Harlemites Call for Social Spaces
Harlem is well-known for its strong sense of community, but its physical landscape is divided by imposing features from towering housing projects to the elevated commuter rail line along Park Avenue. Many Harlemites submitted ideas to By the City / For the City for knitting the neighborhood more tightly together by creating public spaces geared toward building up the existing community and involving its current residents—an especially important challenge at a time when Harlem is changing so quickly.
Ness in Spanish Harlem wishes that the “Taino Towers had parks that were actually playable in.” Designing functional green space for public housing would provide refuge for kids and adults alike. Similarly, Stanley in Sugar Hill would like to “break down the boundaries of superblock housing with community programming,” which could perhaps be achieved by accessible and engaging parks with frequent programming. Obviously this would be a smaller ordeal than the events at a place like Bryant Park, but the idea can be scaled to match, and would provide ideal community interaction space: Steve in Harlem suggests a “graffiti park” for artists to implement approved art on a rotating basis, and Sheryl hopes for one wall of an abandoned building to be transformed into a movie screen overlooking a kept field.
The Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center is a successful example of how multipurpose social space can be used to strengthen and expand the public realm, offering events targeted across age groups and spanning a wide variety of interests. Danielle in East Harlem would take this space a step further, instituting “a coworking space in East Harlem for innovation, sustainability, poverty alleviation, social justice and urban renewal.” Coworking spaces have been popping up all over New York, and with the right funding a space dedicated to community action and education of those types could be extremely successful - getting inspired and motivated Harlem residents together in the work place could be an opportunity for real, in-person social networking and could increase community connectivity.
There were also a number of original ideas for small venues of artistic exhibition or social engagement. Andrew from Hamilton Heights suggested “pop up food cafes,” which would “provide community access to fresh, delicious and healthy food and give entrepreneurs opportunities to provide service at reduced costs,” while Ulysses hopes that “a traditional open air market place [could be] created on the site of the old West Harlem Bernheimer Brewery and stables.” Creating flexible, attractive marketplaces could turn grocery shopping into an opportunity for social engagement. There are a number of ways and degrees to which community interaction can be encouraged and amplified in Harlem, and ample spatial opportunities to put ideas into practice.
Are you up to the challenge of designing an engaging social space in Harlem? Click here to register for the By the City / For the City design competition today! Entries are due by midnight (EST) on Sunday, July 31st, 2011. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!