Interboro at Patch Dynamics


Last night, Interboro participated in a panel discussion organized to celebrate the publication of Designing Patch Dynamics, a new book edited by Brian McGrath, Victoria Marshall, M.L. Cadenasso, J. Morgan Grove, S.T.A. Pickett, Richard Plunz, and Joel Towers. Many thanks to Brian and Victoria for the invitation, and also for hosting a most pleasant post-panel dinner at Alouette on the Upper West Side, where Interboro was very happy to toast to the book, and to spend a few hours talking design pedagogy with Brian and Petia Morozov. Interboro regretted having sat too far away from its friend Graham Shane to engage him in the conversation, but such is the nature of such large dinner parties. As for the panel, well Interboro was honored to be a part of it, and was happy to gain a bit more insight into the intriguing and somewhat elusive world of patch dynamics. Interboro was also happy to reconnect with David from The Living, who Interboro got to know while serving on the Young Architect’s Committee in 2006. Anyway, Interboro was asked to present one of its projects as a Patch Dynamic. Interboro chose to present “Improve Your Lot!” for its manipulation of feedback loops and its interest in legitimizing an emergent practice. Here are the introductory remarks: Hi. We’re Interboro. Thanks for inviting us here. And congratulations on this book! We’d actually like to start by showing a quick clip from our favorite show The Wire. If there are any children here, please clover your ears. This clip might demonstrate the failure of community stewardship, but we’re here to support it. Many things in the book stood out for us, and we see many ways in which we can relate our own work to the work presented here. But what we want to focus on today is this notion of community stewardship opportunity spectrum (which we understand is not named after Steward Picket), and which is presented in Chapter III of the book: The Mutual Dependence Of Social Meanings, Social Capital, And The Design Of Urban Green Infrastructure. We had never heard of “community stewardship opportunity spectrums” and we wondered if we should have, but then we Googled it, and it received no Google hits, so we felt a bit more secure in our ignorance. But it strikes us as an interesting idea, and it seems like important research that is in the spirit of recent scholarship that is at the intersection of Science and Technology Studies and urban studies. While what a community stewardship opportunity spectrum is is not spelled out in the essay, we’re interested in the authors’ conviction that there is a link between social knowledge, social capital, and development. More specifically, we’re interested in the implication this link might have for urban design. Consider the reasoning behind People and Park’s Gwynn’s Falls Trail: the authors write: “As more people use the trail, important feedbacks develop. Those who experience the stream and riparian zone become aware of this unique and valuable natural resource, which increases demand for its maintenance.” So we see this matrix presented on page 73 and the corresponding “Interlude 1.” The implication here is that People and Parks were “instigating,” by increasing the visibility of the watershed. It’s a sort of decoy. The Trail is important in and of itself, but its success will be measured by how well it catalyzes people into action. As a strategy, it’s potentially a bit manipulative, and of course there is no guarantee that the Falls will have a catalyzing effect (there’s little evidence to suggest that Marlo cared much for watershed management). But we would argue that it’s very smart. In fact, it’s a similar strategy to the one used by Jorge Mario Jáuregui in Rio. Clearly, there is a feedback loop that emerges from social knowledge, social capital, and development that architects and planners would do well to manipulate. On the other hand, we’re interested in the ways in which people can catalyze architects into action. Brian McGrath writes in his chapter about morphogenesis, “an emergent process in which organisms assemble themselves without a master planner calling the shots. Simple agents following simple rules can create amazing complexity.” He goes on to describe that “urban designs as models of patch dynamics, while benefiting from global thinking, are enacted locally.” In fact, many of our projects involve us using design to legitimate emergent practices. The project we’re going to talk about tonight is called “Improve Your Lot!” which visualizes the ongoing, bottom-up urban design and planning practices of individual homeowners in one city, and proposes a number of strategies to help these practices along. . .