18 de agosto de 2011Arte, Medios, Sala de prensa, Sociedad Civil, Tijuana

Interactive Urban Planning in Camino Verde

On August 5th and 6th I facilitated a high-energy, successful community visioning activity for Camino Verde, a colonia in Tijuana organized by Reacciona Tijuana. This project started as collaboration between Giacomo Castagnola, architect/artist and myself as part of an urban planning art exhibition being organized in October for the Museum of Latin American Art.

I wanted Giacomo to experience the new method of community engagement for urban planning I developed. Giacomo, based in Tijuana had many colleagues working in the realm of art and social change.  He identified Gabriela Posada del Real as a partner and she identified the project. The Tijuana colonias are an ideal venue to implement this hands on method of community engagement.

Garbriela identified Camino Verde as the project site because she is currently working there with Luis Garzón, an artist painting murals houses and fences. Gabriela also has a strong relationship with the women of this community.  Camio Verde is an informal neighborhood or colonia in Tijuana that developed along a dry creek similar to LA’s Arroyo Seco.  This creek forms a valley. On both sides of the valley homes and small business have developed along the hillsides.  The roads and houses have developed organically embracing the topography shaping a unique landscape.

In the middle of the informal development is the dry river\bed, which creates a strong sense of place in the community since it proves both physical and visual open space. The major road runs along the riverbed making it a transportation hub with also has bus services. Small stores are located along this road, which on weekends serves as a swap meet.

The creek has been canalized with concrete similar to the LA River. Garbage and graffiti fill the concrete channel, however many children play in it as well since it provides the only centrally located, flat open space in the hilly landscape. The Tijuana city officials want to cover the concrete riverbed and create a much needed park and open space.

Our process was three fold:  engage the community in the urban planning process, hear their ideas about improving the community, and teach them about city planning. Facilitating a workshop, and creating an interactive model of the site achieved this.  We broke down the activities between the different days as an overall strategy to achieve our goals.  Friday’s workshop was targeted to the individual to develop and expressed their vision for an ideal community.  While Saturday’s interactive model was a collective activity where everyone could share his or her ideas on a site model.  This model would be constantly changing as people left their mark.

Workshop

Our first workshop took place on Friday afternoon. It started at 3:00 and ended around 6:00 p.m.  It took place outside on a small concrete soccer field adjacent to the riverbed. The women of the community set up tables, chairs and tarps attached to fences on either side for shade.  Four tables were set up in a form of a square. Two tables were placed in the middle of the square with the building materials placed on it for easy access. Each participant was given a sheet of color construction paper.

Over forty people participated in the workshop. They were mainly women, youth, and children of Camino Verde. Their ages ranged from six to seventy years.

The goal of the first workshop was to allow for community members to develop and create their own ideal city or neighborhood in twenty minutesbased on their personal knowledge, experiences, and needs. This time allowed participants to self-reflect by investigating the environment.

This creative method turned the community into a canvas.

Using a medley of recycled, vibrant materials, and colored construction paper participants used their hands and minds to build their ideal space.

After a few minutes of introduction and a very lose criteria, (there were nomaps, pictures, scale, and no wrong or right answers) the exercise began.

The youth eagerly got up and scrambled around the two tables to find their materials. The adults followed. The thousands of colorful, tactile, objects were like candy and triggered the participant’s emotional connections to the environment. By using non-represent objects people were forced to be creative. Green yarn becomes grass, blue poker chips become the ocean, and hair rollers become apartments or office buildings.

By using their hands to build participant are allowed to investigate their relationship with the built environment. They can freely move objects to discover relations between activities and create small vignettes of urban life. Participants gain the greatest satisfaction from this process because they were able to translate memories, visions, and ideas from their mind into a physical form. Participants have an epiphany because they learn what creates their ideal space.

When they completed the design challenge they had one minute to present their individual solutions to the group. We went from table to table with a speaker to head each idea created. For the youth the excerise was about playing. They aproach their models as if they were playing a game so it was easy for them to engage and biuld while it was a bit more difficult for senior citizens.

After each one presented, each table was tasked to present ceate one city using all the best ideas from each individual.  They were also to name the new city.

 

Day Two Camino Verde Interactive Model

On Saturday morning from 11:00 to 2:00 we held a interactive model building activity. Giacomo and myself with the help of other created a conceptural model of the Camino Verde. The model was a thought provoking, diorama of the community. The model was designed for the viewer to ponder, explore, and participate in creating a vision for the community’s future.

We arrived an hour before the activity began to built a eighteen foot long by thirty inch model of the community. Giacomo and myself designed the Camino Verde interactive model as conceptual representation of this place that captured its landscape and urban form. The model was constructed from cardboard and foam core, and glue with the help of volunteers.

The dry river bed was in the center of the cardboard model.  This helped the residents idenify their community.  The goal for the model was the residents would be able to bring their ideas from the prevouse workshop and place it in Camino Verde.

The Camino Verde interactive model was placed adjacent to the dry riverbed on the same spot we facilitated the workshops.  Again the women of the community set up tables, tents, and a tarp for shade.

Many people walking on the street and shopping at the stalls saw the model. This was the perfect venue for participants to explore the community’s urban landscape

The installation also created an intimate scale that balanced out the cavernous open space of the valley. This set the stage for participants to discover what creates the place in they live. The installation enacted the riverbed like any great public space where there was room for active and passive participation. People created their worlds while others watched the phenomena.

The hundreds of small, vibrant materials helped the residents visualize their community. Participants observed the miniature vibrant landscape for a few minutes and than they began to read the model as a map. They would begin to orientate themselves on the model/map with the help of the river. Once participants understood the diorama they began to interact with it and rearranged the building and landscape pieces on the model.

From this point on the viewer becomes the participant and projects themselves into the model. By the participants projecting their memories by touching and moving the small buildings on the model they began to investigate various urban forms that creates Camino Verde. They develop, and sculpture their own ideas about its physical nature.

The installation was a transformative experience for the inhabitants of Camino Verde. They received the diorama with great enthusiasm.  People contemplated the model and milled around it. They smiled, laughed and spoke to strangers about urban planning issues.  They stayed any where from twenty minutes to a few hours.

Every one brought their personal baggage to the diorama. Boys took risked and built tall, precarious towers or water parks. Women were the most enthusiastic because many of them never have this opportunity to build and create cities.  Many women thought about home and what that means to them by examining forms, shapes and colors.

Participants walked away from the model with a sense of accomplishment, hope, and empowerment. As peopled played –they dabbled, moved a few things around, talked about how cool it would be if only…. and then they moved some more things, see something new take shape, begin to have real conversations about re-envisioning the cities (“Wouldn’t it be great if…”)…. and finally, they and walk away realizing how empowering it is to “play” with these movable pieces, how truly dynamic and plastic (in the sense of changeable/adaptable) cities are, and how much potential this kind of exercise has for truly reinventing our cities.

 

 

 

Note by:

JAMES ROJAS

Urban Planner, Community Activist, Founder at Latino Urban Forum

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