Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

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Bamboo Biking – Week 2

A quick snapshot of this second week at BBB: Our next door neighbors moved out! So we have snagged this room and suddenly have so much more space. As recompense for refurbishing the room, it’s possible that I’ll end up living inside of the workshop itself, as my current housing will expire soon. That would be cool. In other news, we just hired three local high school interns, and I’ve been building my new bike at Workshop 33, designing a catalog for BBB, starting to make a visual workflow/how-to guide for the workshops, and drilling holes around the new room in preparation for some interior designing.

Workshop 34

Workshop 34, with new interns and old-time volunteers (all high-schoolers!)

Neighboring room in transition. Check back in a week or two to see its hopeful transformation!

Neighboring room in transition. Check back in a week or two to see its hopeful transformation!

Ever since I started borrowing someone else’s bamboo bike last week, I’ve been learning a lot more about transportation cultures and mobility in Beijing by spending 2-3 hours on the street commuting every day. At first glance, urban biking in Beijing can seem pretty chaotic and formidable. It is chaotic — when the streets are full, especially, you can look around and see cars in the bike lane, cars parked on the sidewalk, bikers and mopeds going the “wrong” way down multiple lanes, bikes and even pedestrians in the middle lanes of major roads, and a predictable disregard for certain traffic signals.

Despite the visual mess, it’s actually very calm within the fray, because everyone is paying close attention to everyone else. When I bike down the street, I am always planning my path for the next 20 meters, and rely on everyone else around me to be doing the same, so that we can anticipate and adapt to each other’s routes. There are often status transactions going on. For example, if a single bike is going against a single car when the bike has the right of way, the car will definitely cut off the bike illegally. But if a group of twenty bikers during the morning commute decides to cut a car off when the car has the right of way, you better believe they’ll do it. For a sense of scale, here is a picture of what almost every intersection looks like outside of the central city. That’s usually enough room for 6-8 lanes of cars on a road and two bike lanes. In this moment the intersection looks like a parking lot, but when transit goes on in the middle, it becomes a huge slow jumble through which people move like a school of fish, to borrow the words of Wang Wenlan, a photographer who has published famous series of photos of China’s bicycle scene.

Typical intersection in the outer rings of Beijing

Typical intersection in the outer rings of Beijing

Shanghai, 1991 © Wang Wenlan

Shanghai, 1991 © Wang Wenlan

More of Wang Wenlan’s amazing bike photography can be found here. Until next week!

Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP): Week 1

Hello from Brooklyn!

My name is Jazlyn & I’m spending my summer at the Center for Urban Pedagogy. You can learn more about me and my organization here! I’ve been here for about a week and it has been quite the wild ride so far. New York City is no joke, and I am slowly developing the quad muscles to prove it.

I have done and learned an incredible amount in the four days that I’ve spent at CUP. I want to share with you all some of the main takeaways that I’ve been mulling over this week.

1) The Power of (Un)Education

The project that I’ll be working on this summer is part of CUP’s Youth Education arm. The programs are called Urban Investigations and the one that CUP is hosting in the summer will be a collaboration between 5 high schools in the Bronx. Urban Investigations are project-based curricula – check out the process in the infographic below.

UI infographic
How Urban Investigations Work

Our big question for the Bronx UI is, “Why do subways cost what they do? Who decides?” As an Urban Studies major, I heard the topic and I was like, great! Transit! We constantly learn about transit and how it works – I thought I would have a lot to contribute.

However, as I began to do my background reading, and as I began to live in New York, I came to realize how absolutely wrong that was. The New York Subway System is a behemoth of its own, and no amount of knowledge about any other transit system could have prepared me to know the intense amount of politics, money, and social dynamics that go into shaping and maintaining the subway. For instance, did you know that people who ride the subway are colloquially called straphangers? I read an entire article thinking that straphangers was some sort of derogatory term before I asked someone in the office to explain it to me.

As I dove into that research, I was so enraptured by the richness of the topic and complexity of the answer. I began to remember how amazing it is not to know stuff, both as a person and an educator. I expressed this to our director of Youth Ed, Christy, and she said, “That’s the great thing about Urban Investigations. When we pick a topic, we usually don’t know all that much about it, so we’re learning with the students as they investigate.”

For the students, that is such a powerful thing. They will have educators that are relying on them to provide essential components to the project. Without them, we wouldn’t have the answer to our question. That truly, there is no right answer – what they find is our collective truth.

