Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Art in Odd Places Does Urban Design Week

Last Week, Art in Odd Places participated in the first annual Urban Design Week festival, organized by the Institute for Urban Design. Urban Design Week was created as a way to engage New Yorkers in issues relating to the public realm and to give the public a voice in re-imagining their own communities. The folks at the Institute for Urban Design structured this exchange through workshops and events across the five boroughs, and an open-call design competition called By the City/For the City, which asked designers to take ideas submitted by hundreds of New Yorkers, define a site, and design a response to public concern to make the city a more livable and user-friendly place.

Working in partnership with the interdisciplinary gallery and reading room Proteus Gowanus, our gracious hosts, we organized the panel discussion Rise and Fall: Contemporary Nautical Practice on the Gowanus Canal.

The lively discussion centered on artists and activists who take the NYC waterways as their creative point of departure, working with boat building and the creation of other watercrafts as an alternative means to reclaim our city’s complex archipelago as viable public space. The conversation was moderated by Jeff Stark, editor of Nonsense NYC, a popular weekly email newsletter listing quirky and independent parties, events, and art happenings, and included a dynamic group of artists and activists: Ludger K. Balan, Dylan Gauthier, Constance Hockaday, Adam Katzman and AiOP veteran, Tim Thyzel.

Of particular interest in this dialog was EPA Superfund site, the Gowanus Canal.

Several proposals for Urban Design Week’s By the City/For the City competition dealt with the concern over how the Gowanus area should be developed (they can be viewed on the UDW website here), and highlighted a shared belief in the potential for the canal to be transformed into something that knits the area together, rather than acting as a barrier.

The panel addressed this concern and more from the vantage point of their own creative endeavors, ranging from the creation of alternative economies, defining the artist’s responsibility to a local community through their work, how the Superfund designation has affected activity on the canal, and what relationship, if any, should grow between artists and real estate developers. We saw passionate interest on this last point from both the panel and the audience, prompting the question of whether this site should be developed at all, and if urban decay was in fact a valuable state to maintain in the face of all of the gentrification taking place across the city, and specifically in Brooklyn.

Thanks to all of those who came out and made this such a meaningful and productive conversation!

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