With all of the buzz around the new Latham Square pop-up plaza, we thought we'd take a moment to recap our first plaza project right outside our doors here in Frank Ogawa Plaza.
Moving our office here was an opportunity to start a dialogue and think long and hard about the the relationship of the Plaza in front of City Hall as a public space. After the workshop my main insight was this: How can we reflect the changing values around open government and urban prototyping in designs for our physical structures that are more dynamic and flexible?
I met James Rojas at the Crafting Corridors Salon hosted by Nextcity he was one of fifteen urban innovators from cities across the country invited to Philadelphia to discuss "reinventing the urban street." His presentation on Latino Urbanism was a brilliant analysis of culture, memory, and street-scaping that rang true as longtime residents of Oakland, which is one of the most diverse cities in the country.
After bringing HUB Oakland on board as our first co-working popup we invited James to Oakland to kick off our first public workshop at the plaza. James was a natural fit to lead these discussions based on his experience with running urban planning workshops around the country, re-imagining plazas, and engaging Latinos, a large population in Oakland in conversations around public space.
In the first activity, participants were asked to build their favorite childhood memory from a public place. Over the course of 20 minutes, they gathered the pieces and began to create elaborate structures. When the structures were completed, the participants discovered many elements in common – they all engaged the five senses and encouraged play and interactivity.
For the second activity, the participants were asked to imagine Frank Ogawa Plaza through building it. We created mini-models of various plazas. There were a lot of wonderful ideas for the Plaza generated, and some of them include: free WiFi, a space for kids to play, softer landscaping for more shade and a more inviting feel, moveable chairs, cafe tables, banners for added color, more flexible and dynamic temporary structures for vending and relaxing, signs for social services and other city resources, and vending opportunities for mobile retail.
We then hosted a panel discussion on May 20 to discuss the future of the Plaza, called "Place-Keeping Values, Policy, and Place in the Plaza." Our very own Sarah Filley of Popuphood moderated the discussion, and the speakers included James Rojas of Latino Urbanism Initiative; Jamie Parks, Senior Transportation Planner for the City of Oakland and Chair of the TRB Bicycle Research Sub-Committee; and Kiran Jain, the Senior Deputy City Attorney for real estate, land use, and urban development in the Oakland City Attorney's Office.
In an intimate round table conversation with Oakland residents and urban innovators, we discussed our findings from the workshop on May 18 and got into some deeper issues with the City of Oakland around challenges and possibilities for the Frank Ogawa Plaza from both the policy and planning perspectives. Some of the questions that we addressed, include:
- How can we create points of interaction in the Plaza?
- How can we encourage locals to feel a sense of ownership over the Plaza and use the space in different ways?
- How can public space be better suited for civic dialogue?
– Are there ways to integrate information about social services into signage and wayfinding into civic spaces as an access point?
And, as you probably already saw on our blog, we hosted Fashion Friday on the Plaza on June 21 with 7 mobile retail trucks, a wine area, and a fashion show with some very stylish local brick and mortar shops. Did you know that there is no policy around mobile retail right now in the Bay Area? So the event was a way to examine that policy as well. We are working on it as we test out the links to Latham Square and vending at Oakland's First Friday as well as connecting to what is being drafted in SF and San Jose and building on those policies for Oakland.
The City of Oakland is listening and ready to experiment, this is evident by the forward thinking approach to the public works project: Latham Square, just around the corner at the intersection of Telegraph and Broadway, we can expect continual dialogue around what our structures and use of space say about our values and civic participation. Saturday the 14th you can join in and participate in the design and evolution of our built environment here, and the world isn't just watching its innovating and we can take what works and make it Oakland.