2) Reciprocity

That last note feeds into my next point, which is cultivating reciprocity in service. Reciprocity is a bit of a buzzword in service – it’s something that sounds good and is actually essential to effective service, but in practice is incredibly hard to carry out in a meaningful way. Out of the 3 quarter-long service experiences that I have had in the past year, I don’t know if I successfully implemented it in any of those projects. It was a pretty elusive concept.

That is, until I arrived at CUP. I have seen this in two ways since arriving. On one side, is the reciprocity embedded in their own programming. The UI projects have an incredible amount of reciprocity between the students and their teachers, because they are co-creating knowledge. As I elaborated on above, CUP educators are not experts in every topic that they propose. In fact, a lot of the projects are specific to students’ community context and so often, students have a lot more experiential knowledge about topics than their teachers.

In my personal context, I had an incredible meeting with Christy about what my experience this summer is going to look like. She showed so much care and depth of thought about how my priorities could intersect with needs at CUP, and particularly, the needs that they will have on-site at the Bronx. For instance, one of my priorities is to get hands-on experience with the UI because I will be developing a similar curriculum later for my Urban Studies capstone project this summer. We talked about where my project intersects with Urban Investigations, and what days would be mutually beneficial for me to be on-site. For example, I will be on-site when the students conduct interviews on the street. I will get to see how to teach interview basics and see the activity in action – and I also need to be there to supervise a group so that we can split up. Reciprocity!

That’s it for now – what an amazing week to start off this summer of advocacy, justice, and growth!

Bamboo Bicycles Beijing: Week 1

Hello, I’m Geena!

I have been in Beijing, China for a little over a week now, working in the depths of an old hutong neighborhood in the little gem of a workshop called Bamboo Bicycles Beijing. (See here for a bio and description of BBB!) Most of my first days were something like an orientation, to get my hands working on the bike projects going on in order to get a feel for how the workshop operates. In this first post I’ll share some of the ways my understanding of the workshop has deepened through participating in it.

A typical view of the workshop in action: lots of peer-to-peer teaching and learning!

A typical view of the workshop in action: lots of peer-to-peer teaching and learning!

Sitting outside the workshop mitering one of the frames built at the 32nd BBB workshop, held last weekend.

Sitting outside the workshop mitering one of the frames built at the 32nd BBB workshop this last weekend.

There are three aspects of the workshop that are really sticking with me as I end my first week at BBB:

1) Intentionality of scale: BBB has existed for about a year now and hosted 33 workshops, which have produced just shy of 150 completed bamboo bicycles and their proud owners. Though the “reach” could certainly be considered small in a city of over eleven million, the workshop gathers a self-selecting, extremely passionate bunch who end up taking ownership of the workshop in their own way and often volunteer many hours over many weekends to pass on the skills they have learned to others who are just learning how to make their own bikes. In the last week, I was in the space for three or four media outlets who interviewed and videotaped David, BBB’s founder. I heard him reflect often on his disappointment with some of the outlets’ offers to help expand BBB’s brand and image by spinning their stories on him a certain way. “That’s not what we’re about,” David would often say to any story that did not allow for the character of BBB to stand for itself. It feels very special to work alongside someone who has total conviction for what he is and is not about. So what is BBB about, then? For one thing, the small scale of the workshops allows for the cultivation of genuine loyalty and trust in its participants. Other things:

2) Community! A lot of people talk about community. It was a catchphrase I read all over the BBB website and in interviews with David before arriving. However, being on the ground in the BBB neighborhood brought a whole new understanding to the word in the ways it is used to frame BBB’s objectives. The physical space of BBB is open to any passersby for the whole workday. Curious first-time onlookers are welcomed in, and so are the young neighborhood kids who live down the street and sometimes man their parents’ convenience store. In fact, those kids have built their own bamboo bike in the space, and one of them returned to help me build mine on Friday. David’s elderly neighbors also look out for him. One day a long-time resident was just about poised to kick me out of the shared BBB courtyard with her cane, until she realized I was with David and Claudio (another workshop leader) and burst into a forgiving smile, even insisting that I come sit in her home with her. Another neighbor leaves his door open and continually offers food. On one of my first days there he shared with us a homemade lunch over hours of conversation, pictured below. Because of the care that David takes to be a positive, active contributor to the neighborhood in which he’s set up shop, BBB’s participants find themselves cared-for by the existing community. This also strikes me as very special, perhaps guided in large part by a respect for communicating in the language of the community and a general thoughtfulness.

