housing? It’s often unexpected. San Francisco’s homeless population is diverse and ever-changing. Some people lose their housing because they went through a medical bankruptcy after a partner became terminally ill. Some are veterans who fought in our wars. It’s always interesting, and then you start to understand the sheer scale of the problem and how difficult it is to keep people housed in this city, with all of their idiosyncratic financial or medical needs.” — Kim-Mai Cutler, columnist at Techcrunch
71. Become a tour guide for your neighborhood. You don’t have to live in a famous zip code to show people around. Using Vayable, you can create and share guided tours of the hidden gems in your neighborhood, or discover a unique experience nearby that allow you to become a tourist in your own city.
72. Join a time bank. Think of a time bank like a community ATM where you can deposit and withdraw “hours” of skills like cash. If there’s not one near you, the documentary Time as Money highlights several successful programs around the world and provides inspiring resources.
In Your Community
73. Create a community guide to tactical urbanism. Turning DIY projects into long-term additions can feel like a regulatory and zoning obstacle course. Officials in Burlington, Vermont, mindful of their citizen’s commitment to community projects, drafted a Tactical Urbanism and Demonstration Projects Guide, making it easier to launch neighborhood projects or organize small-scale interventions, and giving active citizens a green light to experiment.
74. Learn to give a great presentation. Community improvements always need ace advocates, and in addition to taking the time to listen to your neighbors, becoming a better speaker can help you spread the word and get local government on your side. The Neighborhood Design Center has a great guide.
75. Create community murals, and make preserving them a priority.Public art can illuminate a street, but protecting the work over time can truly define a neighborhood and foster creativity and talent. Philadelphia’s iconic Mural Arts Program, which started in 1984 and turned the city into a street art mecca, includes a restoration initiatives, to make sure creative expression is prized and protected.
76. Open a creative incubator. The community nonprofit CreateHere opened a space on a blighted Chattanooga street with a simple goal to improve the neighborhood. Over the course of five years, CreateHere helped dozens of artists relocate to Chattanooga, stimulating an estimated $4 million in local real estate investments and launching 300 small businesses.
77. Become a 311 vigilante. Civic reporting apps powered by SeeClickFix have gamified urban improvement in hundreds of U.S. cities—but they rely on people filing reports to work. Ann Arbor resident Rebecca Arends was a SeeClickFix superuser who had reported over 160 issues when she became frustrated by how long it took the city to respond to graffiti complaints. Using data from the app to identify the most vulnerable buildings, she coordinated an effort with the city to cover tags with murals—even enlisting some of the taggers to help paint walls.
78. Smile, particularly at strangers. “If you are feeling Southern enough, actually speak. It instantly makes the world a better place.” — Carol Coletta, senior fellow with The Kresge Foundation’s American Cities Practice
79. Screen a movie outdoors. An impromptu movie night isn’t as hard to organize as it may sound. From a small gathering with neighbors to a larger, site-specific, artistic spectacular, cinema can expand horizons and bring people together.This guide on how to set up your own screening offers tips on how to host your owns screening, whether it’s on an actual screen or the side of a building.
80. Start a public mapping project. If action follows knowledge, than getting good data about your neighborhood can be the first step toward improvement. Nonprofits such as Public Lab offer the advice and knowledge needed to create citizen-made maps, or build DIY sensors to collect key data points such as pollution levels, which can help inform larger public debates about the environment.
81. Put your treasures where the public can see them. The need for sculptures and installations extends far beyond major parks, central squares, and high-trafficked tourist areas. Illuminating the off-the-beaten-path places with high-profile public art, such as the Picasso statue found amid New York University student housing, or Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons mural, set amid the Exelon plaza in Chicago’s Loop, give the impression that wonders may hide around any city corner.
82. Just show up. “Most public zoning and development meetings are dominated by people who have a vested interest in the project. When a citizen shows up without a fish to fry, and expresses an opinion for the good of all, it’s a breath of fresh air.” — Jeff Speck, author, Walkable City
83. Launch a community emergency hub. It’s not the most ideal circumstances under which to meet your neighbors, but knowing you have a local support network in place is critical for a crisis. Emergency hubs provide a centralized meeting place and a strategy that allows neighborhoods to remain self-sufficient in the days or weeks after natural disasters. In Seattle there are about 50 groups specifically organized for such events.
84. Create a swimming pool from a dumpster. This ain’t no country club, it’s a simple, quick urban intervention that turns a neighborhood gathering into an impromptu pool party. Simple, down-and-dirty DIY swimming holes can make all the difference on a summer day. It’s highly recommended you don’t use a fire hydrant as a water source, however, since it may draw the attention and ire of city officials.
