Sunday, September 19, 2010

Engaging the Sidewalk

I love discovering new moments in my own neighborhood, SF's Mission Districts, after having lived in it for over 4 years. This one came today on Florida and 21st. The Latino-American culture of the neighborhood has an elevated appreciation for spending time out on the sidewalk and front stoop, one that you won't find in many other neighborhoods. And it means many Missionites take care of whatever small amount real estate exists between their home and the sidewalk. In this case, the vestibule of this home has a vinyl-clad 2-person seat tucked into it right next to the door. Many of these entrance vestibules in SF homes are closed off with metal gates that make for bad neighbors and an unengaging street presence. In The Mission, the street presence is completely different. On a warm Saturday afternoon you will find a couple of guys sipping beers while sitting in lawn chairs in a garage that they have converted to a living room. An early evening stroll down 24th St. will reveal several shopkeepers hosing down their portion of the pavement. The value that the sidewalk and stoop hold for Missionites translates to an extra care that is given to the public portion of ones property and the public right-of-way adjacent. The act of cleaning becomes a small token of appreciation to fellow neighbors as the streetlife collectively improves. I doubt the general public is truly welcome to sit on the bench here on Florida Street, but just by being there, it suggests that there are eyes on a street that's enjoyed by it's neighbors.

Bring the Puppies to the People

This weekend while wandering around in Duboce Triangle and Lower Haight, I ran across the Wonder Dog Rescue's mobile pet adoption on a street corner. It's a fun little example of a mobile experience that enables an institution to bring their value (pet's that need adoption) to the demand (pet lover's walking around a pedestrian and pet-friendly neighborhood). They set up a pen outside of the Animal House pet store at the corner of Fillmore and Waller every Saturday and make an instantly engaging experience for neighborhood pet lovers, many of whom probably already gravitate to the business on the corner. Not every business can make their offering so easily accessible, but Wonder Dog is proof that it can be rewarding for everone involved, especially the puppies.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pop-Up Magazine

The Pop-Up Magazine live event on Thursday at the Herbst Theatre in SF brought the content of a magazine or public radio show to life for a few ephemeral hours. To me Pop-Up Magazine follows on the desire for a more engaging relationship with the media we experience. Not only is it multimedia rich, it allows the authors to connect directly with their audience and captivate them. Better still, Pop-Up creates a fleeting one-off spectacle out of their highly curated content. Once it's performed it's gone forever and they make a point of not allowing any form of recording. What makes this experience so powerful is that the audience experiences the spectacle together, and there is even an party that follows where everyone engages in conversation, even the authors and curators. It's a memorable level of engagement that is hard to replicate with a print, iPad or online magazine. In a highly uncurated world of digital media, we seek the richness of "in real life" experiences that are well crafted, textured and analog.

For example, 4 people from Mother Jones took the new spirit of compelling and emotive magazine infographics to a whole new level by using tape measures to compare the scale of political statistics and at one point they even involved the audience. They asked the front row of the orchestra and balcony to raise their hands. Those were the people were voted out of office in a typical election, 5%. It painted an immediate and memorable image of the scale of incumbency in Congress.

And an advertisement for a tequila sponsor midway through the event consisted of the evening's MC demonstrating a how-to of a cocktail that would be available at the lobby afterparty. And really, what print or online magazine can say they have an afterparty?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DIY Urbanism

I went to the opening for the DIY Urbanism exhibit at SPUR tonight.
The dozen or so projects featured in SPUR's gallery all prove that San Francisco is definitely on the forefront of a grassroots movement to reinvent the city with everything from community gardens, underground markets, public plazas, and several small developments that intend to reuse underutilized urban sites for an economy of local small businesses. Tonight's opening included 3 food carts from the cities exploding street food movement as well. Several of the projects featured were driven by the designers of the exhibit, local DIY champions and public space visionaries, Rebar.

The most intriguing project featured in the exhibit is a proposal entitled Proxy, which will temporarily re-imagine 2 lots along Octavia in Hayes Valley, the former site of the Central Freeway. The proposal, to be installed later this year, will involve several phases of installing a prefab framing and fabric infrastructure that will be occupied by local food and retail vendors. It's an intriguing use of a site that has sat fallow for too long in a popular neighborhood. It's rare that you see a project intended to come to life that acknowledges it's value is only temporary. The renderings seem to revel in the opportunity to create a lightness and transparency which would only be possible with the temporary construction method. The architects of Proxy, Envelope A+D, anticipate the projects lifespan to be 2-3 years after which the housing developments originally intended for the site should be ready for construction.