How can planners be more creative? How can we encourage and support greater creativity in planning? These are important questions I tried to address with examples in my article “Creativity in Planning” last year. I concluded by saying “While we may not all have artistic talents and skills, we can all afford to be more creative in our thinking and planning. After all, to solve problems effectively, we must have creativity in addition to our technical competence and hardheaded pragmatism.” As a follow-up to that piece, I would like to take some time now to share about two innovative endeavors that promote creativity in planning: Project Willowbrook and Urban Fold. I think both projects offer inspiration and food for thought as we planners tackle the ongoing challenges of trying to communicate clearly with the public and maintain their interest on important planning issues.
I first learned about this project earlier this year when I started working with consultants on the Willowbrook Community Parks and Recreation Plan. Project Willowbrook: Cultivating a Healthy Community through Arts and Culture is a creative exploration of the unincorporated Willowbrook community that promotes future civic development through a cultural asset study and art-based public engagement. The project consisted of two phases. During phase one, LA Commons and Los Angeles County Arts Commission staff conducted stakeholder interviews, focus groups and surveys to identify cultural assets, artists, artworks, organizations, venues, and programs, that are unique to Willowbrook and adjacent communities. In phase two, artist Rosten Woo engaged the community by going door to door in order to curate a Home, Garden and Vehicle Tour of Willowbrook in his project titled “Willowbrook is…” The tour became a key element of Celebrate Willowbrook held at the MLK Center for Public Health on March 16, 2013 which I attended and enjoyed. This special event showcased the people and traditions of the neighborhood. Woo’s work successfully captures the pulse of the community through the artistic discovery of residents’ homes, gardens, and daily lives, and was on full display at the event.
Information collected through this process and community gathering is organized as a tool that can be used by planners to understand needs of Willowbrook residents. The data gathered was also shared with the community at the Willowbrook Community Fair organized by my department on July 13, 2013. In addition, the Arts Commission hosted a book release party this past Saturday at the AC Bilbrew Library to celebrate the launch of Willowbrook is…, a book by Rosten Woo with photographs by Alyse Emdur. This publication features the stories, traditions and creative endeavors of Willowbrook residents through Woo’s eyes. Through artistic planning tools, Project Willowbrook facilitates dialogue between community members and planners to create a shared platform for civic development in Willowbrook. I really like this project because it presents a new approach to community outreach. All County departments, including my own, can learn from this creative project and should collaborate with the Arts Commission on current and future outreach and planning efforts.
I only found out about Urban Fold a few weeks ago when I read this article in The Architect’s Newspaper. This is also one of the items I highlighted in my article “Presents for Plannerds“. As I shared previously, I was so excited about Urban Fold that I contributed to its Kickstarter campaign. Basically, this product allows folks to build their own city using paper. Urban Fold may be described as a cross between LEGO and origami where flat 2D paper shapes are transformed into 3D paper blocks and art forms. As a supporter, I just received the set in the mail. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I promptly opened the box to see what was inside: more than 700 pieces, including 48 easy punch-n-fold shapes, 697 cool stickers, and a planning play mat – instruction poster. With so many pieces inside, I am not surprised that it took over a year for creator Grace Hawthorne and her company Paper Punk to design the components of this product. If you are interested in purchasing this product, please go here.
I like Urban Fold for the same reason I am a fan of LEGOs (see “LEGOS and Urban Planning“) and the exhibit Metropolis II (see “Art Review: Metropolis II“): it helps younger generations to get interested and excited about the fields of community planning, urban design, and architecture. While maps alone might have gotten some of us interested in planning in the past, I think it takes something more creative and bold to compete for and get the attention of youth today. Urban Fold certainly fits the bill as it is visually attractive and fun-looking.
I get very excited about creative ideas and projects like Project Willowbrook and Urban Fold. Even though neither was initiated by a planner, it is clear that both contribute to the field of planning by demonstrating a new method of community outreach/engagement, and generating interest in planning. As planners, we must learn from and support such efforts. We should also keep our minds and eyes open for anything of inspiration and creative value, and capture them as I suggested in photographs (“Images“) and/or drawings (“Urban Sketching“). We need to be open to surprises and ideas outside of our conventional thinking. Just as an example, I recently found inspiration at an unexpected place: an art shop/gallery in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles. What caught my attention were these interesting products: Curious Explorer City Maps, Crumpled City Maps, LA Anti-Boredom Map Card, and Los Angeles City Wallet. I really like these items because they provide alternative ways of looking at our cities and presenting geographical information. Finally, as I did before, I want to encourage all of us planners to be more creative in our thinking and planning. After all, we need to be in order to tackle challenges effectively.
Note: All photos by author.