85. Reflect and connect with your neighbors. “Create an anonymous prompt in public space using simple tools like chalkboard paint, stencils, and chalk.” —Candy Chang, Before I Die, New Orleans
86. Brainstorm a community vision. Community planning discussions benefit from some levity, some understanding, and a lot of visual aids. The St. Paul, Minnesota-based Friendly Streets Initiative holds community visioning events that display large images of potential neighborhood improvements, asking neighbors to vote for their favorites via Post-It. It’s a quick, effective, and entertaining way to take the temperature of the neighborhood.
87. Shop local. It’s simple, straightforward, and an easy addition to your routine that supports local businesses, provides community jobs, and reduces transportation costs and carbon emissions.
88. Imagine housing in impossible places. “I love that in Indianapolis, near their new transit center, they looked at a traffic lane as they were redeveloping, and realized they didn’t need it. So they put out an RFP for a developer to turn it into housing. Ironically the microhousing that was created is bolted onto a parking garage—which will be ultimately redeveloped, I would hope.” — Gabe Klein, founder, CityFi
89. Help build a better shelter. Sometimes, the best ways to help build your community is help others who are feeling apart and alone. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, along with architect Corrie Rosen, created a series of guidelines, called Building Dignity, to help construct more comforting and effective shelters for victims of domestic violence, including soliciting donations from the community, such as asking interior decorators to “adopt” a room, and asking a local steel artist to create artful window displays that projected both strength, security, and beauty. The project will be recognized at an upcoming exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum.
90. Start a mobile produce market. Running a new route through the city’s food deserts, a decommissioned Chicago Transit Authority bus now moves market-fresh produce, not riders. The Fresh Moves project helps underserved neighborhoods get access to the same farmer’s market finds sold in other parts of the city.
91. Set up neighborhood Wi-Fi. In a digital world, neighborhoods without strong wireless connections effectively lose out on other important network connections, ones that can help provide jobs, opportunity, and education. In the Rod Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, an often isolated pocket of the borough, a local non-profit initiative decided to bridge that gap by building its own mesh wireless network, creating a tool for local communication, and a platform for community development.
92. Come together to combat climate change. Villagers in the rural English town of Ashton Hayes didn’t need government help, special technology, or some special funding grant to fight climate change. Over the last decade, neighbors there have achieved a 24 percent reduction in emissions by collaborating and changing everyday behaviors, sharing tips on weatherproofing and reducing energy usage. The grassroots, no-drama effort had earned the town a place in the media spotlightby building community around a shared effort.
93. Fall in love. “I think if we love the places we live, we’ll make better decisions about them. Even in communities that are lacking, we can at least love the way the morning light hits the trees or any little thing. And with a little space for love to grow, we can transform our own expectations, inspire others to do the same, and over time, make real changes to improve the world around us.” — Ryan Gravel, founder of Sixpitch and the originator of the Atlanta Beltline
94. Write an op-ed. If you’ve got a good idea, share it. If you want to change your neighborhood, start building a coalition. Explain your plans and help build grassroots support.
95. Turn old bridges into something beautiful. Post-industrial sites pockmark many major cities, remnants of old industries that often fall into disrepair. Trust a Rust Belt city to find a way to make this infrastructure beautiful. The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC) hosted a pop-up project for a vacant covered bridge, showcasing new uses for the old crossing. It was so successful, that the city embarked on an official planning process to renovate and reuse the steel structure.
96. Plant a community garden. Rolling up your sleeves and digging in the soil offers a great way to meet neighbors and collaboratively add something to your neighborhood. To get started, the American Community Gardening Associationoffers a set of resources and recommendations on how to manage and maintain a public patch.
97. Create a crowdfunding campaign. While it’s possible to get burned occasionally when the hype of Kickstarter or Indiegogo meet the realities of city planning, not every crowdfunding platform is created equal when it comes to changing cities. In the UK, Spacehive, a site launched in 2011 by a London architecture writer, provides extra transparency that helps civic ideas get off the drawing board. It’s helped fund $7.4 million worth of projects, and even hosted campaigns sponsored by the Mayor of London. In the U.S., Ioby has raised over $2.7 million for neighborhood projects.
98. Map your public produce. After noticing how many figs hanging over property lines remained unplucked, Fallen Fruit started making maps to help neighbors discover unharvested edibles growing on sidewalks and alleys. For bumper crops, Food Forward will show up and pick unwanted fruit, distributing it to those in need.
99. Think bigger. “I think the best small thing we can do for our neighborhoods is educate ourselves on the kind of huge changes American cities need to pursue to build their way out of the terrible housing crises most prosperous cities face, divest themselves of auto-dependent infrastructure, improve access to education and job re-training, ruggedize themselves for a changing climate and drop their greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the next couple decades. Almost everything else is window dressing.” — Alex Steffen, writer, speaker, planetary futurist, The Heroic Future
100. Throw an amazing block party. Don’t forget the ice cream.
101. Vote. No excuses.
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