Firstly, apologies for the lack of activity here back here in May/June. We've moved house (hello Lilyfield; you'll soon see images of a new deck underneath books in my reviews) and I've been submerged in work. Unfortunately this site has to flex in response at such times, receding into a background hum of the occasional Delicious update and artlessly sporadic Twitter use.
Secondly, while discussing inactivity, there has actually been some activity on what we called the Best Urban Spaces project a 'while' ago. Russell Davies, James Goggin and I did the initial cut of images over a year ago; then production issues - by which we all mean other work - beset us.You may recall the project was an attempt to produce a pamphlet, or short book, which would be a compendium of user-submitted photographs of favourite urban places or spaces, ideally accompanied by a short description. The Flickr Group we are using quickly became a fascinating selection of contributions. It still is, and they keep coming. What we've failed to do is move quickly on the production side, for which we apologise. It's a 'slow project' in the R.M. Davies sense, but still. Not intended to be that slow.
However, Practise have done some sterling work on the design and layout and it's all coming to fruition. James and Russell are investigating the appropriate printing options (from London; add a note below if you want to suggest something; though we're not thinking Lulu or equivalent with this particular project). It's looking great, and we're really excited that it will be emerging soon. I think the project has quietly uncovered some interesting reflections on what people consider to be good or great urban space, and even what they think urban space is in the first place. Some sneak peeks in the crops below (some of you may recognise photos of yours; those that do will receive a free copy of the book, if you remember the deal):
We're renaming it Splendid Urban Places. This is partly as the opportunity for synchronisation with the Worst Urban Places project is long gone; partly as we don't want to, or simply couldn't, claim to be as authoritative as the word 'best' implies, and also because I was taken with the following passage by William H. Whyte in his Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, which better captures the spirit of our project (and which eagle-eyed readers will recognise from a certain recent speech). And because despite its American provenance, it sounds rather English.:
"Some of the more felicitous spaces, furthermore, are leftovers, niches, odds and ends of space that by happy accident work very well for people. At 57th Street and Madison Avenue in New York there is a bank with two window ledges. They're low enough for sitting and are recessed enough to provide wind protection. There is sun all day, a parade of passersby, and a the corner a vendor squeezing fresh orange juice. It is a splendid urban place. There are other such places, most provided by inadvertence. Think what might be provided if someone planned it." [my emphasis; from The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces]
Practise have spent time designing a flexible layout (which was tricky, given the highly variable dimensions, aspect ratio and resolution of the images people submitted) which will serve the project well through subsequent editions.By chance, a colleague of mine in Arup's Foresight+Innovation team, Duncan Wilson, has created a project with broadly similar aspirations and platform. I've been helping Duncan pull it together a bit, with our colleague Francesca Birks in New York, and it's also proving fascinating. Entitled Cut 'n' Paste Cities, the project is different to Splendid Urban ... in that it concerns a wider range of aspects of urban fabric and life - not simply spatial, though it can be - and also enables you to suggest things you'd like to see less of i.e. a cut from a city, as well as a paste into a city.
So we might imagine suggested pastes into an urban environment could be elements of urban infrastructure - trams, funiculars, recycling systems, local food delivery services, community gardens - as well as services - integrated ticketing systems a la Oyster or Octopus or Go Cards, say. Cuts could be unnecessarily large freeways, examples of dreadful architecture, potential development sites being sat upon, shoddily run services and so on.Or it could be the other way round - up to you. Again, we're using a Flickr group to co-ordinate, although you can also submit via email (instructions at the Cut 'n' Paste Cities website). This is heading towards a different series of outcomes, including potentially an exhibition, though you retain the rights to your images of course. You'll find contributions from Arup staffers like me in there too.
So, stay tuned for Splendid Urban Places and in the meantime why not visit Cut 'n' Paste cities; have a browse through both groups and ideally, join up and contribute.