A Rare Public Space Opportunity in Salem

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The Carnival Lot from across the South River – taken October 24, 2016 – in hyperactivity two weeks each year.

The Salem City Council has some important Public Space business on the Agenda for tonight’s meeting (10/25 @ 7pm): 289 Derby Street (aka The Carnival Lot) could become one of the newest and most exciting Public Spaces in town.

The Carnival Lot is named for the two weeks in October that it is used as a carnival – like right now! The otherwise empty parcel  is the most significant Public Space Opportunity for the City of Salem in years. The $1.4 million acquisition of the lot appears affordable as a bond order and an annual payment through the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, roughly at 12.5% of the total CPA yearly capacity.

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View from Congress Street bridge shows the possibility to activate both the Harbor Walk and the South River.

As a city, we have the opportunity to create a vital public space in the center of town that connects to so many community desires that I could write a list longer than you’d care to read. Here are 7 main points:

  • The Carnival Lot is a unique space in the city that can be a gathering space at the intersection of downtown, a thriving commercial corridor, the Point neighborhood, part of the Harbor Walk, and waterside access, all within a dense urban context.
  • Unlike any other public space in Salem, the proportion of the space creates an ideal outdoor room. Up the road, Derby Square functions as our historic “living room.” The Carnival Lot is also defined by masonry buildings on two sides, but has the bustling activity of Derby Street at one pedestrian entrance, and the South River on the other to create the feel of a true urban “front porch” with unique uses, such as “Seaside Cinema” perhaps?
  • The Carnival Lot is a crucial anchor space to facilitate the realization of the South River Harbor Walk as a complete loop that connects across neighborhoods and offers a unique connection to a waterway in the middle of our city. Without this space, the walkway will lack a space for gathering that will create a place, rather than only a walk.
  • The lot offers a unique connection to the South River that symbolically (and perhaps literally!) can bridge across to one of our most dynamic and undervalued neighborhood, The Point.
  • The lot as a public space can connect for water activities on the currently underused South River.
  • The lot itself provides unique opportunities for pedestrian connections, much like the most endearing public spaces in the city from the Essex Street mall and the myriad alleys to the Ropes Mansion Garden to new trails (from rails), a unique pedestrian system of getting through the city enables the robust foot traffic that makes for active, safe, and useful spaces.
  • We have the opportunity to truly “Still Make History” by creating one of the most beautiful, exciting, and dynamic river walks in the state.

One of the most exciting aspects of acquiring The Carnival Lot is the potential for a genuine on-site, public process of what to do with it! Salem Public Space Project imagines great public gatherings exploring possibilities, experiments in the space with temporary notions, conversations about everyone’s ideas from stewardship and ecology to food-trucks and theater…. yes, we imagine and advocate an all-inclusive, all out, participatory process! That is our dream and hope for The Carnival Lot: both its process of becoming and the gathering space we create together will constitute a beautiful and forward thinking legacy of urban design and public space in Salem.

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Off Derby Street, the public space can be a “front porch” for the city connecting downtown to the South River.

From Flatbread to Notch, to new businesses across the street and river, the adjacent activity makes The Carnival Lot’s emptiness even more conspicuous. The alternative of an eventual built development (like condos, let’s say) would detract from the value of the location to the surrounding businesses, as well as the public. A novel, vital public space complements and adds real value to the existing and growing density.

Write your Councilor if you support the Public Space Opportunity and / or attend the meeting at City Hall, tomorrow October 25 at 7pm.

Get moving!!

Get moving!!

 

HulaArt at the Salem Arts Festival

 

HulaArt Install FB imageHulaArt is a collection of individual, unique art expressions aggregated together to create a unified installation greater than the sum of its parts, yet simultaneously modified by those discrete contributions. This collaborative art installation helped to increase the participation in art making at this year’s Salem Arts Festival (SAF). During the last four months, over 120 students, artists, and locals created unique art pieces that have been integrated into the HulaArt Canopy for this weekend’s festivities.