Lunch with our generous neighbor ShuShu. Pictured is a traditional Beijing dish 炸酱面 translated as "fried sauce noodles," complete with beer in bowls!

Lunch with our generous neighbor ShuShu. Pictured is a traditional Beijing dish 炸酱面, translated as “fried sauce noodles,” complete with beer in bowls!

3) Empowerment: I’ve worked as a mechanic in different bike shops in high school and college. In most bike shops in the U.S. at least, the norm is for amateur mechanics to start off learning to change flats, then do basic assemblies, then the more advanced aspects of assemblies, and finally the varied challenges of repairs. As an amateur mechanic, I was accustomed in past summers to learn two or three tasks and repeat them the entire summer, as the business models of most bike shops are most efficient if mechanics work assembly-line style. BBB has been different from the get-go because of the peer-to-peer teaching and learning that happens around the clock. It is everyone’s intention there to equip longtime workers there to deal with the entire process of building a bike, from selecting the raw material to calibrating the very last component. In fact, anyone who walks through the door can be put to work immediately by whoever has the capacity to teach. The teaching style is very couched in doing: someone will typically explain a process to me, then hand the tools over to me to do myself. This is so wonderful! Especially as a woman engineering student who has had a fair share of tools taken straight out of my hands to get the job done for me “better” or “faster.”

David has continually said that the beauty of BBB is that every new person who joins the team changes the organization in some way because of the new ideas and projects they bring — through planning bike rides and picnics, hosting photo competitions, making new arts and crafts, starting a video series, or taking ownership of BBB’s social media presence. Because the entire workshop was executed on one person’s own initiative, the norm for how things get done is that individuals must implement their visions on their own volition, all the time. This is just one more way BBB lives up to its mission to empower those who spend time there.

Well, I’m halfway through the 2-day workshop to build my own bamboo bike now, so by next week hopefully I will have something to show for it! I will also be moving away from doing bike mechanics and into doing some different projects. Thank you for reading!

How to Turn a Place Around

Placemaking.  It’s a process, a way of thinking, a rousing and powerful call to action.  It’s a vision for how to elevate community life around the world, starting one public space at a time.  As a living and evolving concept, Placemaking is exciting—and also challenging to explain and grasp.  That’s why I’m so grateful I was able to witness Project for Public Space’s entire Placemaking process, start-to-finish, this summer.  In a piecemeal way, all my projects added up to a wonderfully comprehensive and informative encapsulation of PPS’s core work: how to turn a place around.  So, how does one actually turn a place around?  I’ll tell you how!


  1. Meeting with stakeholders about the place in question. Identifying issues and opportunities.
  • I met with Harvard’s campus planners and Common Spaces Project managers to discuss Phase III of the Common Spaces project. 
  1. Developing hypotheses about the site based on the issues and opportunities (such as, “This is an unsuccessful public space because it lacks shade”). Developing a work plan.
  • Based on my knowledge of the Stanford campus and the goals laid out by the campus planners, I identified the issues (i.e. uninviting space) and opportunities (i.e. potential to interact with the streetscape) of Herrin Lawn and White Plaza.
  1. Collecting on-site data using PPS’s observational techniques such as behavior mapping, tracking, trace measures, interviews, questionnaires, and lots of photographing.
  • I collected field data during my community outreach in Marcy Plaza, Brooklyn.
  1. Analyzing collected data, reviewing initial community input, brainstorming ideas for implementation. Creating summaries of the data, revising the hypotheses.
  • These were critical parts of my Stanford project—I have long, messy lists of potential ideas and amenities as proof of my brainstorming!
  1. Hosting a public forum to solicit community feedback. May involve pop-up workshops, the Place Game, a community voting system, a mock event or activation. Based on this data, break the site down into potential zones of activity.  Public forums may be repeated throughout the entire process.
  • The pop-up workshop I helped with in Crystal City, VA, provided valuable community input. I also attended design workshops PPS was hosting in Los Altos, CA during the winter.
  1. Make a conceptual plan that includes the bubble diagram, benchmark images for each bubble, a schedule of amenities and a cost estimate for the amenities.
  • I completed this process start-to-finish for the Stanford project, and I made a schedule of amenities and cost estimate for Balboa Park in San Diego.
  1. Make a draft report presenting these recommendations. Dialogue with the stakeholders about any changes and make revisions.
  • Over the past few weeks I’ve been communicating with the Stanford planners based on my draft report.
  1. Order the amenities, implement them into the public space, gather feedback from the community. Take pictures of the activated space and note successes/failures for future projects!

