Bottom Up approaches to small scale public realm in global cities
Published: 3 Oct 2017
Alpa Depani, an architect and artist based in London, has recently returned from a six-week research trip to New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong studying community driven public realm in densely populated cities. Alpa’s travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship Award, in partnership with the British Council.
Alpa wanted to visit initiatives which support the view that good public space is not merely a decorative trimming to urban development, but rather an intrinsic element that should be promoted and implemented as such, to determine what lessons can be learnt for London.
The three cities Alpa visited are, like London, geographically constrained metropoles where development is primarily commercially driven, meaning most new public realm is implemented top down. Alpa’s research, however, was concerned with community driven, or bottom up spaces, with their implied emphasis on the situational, the quotidian, the local, and their manner of weaving into the existing fabric of the city.
In each of the three cities, Alpa visited a range of projects and met with designers, policy makers, academics and community groups to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the provision of public space. During her Fellowship, Alpa also reflected on the social and spatial uses of public realm through her own observation, resulting in a considerable cache of writings, photographs, drawings, maps and sound recordings.
Highlights of Alpa’s Fellowship included visiting the 78th Street Play Street in Jackson Heights, New York. Alpa learned how the efforts of an active community have created a successful plaza in a neighbourhood previously lacking in public realm. In Tokyo Alpa met with play workers who organise regular play events in the grounds of a former Samurai house, transforming the meaning of the space and encouraging its use as a community asset. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong Alpa learned how the staff and students of the Chinese University are working with communities and authorities to preserve the old ladder streets of Hong Kong Island, which are historic elements of the city’s common space.
“This Fellowship was instrumental in learning first-hand about strategies for creating good community public realm; as an architect, it was humbling to learn that these are often less to do with design and more to do with engagement and partnerships. In particular, I learned how important programming – of one-off and regular events – is for generating or consolidating interest, garnering support and changing perceptions about how a space can be used” -Alpa Depani
Now back in the UK, Alpa plans to share her findings through a report, articles, talks, and an exhibition, as well as through her teaching at Brighton University and The Cass, London Metropolitan University. She is also in conversation with her local authority and a social enterprise about public realm projects in her neighbourhood.
Notes to Editors
The British Council
The British Council's Architecture, Design, Fashion (ADF) department creates links between designers and cultural institutions around the world, through a diverse range of projects across the three disciplines. Our partnership enables Design Fellows to apply to ADF for a follow up grant to further the outcomes of their Churchill Fellowship.