Redesign_DC, One Creative Exchange at a Time?

by May 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm 1,378 0

Borderstan, Redesign DC, Borderstan, Luis Gomez Photos

Clockwise from top left: Corbin Levi, Daniel Gruen and Peter Corbett were part of the Redesign DC forum Monday night at Cobalt. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Jana Petersen

What happens when you create a forum for people to discuss urban development in our D.C. neighborhood? Well, you’d expect an eclectic group of varying backgrounds – from entrepreneurs, invested community members, professors and bicycle fanatics to farmers’ market junkies, graphic designers and avid Greater Greater Washington readers.

Parley, a creative collaborative and “loose” group of designers, artists, thinkers and activists who share an interest in making the District “more awesome,” hosted Redesign_DC with the goal of bringing people together to discuss D.C.’s challenges and how we as community-members can address these challenges. None of us is as strong as all of us, especially when it comes to creative thinking and idea-sharing …

With that in mind, mission accomplished. In the dimly lit third-floor space of Cobalt (17th and R NW), a group of about 30 people gathered Monday night at 8 pm — listeners and speakers alike — who were just as eager to share their passions and careers in this space as they were to hear what others are doing. Parley was careful to give each speaker 10 minutes only to blitz the audience with graphics, video, or a PowerPoint presentation of one design challenge or one facet of urban development.

The Takeaways

Though I did not leave with a panacea for D.C.’s development woes — nor a final verdict around the Metro redesign, sad to report – I did leave with some intriguing insights and ideas.

Urban Agriculture and Food. Hydroponic agriculture and home grown (literally) herb gardens. As speaker Kirk Wilbur pointed out, amidst the rising national trend of obesity and diabetes, access to fresh ingredients and herbs has become ever more important – especially in areas where there might not be easy access to farmers markets, commonly known as “food deserts.”

Though the Borderstan area may not qualify as such, the importance of home grown food in cities remains important – and beyond the initial investment, might even be the long-term economical choice. Wilbur shared the way the services and supplies he offers through his store Urban Sustainable addresses the problem.

Urban Environments and Design. What about the way other cities around the world have dictated the way people relate to their urban environment? Can we spot the same potential or possibility in DC? Corwin Levi, D.C. artist, walked the audience through what one Scandinavian city, Stockholm, has done to inflect this behavior.

As Levi showed in this video, by changing the features of the stairs in one of its Metro stations (to be more than a sweat-inducing strain on your quads), the city was able to change the way people related to that space; anyone up for a walk to street-level to the tune of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” or “Ninth Symphony”?

More importantly, the video showed that many people were choosing to take the stairs as opposed to the escalators because of this feature. That said, 188 feet is still a long way up from the base of the DuPont Metro stop -so a change at the Metro stop might be a stretch, but can be a consideration for other staircases and structures…

What’s Next?

As one of the speakers Philip Auerswald pointed out, though an increasingly complex society brings with it increasingly difficult challenges, the solutions created to address those issues become incrementally more rewarding and perfect. Often, I find that the first step to addressing such seemingly insurmountable and overwhelming challenges is open discussion and creative forums, like Redesign_DC.

Though the issues confronting D.C.’s development may not have been fully resolved in one-night (or they wouldn’t have been challenges worth discussing, right?!), such dynamic discussion with folks of varying interests and backgrounds is certainly a first-step in understanding how we all may be better equipped to look at comprehensive and creative solutions.

After all, isn’t the benefit of being in a free-market and democratic society the ability to cross-pollinate and share our ideas and struggles with one another?

Parley will be hosting a similar event in late July, so be on the lookout for that date / location. More to come!

Session Presenters

For reference, please see a full list of speakers and organizations below from Monday night’s event:

  • Peter Corbett is founder of iStrategyLabsand co-creator of Apps for Democracy. He’ll bring you in on how he and his many collaborators are creating new ways to harness the power of citizens to build Democracy 2.0.
  • Corwin Levi is a dexterous and resourceful DC artistwhose work evokes the bright innocence of childhood, the darker corners of existence, and the connections between them both.
  • Dan Gruen is a professional in environmental compliance who will show you what citizens can do to promote sustainable agriculture and the positive impact it has on our communities.
  • Kirk Wilbur works with Urban Sustainable, an agricultural supply store and knowledge base that helps DC residents get their hands dirty to build a healthier and more sustainable District.
  • Philip Auerswald is a professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy, an associate at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy. He’s going to tell you about The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation on the National Mall.
  • Matt Johnson is assistant editor of Greater Greater Washington, the go-to blog for urban planning and transportation in the DC metro area. He’ll discuss the site’s recent contest to redesign the iconic Metro map to accommodate upcoming additions to the Metro system.
  • Adrian Loving is a multidisciplinary designer, curator and acclaimed DJ, formerly of Dissident Design, who works to foster collaborations between emergent DC artists and organizations.
  • Nikolas Schiller is part cartographer, part digital artist, part historian, part blogger and part political activist. He’ll be on hand to tell you about the importance of knowing where you are.


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