The Art of Place Making

Chapel Hill is holding a forum on public art:

Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission
The Foundation for a Sustainable Community
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce

invite you to a Public Education Forum with
Ronald Lee Fleming AICP
Founder and Principal of The Townscape Institute

The Art of Place Making: Strategies for Thinking about Urban Design and Public Art

Thursday 10 February 2005
1:30pm - 3:00pm
Chapel Hill Town Hall
306 North Columbia Street
Town Council Chambers

The development of Parking Lots 2 and 5 in downtown Chapel Hill has the potential to revitalize and refocus how we use and experience Franklin, Rosemary, and Columbia Streets. In an effort to explore some of the dimensions and issues that could guide this project, we thought it would be helpful to start a community dialogue on the role of public art and design in reframing how we think about civic urban space. The Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, and The Foundation for a Sustainable Community, have invited Ronald Lee Fleming of The Townscape Institute to Chapel Hill for a talk and slide presentation.

The Townscape Institute is a nationally recognized non-profit public interest planning organization noted for its efforts to improve the livability of cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Through careful development and integration of public art and urban design, the Institute works to create place and contextual design.

Ronald Lee Fleming, an urban planner and designer, was one of the initiators of the "Main Street" movement, a program that coordinates the efforts of property owners and merchants to revitalize downtown areas through an awareness of and respect for community character. He is the founding chairman of the Cambridge Arts Council where he started the innovative Arts on the Line program of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA.) Since then, he has concentrated his research and writing on issues of place making and public accessibility of place meaning. He has authored or co-authored five books on the built environment, including the forthcoming release titled "The Art of Place Making: Creating Public Art, Urban Design and Interpretation that Tell You Where You Are."

The focus for Mr Fleming's talk will be to share with Chapel Hill examples of how other communities have resolved downtown design issues with respect to public art, streetscapes, gateways, environmental profiles, and public civic space.

Parking is limited at Town Hall, so we encourage you to walk, ride the bus, or park in one of the lots downtown. Nearby is the Rosemary Street parking Deck (150 East Rosemary Street) and Municipal Lot 2 (100 East Rosemary Street.) Town Hall is located one block south of these parking lots. For questions, please call Kate Flory, executive administrator of the Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission, 968-2888.

Clearly there are a lot of challenges to the effective use of public art: how do you keep it accessible without it becoming banal? how do you pay for it? how does it relate to the established identity of a place as opposed to helping in the development of that identity?

Public art can be an important part of any urban setting. On the other hand, we've all seen places where the art does not fit in, where it sticks out like a sore thumb.

In the case of Chapel Hill, the anticipated UNC Arts Commons makes downtown public art even more important.

Sally Greene has suggested that public art might be relevant to a "slow cities" approach.



Dan Coleman raises several important and critical issues with regard to public art. That said, great public art should in some way change our expectations and perceptions of our community; it should enliven our intellectual and aesthetic environment and add immeasurably to our collective vitality and spirit. The exhilaration of our community relies on public access to a variety of artistic expression, and the permanence of our ability to encounter works of art everyday.

Artistic response to site, building design, public space, landscape, or other programmatic elements associated with a public art project, need not reflect "identity" per se but rather draw initial inspiration from an understanding of the project and the community that will experience the artwork(s). For this reason, the Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission - in cooperation with The Foundation for a Sustainability Community and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce - decided to host a Public Education Forum to explore potential models for how we might approach the design of public artworks on Lots 2 and 5 as well as how we might successfully integrate art, architecture, civic space, and downtown redevelopment. Personally, I am delighted that the Town of Chapel Hill also recognizes the importance of these questions and has taken leadership toward trying to address these issues.

I hope that all of us can become active participants in this dialogue that debates and creates a vision for our built environment.

Janet Kagan

Thanks, Janet.

Perhaps someone can enlighten us as to the identity and nature of the Foundation for Sustainable Community. I'd never heard of it so I looked it up. This nonprofit has the same address as the Chamber and its listed contact is Virginia Knapp.

Does this mean that the Chamber is sponsoring twice? If not, then what? If so, then how?

How did that fourm go? I had planned to show but had a bit of a hangover and stayed home

Sally Greene has blogged about this here.

The forum consisted of Mr. Hawkins showing 2 carousels of slides from around the world--good design and bad. His focus on design was important. Many of the examples he showed were not designed to integrate into the surrounding environment. By themselves they might have been interesting buildings or artifacts, but they didn't fit into the setting they were in.

Good urban design, he said, requires strong design guidelines which he didn't feel Chapel Hill has. He also recommended developing stories (he had a different term) about the community, the environment, the people as part of the design guidelines. