Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Temporary Urban Spaces

Spotted in Times Square. Photo by Joseph Holmes.

The above picture came in today's Manhattan User's Guide e-newsletter. The Free Hugs Campaign started by Australia's Juan Mann continues (for those of you who missed it, his youtube posting became the video of the year in 2006 and earned him a hug from Oprah. I've linked to it below).

This kind of urban intervention got me thinking about the projects outlined in a book called Temporary Urban Places: Concepts for the Use of City Spaces (Birkhäuser, 2003). The book documents 36 projects designed to stimulate and challenge the way we use our environment. Permanent Breakfast is one of my favorites. Started in 1996 by an artist named Friedemann Derschmidt, the goal is to test how "public" our public spaces are by hosting a breakfast in them. Think median strips and high-traffic areas or seemingly private spaces that are, in truth, public. The way it works is one person invites a group of people to eat breakfast in a public space in order to illicit a reaction from authorities and citizens (each guest is asked to then host their own breakfast, creating a snowball effect). "It is possible to precisely gauge the understanding of just how public a location is by observing the reactions of other users and 'protectors' of the pubic space," the authors write. Twelve years later, and the program is still going strong. I wonder if the COMMONspace project in San Francisco was inspired by this?

Above: Permanent Breakfast. Below: youtube video from Free Hugs.