HulaArt plan three parts multicolorThe project design began in earnest in January after the SAF committee approved a rendering of what a hula hoop canopy over Artists’ Row might look like. The design needed to evolve at two different scales: at the macro level, over four hundred hula hoops had to span the irregular buildings of Artist Row.

HulaArt How To

At the micro level, we worked to promote the re-use of recycled materials to create diverse art expressions. Through early March workshops at the Phoenix School, kids freely interpreted and greatly improved the possibilities for how HulaArt could work. together we evolved two distinct approaches: “Objects on a String” and “Fabric Stretch.”

Workshop Photos

The public launch of the project at the Peabody Essex Museum’s Artopia night began a series of HulaArt workshops throughout Salem during the spring, in addition to groups and individuals that took on HulaArt unaided.

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HULA ART public art installation for Salem Arts Festival on Artists Row – Salem MA from Social Palates on Vimeo.

After a sunny, ten hour installation, over four hundred hula hoops, a fifth of which were transformed into HulaArt, form a colorful canopy above Salem’s Artist Row. The installation was performance art when we watched people negotiate the pedestrian street paved with the hoops, acrobatic circus when two cherry pickers, several ladders, and people on the ground too lifted each of the five sections of the canopy into place, and a chance to speak to numerous people about what it was: public art, collaboration, and the upcoming Salem Arts Festival this weekend.HulaArt LOGO

April PNA Meeting

Commitment Cards to Improve the Point!

Commitment Cards to Improve the Point!

The April Neighborhood meeting was a collaboration between the Point Neighborhood Association, the North Shore Community Development Coalition, and multiple local organizations, institutions, and citizens to commit to improving the neighborhood by taking concrete steps to implement the Point Neighborhood Visioning Plan, completed last year.

Some precise accomplishments and next steps discussed include:

  • The Point will be on the National Register for Historic Places
  • Enhance the existing four parks in the neighborhood
  • The grant towards a splash pad – an interactive water play fountain – was announced. It will be located in Mary Jane Lee Park.
  • Employ park ambassadors to enrich the park aesthetics and experience for residents
  • Community gardens to stimulate, foster, and enhance stewardship
  • Enhance the diversity and quantity of affordable housing
  • An analysis of Shetland Park Businesses
  • More bilingual workshops at the NSCDC
  • Work to devise strategies for improving business opportunities along the two main corridors: Congress and Lafayette Streets
  • Celebrate the history of the neighborhood

Of the attendees, it seems like about half were Point residents, while the others were interested parties representing institutions and organizations. Bringing these great ideas, initiatives, and discussions to more residents remains a significant step to take. There are a lot opportunities for creative engagement in the community from the business and entrepreneurial to the artistic – get in touch if you want to be part of any of these endeavors!

Growing Community at Woolson Street Lot

w02 Collective social consciousness of waste, sustainable resources, economics, and pollution have influenced stakeholders to take a broader view of many design professions, especially architecture, which uses the greatest amount of resources of human enterprises. Indeed,  LEED (the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) helps establish standards of responsible resource making and gathering at the onset of design, while the temporal scope of architecture has also expanded beyond the finished building; design professionals need to take responsibility for the future maintenance and, even, potential disposal of the structure. Maintenance of a private residence requires the ultimate initiative of the owner; for public projects, the community is tasked with ongoing stewardship. Uncared for parks demonstrate that municipal trash pick-up isn’t enough. So, in addition to the materials, and the foresight, we need to also design for engagement; community building is a social and spatial problem, and creative design can aid the rigorous community organization of so many neighborhood leaders, activists, and planners.

w03SPSP was happy to be part of such an effort of Saturday, May 3rd in Mattapan in collaboration with the Community Design Resource Center (CDRC),  Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN), the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, and neighbors. We were also delighted to re-use four bright orange frames initially created for another project.