These steps are meant to serve as a framework and not a rote tactic for success, however, they boast a track record of transformed public spaces.  And after following the formula for the Stanford project, I’m thrilled to say that the campus planners began ordering my recommended amenities on Friday so that Herrin Lawn will be activated by the time school starts in a month.  That’s the beauty of PPS’s “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” approach: things turn around with gratifying rapidity.  WOOHOO!!  

Giving my final presentation to the PPS Staff on Friday.

Giving my final presentation to the PPS Staff on Friday.


After a whirl of finishing up my projects, sending off final recommendations, and preparing for my departure, I was happy and relieved to share my final presentation with the PPS staff on Friday, hours before I left 419 Lafayette Street for the last time!  The presentation went wonderfully, and I was especially thrilled to have Deland Chan, the Program Manager for Service Learning for Stanford Urban Studies—and the incredibly patient coordinator of this Fellowship—in attendance, as she coincidentally happened to be in New York last week.  All summer, my worlds of PPS and Stanford had been strangely parallel, and they finally met on Friday in the perfect closure to my work.

With PPS's founder and President Fred Kent, my amazing supervisor Casey Wang, and the Stanford Urban Studies Fellowship coordinator Deland Chan.

With PPS’s founder and President Fred Kent, my amazing supervisor Casey Wang, and the Stanford Urban Studies Fellowship coordinator Deland Chan.


In leaving PPS, my mind cycled back to the questions I’d asked myself at the beginning of the summer.  I’d written in my first blog post:   

What makes a great public place?  Is it the buildings, framing the action with grandiose architectural form?  Maybe it’s the street-level activity of markets, sidewalk cafés, and well-used parks on a hot day.  Or perhaps what makes a place thrive are the people who give it character and identity.  How can we create public spaces which are vibrant, inviting, and beautiful?

 In its simplicity, it’s startlingly clear to me now that great public spaces are the result of the conscientious interplay of all these factors.  Public spaces are the heartbeats of both the megacities and the picturesque villages, those unifying zones where people and place meet and interact with harmonizing energy.  We need to be stewards of these spaces because they mean so much more than just some colorful chairs.  Thank you, PPS, for showing me how.   

 Many thanks also to the Stanford Urban Studies Fellowship, Deland Chan, and the other wonderful Fellows for teaching me so much this summer!

Community Cube Urban Activation + Final Johannesburg Reflections

My time in Johannesburg and my work with GRIND ended last Thursday with a final presentation and exposition event of the Maboneng Community Cube, my GRIND residency project. I spent the days (and nights) before the presentation working with neighborhood residents putting final touches on the Cube. The Cube was “finished” with Thursday’s presentation, but is meant to be a living and changing space, and will hopefully continue to see changes even after I leave Johannesburg.

The Community Cube final presentation during my last night at GRIND.

The Community Cube final presentation during my last night at GRIND.

The cube event opened with a public garage opening at street level.

The cube event opened with a public garage opening at street level.

The presentation incudes a free public soup event with The Urban Basket and Woza Waste and a public garage activation session, as seen here.

The presentation included a free public soup event with The Urban Basket and Woza Waste and a public garage activation session, as seen here.

The presentation itself was a remarkable success: around 60 people attended both the presentation at the GRIND studio and the Cube’s unveiling at a public garage below. More importantly than the number of attendees, the diversity of the presentation’s participants reflected the changing Maboneng and Jeppestown neighborhoods quite well. As I finished my presentation, I have now been reflecting on my time in Johannesburg, my work with GRIND, and the unparalleled summer experience I have had.

Finishing the Cube: Final Touches

In the final days before the Cube’s presentation, I changed a few key features and added some new Cube capacities. Working with a local designer named Chesta, we re-painted the Cube’s top. Chesta used rulers, rollers, and brushes to paint the Cube with the same logo we had designed in Photoshop. It looks phenomenal and professional. When the Cube is closed, it can be used a meeting table to discuss community issues and events; the new logo makes using that meeting table all the more attractive.

Chesta designed the cube’s logo, which is found on top of the cube.

Chesta designed the cube’s logo, which is found on top of the cube.

In addition, I worked with local welders from the SA Welding School to devise an ingenious pulley-and-chain system for the Cube’s roof. The Cube’s roof and front side open, but the roof needed a way to stay up vertically so local residents can use the white board below the top. David and France led the effort to create a pulley-and-chain system to hold the roof open. They used only materials sourced in the neighborhood and we became quite good friends in the process. David, who is an immigrant from the Congo, even spoke in French as we discussed politics, immigration, and the Cube’s role in the neighborhood.

