Author Archive | Zach Evans

Mobile Connectivity and Urban Interaction

What does it mean to be social?

Being “social” used to mean that a person was outgoing and enjoyed interacting with people – an extrovert. Today, most equate the term “social” with social media and online communities.

The most social among us are perceived to be those who maintain several social media accounts and have a large group of followers they interact with regularly. Has this sociological shift also had an impact on how we interact with our physical urban spaces? Do we even take notice of our environment while we’re walking around the city with our mobile devices?

Emily Badger (@emilymbadger), writing for Atlantic Cities, recently profiled a team of researchers who have found that the use of smart phones has weakened the degree of social interaction in our public gathering spaces.

I don’t believe the conclusion here is a sociological revelation by any means, since most of us have observed the trend personally. (Right now I’m recalling the last person I walked by at the grocery store who appeared to be having a heated conversation with their self, only to discover they were talking on their mobile phone using a hands-free headset.)

The article is summed up with a proposal that our physical public spaces may need to be redesigned to accommodate the “new” social, using the very same mobile technology in a socially-positive way. But in what ways can mobile technology increase physical interaction with each other and the urban environment?

Here are examples of online resources and activities that are already attempting to do just that:

  1. Meetup (www.meetup.com) is an online community with over 9.5 million members in 45,000 cities that makes it easy to find and sign up for events with others with similar interests and causes. “Meetup’s mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize. Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.”
  2. Foursquare (www.foursquare.com) allows users to use tools that help “keep up with friends, discover what’s nearby, save money and unlock deals.” What is significant about this tool is that the user is actually “checking-in” at a physical location, where other social media activities are not location-dependent.
  3. Geocaching is an activity that uses mobile devices, including smart phones, to participate in real-life explorations as individuals or in teams. According to Geochaching.com, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”
  4. Social Media Breakfast (www.socialmediabreakfast.com) is a regularly occurring breakfast program that promotes “feeding your belly and your brain”!  The organization, which currently has more than 40 cities around the world with affiliated groups, states two goals of the program: (1) Face-to-Face Networking and (2) Education on “social media best practices for business”. Locally, Social Media Breakfast Fort Wayne (SMBFW) meets the last Tuesday of each month. Check out details on Twitter (@SMBFW) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/smbftw ).

Are these efforts moving us in the right direction, and if so, what can we do to build on what’s already in progress? If not, what strategies will redirect us toward reclaiming physical interaction?

- Photo from Flickr by Svedek

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Making room for outdoor space in private urban developments

from Flickr user Mondo Tiki Man

A recent Atlantic Cities piece written by Kaid Benfield, “What Developers Get Wrong About Smart Growth,” profiles cities that have made a commendable effort to include public green space in and around adjacent urban infill projects, presumably completed by private developers.

As mentioned in the article, typical infill projects exist on such tight sites that every square foot is maximized for enclosed living spaces. Exterior park-like retreats are rarely prioritized high enough to be included in the project.

First, I contend that we — as private owners/clients and design and construction professionals — need to broaden our definition of “mixed use” and include public and/or private outdoor spaces as one of the most critical program elements right from the earliest design stages. Humans possess a primal need to connect with nature, and any initiative to encourage citizens to relocate to downtown live/work spaces should strive to include access to nature or “green” space.

Secondly, we should ask how we can better use our public park properties to supplement our urban environments.

This is not conceptual! This article poses a tangible challenge to all who believe in and desire to advance market-driven urbanism.

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New Contributor: Zachary Evans

Zachary Evans is an architect and partner at Kelty Tappy Design, Inc., a Fort Wayne, Indiana, architecture, planning, and urban design firm. A graduate of Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning, he holds professional architectural registrations in Indiana and Ohio and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is an active member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Fort Wayne Chapter, and currently serves on the City of Fort Wayne Downtown Design Review Committee.

Why I care about Market-Driven Urbanism

It seems to be generally accepted now that the past several decades of American sprawl has left our downtown cores with gaping voids and inactivity. A combined result of our dependence on the automobile and Euclidean zoning practices, both citizens and governments share the responsibility of the situation we’re in.

In the same vein, it will take action by both groups to reverse course and re-energize our city centers.

We have very talented urban designers and city planners among us, but we cannot rely on them to plan and execute the redevelopment of every downtown block, lot, and streetscape. That’s why we need to encourage private investment and development with reduced land use restrictions, and allow free-market forces to drive self-sustaining development that’s dense, vibrant, and walkable.

I’d like to use this forum to have a dialogue about alternatives to land use segregation, share examples of successes and failures in other communities, and work together to find opportunities in our own community to apply the principles of market-driven urbanism.

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