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In tandem with the “Boston Shines” city-wide clean-up effort, we erected creative signage on the lot to communicate the message that the planned community garden needs more gardeners. Design for social engagement is a compelling design challenge; the project is often a temporary installation, with no budget, infused with contextual issues and histories, inherently political, that seeks to reach a diverse number of people in circumstances that often hinder civic participation. On the Woolson Street lot, while volunteers cleaned up trash and weeded around daffodils, we posted signs that signal the beginning of the transformation of a lot that has a history of tragedy, and a desired future of community, safety, commemoration, and beautiful gardens!

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The finished signs, including an orange board where all participants signed their names.

If you would like to support the community gardens proposed at the Woolson Street Lot – support the project at Make Architecture Happen! 

PNA March Meeting

PNA Meeting at the On Point space

PNA Meeting at the On Point space

The Point Neighborhood Association holds meetings on the last Monday of each month, recently at the On Point center on Leavitt Street. All are welcome!

Last Monday’s meeting began with refreshments and a review of our local government. The main guest was Larry Ramdin of the Health Department, who continued the effort to distribute information. (The lack of knowledge of services offered, from available loans to the dual stream mandatory recycling system, persists as a barrier to civic involvement.) Larry noted certain rights:

“If you have an issue that your landlord is not taking care of, call my department.  Everyone is entitled to good housing.”

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“Due to people working long hours! people don’t get to vaccination hours; we want to plan services around what will work for people.”

An example of a city service designed to meet people’s needs is the consolidation of street sweeping with electronic waste, like television sets, pick up; for the effort to work, residents need to be aware of the service offered, Larry noted.  Lucy and the PNA said that as soon as a date is set, there will be no problem in spreading the word. When a resident asked for street sweeping to occur per side of the street, rather than on both sides at once, which causes parking hardships in the already dense area, Councilman Bob McCarthy noted that in the Point neighborhood, the City of Salem also employs leaf-blower services to gather sidewalk debris. This service is unique for The Point and precludes the possibility of one sided street sweeping. The service also only happens twice a season, unless specially scheduled for more times on a street by street basis.

In general wind blown trash is a problem; as are absentee landlords. But the combination results in a general lack of accountability. Larry suggested that devoted citizens could instill a sense of responsibility by persistently picking up trash, especially in front of neighborhood members that may have dropped the rubbish. The amorphous, but necessary desire is a change in behavior of some of the heaviest users of the neighborhood’s public space. I noted that the Palmer Street “Imagine a Lot” project did instill a civic awareness, at least on that lot durning the time of the project since the community participated in its making.

There are many efforts to “clean up” The Point, including proposed strategic development on Congress Street. This Thursday, the North Shore Community Development Coalition organizes the fun and effective Youth Get To The Point Day. Cleaning up a neighborhood is a form of stewardship, perhaps the gateway practice to deeper forms of citizenship too. For clean up problems on all days, make sure to contact Larry and the Health Department: (978) 741-1800, or walk over to 120 Washington Street, fourth floor.

Joint the next PNA meeting, April 28 at 6pm, for the Neighborhood Launch Party to implement the information gleaned during last year’s Point Visioning and Action Plan.

SAF2014, HulaArt, and so much more at PEM/PM’s Artopia!

HulaArt Artist Row View 02For a taste of the Salem Arts Festival, come to the Peabody Essex Museum this Thursday, March 20th from 6 – 9pm!

The museum take over will include music, arts, and acts from all over! The Salem Arts Festival will be well represented by a Spice Painting demonstration with Heather Reid in the Atrium, using donated spices from the ongoing collection effort at The Picklepot, and with our own Hula Art! This is your chance to make a piece of public art history – the first large scale installation over Artists’ Row coming June 7th…. so make some HulaArt this Thursday! Hula Art instructors from SPSP and the Phoenix School!

~Free for Salem MA residents…. and well worth the expenditure for everyone else ~