Welders David, France, and others design a chain contraption for the top of the cube.

Welders David, France, and others design a chain contraption for the top of the cube.

Finally, local artist Thokozane painted a brilliant mural in the Cube’s interior during the night and wee morning hours before the Cube’s final unveiling. Thokozane is often busy painting murals, walls, and public projects throughout Johannebsurg, so I was quite lucky he was able to help me. Thokozane painted a map of the neighborhood on the Cube’s floor, but this is no normal map: on the sides of the Cube the streets turn into telephone poles and buildings, the river (now an underground culvert) turns into a street sign, and the train tracks turn into a large sign that says: “Welcome to Jeppestown.” The piece was moving because of its creativity and because of its innovative coordination of geography and common neighborhood elements. Thokozane himself is from the neighborhood and all of the Cube’s participants immediately recognized the streets in his map.

Local artist and resident Thokozane designed the cube’s interior and drew it during the wee morning hours before the cube presentation.

Local artist and resident Thokozane designed the cube’s interior and drew it during the wee morning hours before the cube presentation.

For the final presentation, the Cube sat in a public garage, on street level, at the base of the GRIND building. All around the Cube, on the walls of the garage, I posted color photos of the Cube’s design process and of actors who helped make the Cube a reality. The entire space looked and felt like a living museum.

Residents look at the community cube in the GRIND public garage.

Residents look at the community cube in the GRIND public garage.

Event attendees write messages on the cube's chalkboard.

Event attendees write messages on the cube’s chalkboard.

Presenting the Cube

Finally, the big night was here! The entire GRIND office spent much of the afternoon preparing logistics for the presentation. Chloe and Mantsane, two of my friends, cooked a delicious soup for hundreds of people. The goal was as follows: create a free public soup event on the street in front of the garage space to draw locals into the garage and (hopefully) into the presentation. I had coordinated with Alice and the Urban Basket to make sure that the presentation itself also had free food and wine. Sure enough, with the big soup pots and signs saying free soup, people lined up from around the neighborhood to eat. And a large, large number were excited about the Cube exhibit. Others stayed for the entire presentation and drinks. As I stood up to give my presentation, I saw new friends, old friends, local residents, and visitors from around the globe looking back at me.

My friends Jabu and Physical, who are filmmakers in Jeppestown, came in full force. They were 30 minutes early and brought a group of 12 enthusiastic friends. Jabu also helped film the event. Jabu and Physical will be coordinating the “Friends of the Community Cube” effort now that I am leaving South Africa, and their enthusiasm at the event was exciting, to say the least.

My presentation about to begin at the GRIND Johannesburg studio.

My presentation about to begin at the GRIND Johannesburg studio.

I was also enthralled to see no fewer than 10 welders from the South African welding school at the presentation. They hooted and hollered in the back, and joked with Edet, the local baker. I also saw young people from Curiocity, like my friends Tshepo and K, who worked hard on the Cube’s exterior. I saw a dozen Maboneng and Propertuity employees, GRIND residents, and even contacts like Cuba, who works at Architects of Justice in the Newton neighborhood. My heart jumped when I saw Mariska April, the Stanford in Cape Town coordinator, walk into the room with three friends. The Sciences Po Maboneng Exchange Team also attended in full force, bringing an international perspective to the event. And half way through, Bheki and his friend Cintle walked in, which drew a tremendous smile to my face; I could not have had half of the success I did in Johannesburg without Bheki’s support. All in all, I was dumfounded and in awe to see the outpouring of support for the Cube and for my presentation.

Welders from the SA Welding school at the presentation.

Welders from the SA Welding school at the presentation.

After the event itself, I spoke with dozens of young people about how they could plug into the Cube effort. I heard ideas about putting videos and lights on the Cube, and David from the welding school talked of a solar-powered battery. Physical mentioned a fashion exhibition. And Edet asked if he could have and frame a copy of his interview on the Cube. The most amazing comment, though, came from Bheki: “I’ve never seen such a cross-section of people at an event, Stefan. Wow. Talk about a diverse group of people enjoying themselves and coming together.” I held back tears of joy. I had trouble imagining that I could soon be leaving Johannesburg.

Presentation event participants sit and listen as I begin my presentation on the community cube.

Presentation event participants sit and listen as I begin my presentation on the community cube.


Me during my presentation on the cube.

