On Saturday evening, in Roanoke, Virginia, the second annual CityWorks (X)po concluded three days of nationally renowned speakers talking about placemaking and bringing out the humanistic elements of small cities. Why should Virginia’s bicycling community be interested in the (X)po? Let me tell you.
Speaker after speaker shared their visions of a livable place and what sorts of elements attract people to public spaces. Almost every talk offered streetscape images that exemplified their vision – and what do you think appeared in most of these images? Bicyclists, bike lanes, cycle tracks, bike parking – bikes, bikes, bikes! While the bicycle may or may not have been the focus of their talk, the presence of bicyclists in these images was essential to the overall sense of placemaking.
The placemakers offered a common meme for conference participants: Take action now! While formal planning processes are essential to large capital projects and can take months or years to complete, communities can experiment with small, incremental spontaneous actions (the action now piece) that serve as effective experiments in immediate placemaking. Mike Lydon, with Street Plans Collaborative and Project Author of Tactical Urbanism Vol 2, offered example after example of how streetscapes can be temporarily altered with a short list of materials, such as water-soluble paint, chalk, chairs, traffic cones, plants – and imagination. For a weekend or a week, a space can be transformed into a park, a bike lane, or a place for active interaction through cafes, chess boards, or art exhibits.
These small experiments require minimal investment, allow city leaders and citizens to envision the transformation of a space, and ultimately inform large capital projects on whether they’ll work or not as proposed.
Kennedy Smith, Mike Edson, Jim Stockard, Robert Egger, Jacob Hodes, Tom Kohler, and Aaron Naparstek reminded us constantly to overcome failures of imagination, trust radical people, participate, and go forward…now.
In the space between speakers, we had the opportunity to stumble onto new acquaintances or meet those persons we’ve known only through digital media and forge foundations for possible new collaborations. For me, I met a fellow Virginia Bicycle Federation Board Member, Dave Walsh, and his wife, Tasha. (I’ve only known Dave through conference calls and Facebook.) I also met Suzi Carter, who works as the Outreach & Development Coordinator for the Northend Greenway in Harrisonburg. We were all there because we recognize bicycling as not an isolated activity but an essential element of a liveable community.
If you missed this year’s (X)po, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year. In the meantime, get out there and transform a public space.