Posted January 20th 2014 at 7:19 pm by
in Tracing Public Space

Tracing Public Space: Jamaica Plain

Tracing Public Space is an ongoing research project that aims to develop a photographic catalog of public spaces to help define the identity of particular places in different urban environments. It is an art project, an urban design methodology, and a photography-mapping workshop as it produces a series of exhibitions, provides a specific method to analyze an urban site, and acts as a vehicle to materialize the results. The project is framed as a workshop for children between the ages of twelve and eighteen years old. Through the workshop, they are introduced to digital photography and cognitive mapping as tools to register public spaces that reflect their neighborhoods’ cultural identity. The goal of the project is to produce maps that trace possible walking trails and can help to engage communities in imagining new physical interventions that improve the urban conditions of their settlements.

The process of developing this project has been organic. Some basic rules and goals were set from the beginning in March of 2013 but they have been molded through trials and errors over the course of six workshops conducted up to December of 2013 in Jamaica Plain (MA, USA), Petare Norte (Caracas, Venezuela), Ranwar Village, Om Nagar Mulund, Colaba and Malwani (Mumbai, India).


Jamaica Plain, MA (USA) March-April, 2013

Partner Institution: The Urbano Project, Stella McGreggor

Participants: Brandon, Imani, Jasmine, Jeneil, Lissi, Nadia, Rene and Tucker.

The first workshop was developed with the guidance of Prof. Antoni Muntadas for his Public Space/Public Art Seminar at MIT’s Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT) program. Working with The Urbano Project in Jamaica Plain was a unique opportunity. This art institution, led by Stella McGregor, empowers teenagers to have a voice in their communities through art projects.

Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood surrounded by the Emerald Necklace and divided by the MBTA’s Orange Line, is going through a gentrification process that raised a few questions in the workshop: Through this process, are public spaces losing their cultural identities? How can we potentially reconnect isolated parts of the neighborhood by tracing these spaces?

Jamaica Plain has a rich cultural background revealed through the participating children’s photographs of murals, shops, and restaurants. The open spaces and public parks that this neighborhood offers are simultaneously beautiful and diverse. Jamaica Pond, the Arboretum, the Southwest Corridor, and the Zoo provide the neighborhood and the city with a beautiful landscape and more than enough open spaces for leisure activities.

A recurrent idea throughout this workshop was the premise that public spaces are places that everyone has unrestricted access to such as streets and plazas. However, there are other spaces with limited access hours like Laundromats that can serve as public places and offer opportunities to socialize with neighbors. This idea raised a question: do we need to rethink the way we design Laundromats so they are better fitted for social interaction while people do laundry? One of the children mentioned, “It’s amazing how a public space can be made so personal and simultaneously a private space being made so public”.

The workshop shows that everyone has unique personal stories and sense of ownership about public spaces they frequent. To develop this sense of ownership, a personal history with these places typically presents itself through continuous revisits that build personal perception and understanding of them. Through the workshop, participants rediscovered these places and re-learned things about them they never knew existed, building upon and augmenting their existing relationship with these places.

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Post by Ana Vargas

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