A Final Night in Johannesburg

With an upcoming trip to Bloemfontein scheduled for the next day and my GRIND presentation finished, Alice had scheduled a goodbye party at a neighborhood bar, the Zebra Inn. We closed up the office, leaving the Cube on the public street for lingering locals, and went to the Zebra. It was filled with around 40 friends, co-workers, and neighborhood residents. Some of my friends, who were a bit too busy to attend my presentation or perhaps unsure about going, found no problem attending the after party. Never since my Bar Mitzvah years ago have I had such a large celebratory event organized in my honor. I could not contain my joy and excitement as I thanked and hugged friend after friend after friend. We danced away the last night in Johannesburg, and I felt contented.

My final night in Johannesburg was a joyous one filled with friendship.

My final night in Johannesburg was a joyous one filled with friendship.


Johannesburg was not an easy place to live. The Maboneng and Jeppestown neighborhoods were not simple places. As I was leaving the neighborhood, my friend Mantsane asked me:  “So how was it? Did you have fun this summer?” I wanted to explain to Mantsane the roller coaster of emotions, the love, the pain, the inequality, the hussle, that I felt these last few months. But I had somewhere to be, as always seems to be the case in Johannesburg. So I said: “One word about this neighborhood: energy. And it can be harnessed to create so much beauty.”

I can tell you what my summer was not.  It was not easy. It was not relaxing. It was not “chill.” It was a wild ride of beauty, of pain, of love, of crime, of friendship. I have so much respect for local residents in this neighborhood, and I was honored that they took my in for the last three months. I return to the United States a much, much wiser man. I have much more respect for community development work and I know what it takes, and how both beautiful and exhausting it can be, to live in a low-income urban neighborhood. I know I’ll be back to Johannesburg in general and to Maboneng specifically. There are too many friends with whom I must reconnect. There are too many stories unresolved. Will Bheki open up a new backpacker hostel? Will Mantsane from the Urban Basket follow her dream and open up a produce grocery cooperative? More importantly, will the camaraderie and friendship still be there when I return? Will Alice be thriving as an urban consultant? I need the answers to these questions. And, more importantly, I want to see my friends again. So I will, without question, be back.

My final night in Johannesburg was a joyous one filled with friendship.

My final night in Johannesburg was a joyous one filled with friendship.

This summer would not have been as amazing as it was without the friendship, kindness, and support from local residents. Thank you for welcoming me into the neighborhood!

The House of Jane (+ new updates!)

555 Hudson Street: the Mecca of Urban Studies (at least in my opinion).  To the urban planning nerd in me, this was it, a hallowed and storied place I had envisioned in my mind’s eye time and again.  What could this place be, you might ask.  None other than the house of Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities and a pioneer of people-oriented urbanism.  Jacobs fought tooth and nail against Robert Moses’ plans for a highway cutting through her beloved Greenwich Village, and to this day the quaint alleyways of the Village speak to her victory.  She was fearless and articulate, a true champion of cities at a time when an urban voice of reason was most needed.  Her spellbinding tome was an original inspiration for my interest in Urban Studies.

Jane Jacobs lived on the upper floor of this quaint red building on Hudson Street!

Jane Jacobs lived on the upper floor of this quaint red building on Hudson Street!

And maybe it was a little fan girl of me, but I staked out her old home in the West Village and counted down the building numbers to 555 one recent, sweltering day.  I almost passed Jane Jacobs’ house right by, what with the renovations underway and the yuppie boutique below (I wondered what Jacobs would have to say about that), but alas I spent a full few minutes gazing up in awe.  In her writing, Jacobs describes her New York neighborhood in great detail, taking pleasure in the small shops and familiar faces dotting the streets.  Hudson Street itself, with the exception of a few upscale stores, probably looks pretty much the same as when Jacobs lived here–and trod these exact steps!–and I could picture her sauntering around, oversized glasses perched on her nose and notebook in hand.  It was a wonderful day. 

Light streamed down on Jacobs' house as the urban studies nerd in me rejoiced at my discovery.

Light streamed down on Jacobs’ house as the urban studies nerd in me rejoiced at my discovery.

And now, back to my job!  First, here are some snapshots of my daily office duties:

I wake up around 7 so I have enough time to read before work; I love mornings!  My “commute” to work is a lovely 10 minute walk in which I pass some of the same people setting up their shops and starting their days each morning.  

My walk to work starts here on my street (the flag was up for the Fourth of July).

My walk to work starts here on my street (the flag was up for the Fourth of July).

