George St Living Room
Competition Winner, Urban Land Institute
Alberto Quizon, Nicola Balch
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
What if George St could become a space that appeals as a destination to a broad range of social, cultural and economic demographics, not just people looking to make commercial transactions? It is an exciting notion, one that could transform George St from a piece of hard working urban infrastructure to an active and multi-modal piece of social infrastructure. However, this idea raises two big questions: Firstly, how can a public space be designed to appeal to such a broad range of the population simultaneously? And secondly, how would we know that the design has had the intended effect both in the short and long term?
Rather than impose a fixed design solution from the top-down what if we could create a system that would allow George St to re-imagine itself? ‘The George St Living Room’ is an idea that would enable the public to “vote with their feet”, allowing the city to continually test new place making opportunities and learn from them in real time. A financially sustainable and evidence based system that could set diversity targets and achieve them and can respond to the dynamism of the city, adapting continually to its yearly calendar of changing events and cultural diversity.
Even before Mike Lydon coined the term “Tactical Urbanism” in 2010 the movement had begun to transform how we thought about activating public space. As a means of implementing a place making solution quickly and without the political burdens of a permanent design proposal, New York’s Tactical Urbanism movement implemented a series of temporary ‘pop-up’ measures which are based on the idea of testing the success of an urban initiative prior to its implementation. As they predicted, the ‘temporary’ place making designs became so popular that they were soon replaced with more permanent elements.
On the other side of the world Danish Architect and Urbanist, Jahn Gehl, who’s team authored the City of Sydney’s George Street Concept Design, regularly sends his team of urbanists to cities to gather data. The urbanists seek to understand how many people are on the street, where people’s desire lines lie, where people dwell and occupy the streets and public spaces. This invaluable data allows the team to come up with a rigorous understanding of the health of a public space. The count is then done again years later to measure the success of liveable strategies. What if we could do this continually, in real time?
‘The George St Living Room’ is a hybrid of these two movements. The proposal consists of two layers. Firstly, a ‘kit-of-parts’ furniture component system that can be assembled and disassembled like lego to offer an endless number of configurations for different uses and users. Secondly, an underlying ‘carpet’ consisting of paving modules arranged along a ‘pixel grid’ not unlike the cobblestone streets of old Sydney. These paving modules use low-tech pressure sensors to gather anonymous footfall data which can then be collected, analysed and interpreted using intelligent software such as the CCAP 2.0 System already in use by the City of Sydney.
The interaction between these two systems, the ‘Living Furniture’ and the ‘Smart Carpet’, could create a positive feedback loop where ideas about our urban spaces can be designed, implemented, analysed and refined in a continuous and iteratively improving process. This real time feedback mechanism could turn George St into a street that can learn from itself, respond to public input, and communicate intelligently with its stakeholders and council on how to collectively maintain and improve the health of our public space.