Architecture is an interesting profession. You begin to notice things in your community that others overlook. You see inefficiencies that others simply accept as status-quo. The joy in our profession for me exists in the ability to design solutions, solve other people’s problems, and help them achieve their dreams. The downside is that everyone has an opinion about what you have done, what you should have done, and how they would do it better.
I sponsored the Harrisonburg Parklet Project with a strong desire to start a conversation about the importance of design in this community. In an agricultural community that was born out of people who are known for getting things done, no frills, and hard work, Architecture is often not a primary focus. This is not to say there are not beautiful design solutions in our community, but there are not many that marry both function and beauty. During the Harrisonburg Parklet Project there was a very obvious focus on beauty in some designs and function in other spaces. Those that wanted to design a beautiful space but did not invite people in became museum pieces that were hard to inhabit:
There were also those that focused on the function of the space and left the beauty to the work of the artists doing face painting.
There does not have to be a break between the two ideas. Beauty and function can coexist and should be in all projects for the betterment of the community. While the Parklets were all extremely successful and fun, I think these small installations are very much an indication of the larger community. We have accepted the idea that some buildings are just places that serve a function and have forgotten the importance of beauty, while others are focused on beauty and lack functional necessity to continue to be relevant. We as a community need and deserve more. We should all ask for a higher standard for our public and private buildings. Architecture cannot exist without function and beauty. DESIGN MATTERS.
I am very excited to see the Harrisonburg Parklet Project take shape today in Downtown. At 1pm artist, residents, students, and professors are coming downtown to take over 13 parking spaces to create their visions of green spaces the encourage unscripted social interaction, design, civic engagement, critical thinking, generosity, and play. The set up will be done by 5pm and open to the public. THIS IS GOING TO BE SO COOL!
So why do a project like this in Harrisonburg?
Green space are very important to the vitality of a community. We need spaces in an urban environment that allow us to breath. These spaces can filter rainwater, give a place to sit and read, a place to build community, and a place for conversation to happen. A healthy downtown needs small and large open spaces where gatherings can happen at various scales. Green spaces provide a refreshing contrast to the harsh shape, color, and texture of buildings alone, and stimulate the senses with their color, sound, smell, and motions. Green spaces foster a connection between community residents and the natural environment that surrounds them, thus allowing for a more livable city. This is essential in order for a community to be sustainable.
Green spaces provide habitat for a variety of birds, fish, animals, insects, and other organisms, while also providing corridors and greenways to link habitats. They prevent soil erosion and absorb rainwater, thereby improving drainage. Trees have been shown to absorb pollutants and reduce noise transfer. Green spaces and their inhabitants are a good indicator of overall ecological health of an ecosystem. This is an important measure in judging the ecological sustainability of the community.
In all walks of life, green space draws people outside and fosters social interaction. Studies have found that residents living near green common spaces have more social activities and more visitors. Green spaces promote safer neighborhoods. When residents have more vested interests in a place, their participation in the community increases and they will watch over the community to protect it. Green Spaces attract more customers for local businesses.
Green spaces are good and we need more of them in Harrisonburg. Design is a tool that can be used to design solutions that benefit the community if it is applied with a holistic vision about what downtown can become rather than just what a site can be today. I hope you will come downtown to the Parklet Project and continue the discussion about community with our artists, residents, students, and professors. If you see me, let me know what you think!