Project for Public Spaces is located on Lafayette Street right next to the Public Theater, under Astor Place, and kitty-corner to Cooper Union.  It makes for such a scenic block!

Looking North on Lafayette Street; PPS is located on the right-hand side before the Public Theater.

Looking North on Lafayette Street; PPS is located on the right-hand side before the Public Theater.


The view from PPS, on the 7th floor.

I spend a lot of time doing research at my desk, but most days also include meetings with my wonderful and patient supervisor Casey or other co-workers.  In the afternoons, I usually take a walk into the surrounding neighborhoods–my favorite places to explore are SoHo, Greenwich Village, and the NYU campus, all of which are within a 5 minute walk.  Then there are always the surprises, such as when the other PPS interns and I got to help with a Placemaking exercise in Union Square for a grad class at Pratt a few weeks ago. 

My desk at PPS, where I spend most of my time researching, reading, writing, and compiling presentations.

My desk at PPS, where I spend most of my time researching, reading, writing, and compiling presentations.

The office is filled with light and curious objects/photos/memorabilia the staff has collected over the years. 

Check out that book collection!

Check out that book collection!

The front of the office facing the street.

The front of the office facing the street.

As for my projects, after some shuffling around I am now working full-time on a Placemaking project PPS is doing with none of than–Stanford!  PPS has been hired to activate Herrin Lawn, which is the relatively empty green space right next to the Herrin Biology Laboratories, and White Plaza.  I have been breaking down the space into different zones or “bubbles,” each of which corresponds to design recommendations, as well as doing research on benchmarks for similar spaces as inspiration for each bubble.  It’s so interesting for me to be engaged in the transformation of a space which means so much to me–the Stanford campus–while working at PPS.  It’s funny to watch my different worlds align.  I will share more about my projects next week as they progress!  

Tomorrow, I head to Crystal City, VA, which is right outside Washington, D.C., where PPS will be conducting a series of pop-up Placemaking workshops.  I can’t wait to share my photos and on-the-ground experiences from Crystal City next week!



Interview with Peter Calthorpe

​Peter Calthorpe, one of the most well-known innovators in urban design in the world, had a discussion with senior Ma’ayan Dembo on how he started in this field, his views on urbanism in the age of climate change, high speed rail, and the controversial Saltworks project.  In this interview, Mr. Calthorpe also discussed his Vision California project and what California can do to lead the world in designing for cities that have a lower carbon footprint and have better transportation and urban amenities.
Mr. Calthorpe has written extensively about urban design.  His most recent books include:
Mr. Calthorpe’s interview with KZSU’s Maayan Dembo was broadcast on KZSU on April, 24th 2014 on the Modern Tek News news show, and is available from this link.

Hon. Rodney Slater Talk at the Stanford “Transportation 2025 and Beyond” Event

On March 13, 2014 Honorable Rodney Slater, former US Secretary of Transportation during the Clinton Administration (in office 1997 – 2001), addressed the policies and innovations behind the present transformation of America’s transportation systems, and the leadership that will be required to finish the job. Secretary Slater offered historical perspective from his executive roles at the Federal Highway Administration and Department of Transportation (DOT), during which, among other significant developments, key public-private partnerships and cohesive visions of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) emerged. Now an advisor to current national transportation leaders, major corporations, state governments and international organizations, Secretary Slater shared his perspective on key developments over recent years and the opportunities and challenges ahead as new innovations continue to transform America’s transportation landscape towards 2025 and beyond.
“Transportation 2025 and Beyond” was co-hosted by the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. The event was recorded by Labiba Boyd, and the audio was edited by Ma’ayan Dembo, both representing KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM.

Rally at Highway 1 to Stop the Widening Saturday March 29, 11:00 -12:00pm

Point person: Cynthia Kaufman— kaufman.cynthia13@riseup.net  650.557.9797
On March 29 at 11:00 at the corner of Highway 1 and Rockaway Beach Avenue, Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives (PH1A) will be rallying to inform the citizens of Pacifica about the Caltrans plan to double the width of Highway 1 between Reina del Mar and Fassler. 
The group has been engaging the public in front of shops and going door to door. They have found overwhelming opposition to the project.
The volunteers are asking for signatures on a petition that reads:
“To the Pacifica City Council: The Caltrans plan to widen Highway 1 is not good for Pacifica. It will cause more problems than it will solve. I support pursuing a combination of alternatives that can improve traffic congestion on Highway 1 and that will be less damaging to Pacifica.”
PH1A opposes the plan for a number of reasons:  The present plan from Caltrans is vague and does not address the needs for safe pedestrian crossing at these crucial sites; it does not have good bicycle lanes. The plan calls for huge retaining walls and does not rule out the possibility of sound walls blocking coastal views. In short, it will destroy some of Pacifica’s unique beauty and our quality of life.
Moreover, the plan seems destined not to reduce traffic in the long range but to increase it, since 4 lanes would go to 6 lanes and then back to 4 – permanent bottlenecks. The increased traffic during years of construction will generate more traffic congestion, as well as air and noise pollution. Most likely, it will never lead to shortened traffic after that multi-year process.
PH1A has been organizing for over a year to get the Pacifica City Council to hold public hearings on the proposed widening of Highway 1. So far the city has not acted, and the plan is moving forward, with Caltrans taking the lead. PH1A also wants City Council to hire a traffic consultant to investigate what alternatives would be best for Pacifica. The group has already suggested synchronization of the lights, more resources for carpooling by the schools, better public transportation, and other alternatives that are better for pedestrians and bicycles, more likely to reduce traffic, less massive, and less invasive to the lives of Pacificans.
If you’d like to volunteer or for more information, please contact PH1A email ph1a@gmail.com or visit http://ph1a-pacifica.weebly.com

Ma’ayan Dembo: Abstract for Senior Capstone Project

Even though Hip-Hop graffiti first surfaced 45 years ago, city governments still struggle to come up with policies to address it. While researchers have discussed the negative, unintended consequences of city policies regarding graffiti/street art, none have explored the implications of these laws on the content and processes of the artists.  To do so, an international study was chosen between San Francisco, California, and Berlin, Germany, due to graffiti’s ubiquitous nature today. By looking at different countries, unique cultural and historic factors can be highlighted that affect the consistent core characteristics of this global movement. Both Berlin and San Francisco have had a thriving graffiti culture for over thirty years, and each city has differences in their regulatory approach.

Interviews with artists (ranging from traditional muralists, taggers, wheatpasters, stickerers, and chalk artists) were the best research method. Artists seldom have an opportunity to be in dialogue with city policies, and have to maintain anonymity due to the illegal nature of their work. Artists gave descriptive answers to the open ended questions that allowed common themes to be drawn across, or within, each city. While in San Francisco, artists were recruited through snowball sampling, in Berlin, artists were selected through a different process. I contacted subjects by recording signed works throughout the city and finding the corresponding email addresses or social media accounts. Berlin required a different sampling methodology because there were fewer initial contacts there than in San Francisco. Eleven artists from Berlin and ten artists from San Francisco were interviewed, all focusing in a variety of media. To gain perspective from the city’s side, one representative of the San Francisco Arts Commission was interview, and the Berlin Anti-Graffiti task force referred me to a series of documents outlining Berlin’s stance towards vandalism and street art.

In both San Francisco and Berlin, cultural and historical factors largely explain where graffiti/street artists’ prefer to create their works. While Berlin’s policies and programs also contribute to these artists’ spatial preferences, San Francisco’s robust programs have little influence on artists. In San Francisco, the majority of artists interviewed created works in alleyways, while most Berlin artists mentioned painting in abandoned buildings. These differing spatial preferences in turn inform each city’s scale and content of artists’ pieces, as well as potential barriers to creating legal works for younger artists. San Francisco’s artists focused more on creating works that were relevant, or at least acknowledged, the community. Local artists worked on a smaller scale, preventing them from painting many of the city’s large-scale works. Moreover in San Francisco there are greater barriers to making legal pieces for younger artists due to the lack of free space available for experimentation. In Berlin, artists did not have the same connection to the community in San Francisco because their preferred spaces– abandoned buildings– are outside of the public eye. Berlin artists, though, have more access to larger surfaces and thus are experienced at painting large murals. In addition, by painting in abandoned buildings, Berlin artists can paint on the same scale as San Francisco artists, but have more opportunities to play with the architecture and niches of a specific space. Finally, in Berlin, making legal works is easier since there is an abundance of empty and secluded wall space, as well as many legal Halls of Fame.

In 2014, graffiti is 45 years old– having already started a family and now raising children, it’s viewing the world through a different lens. In a similar life stage, traditional muralism is witnessing younger generations using its techniques and modifying the content and purpose of their works. Graffiti/street art forms are being re-defined right now, and cities must critically evaluate the laws they put in place regarding these urban art forms to fully understand both the consequences and the implications of these policies.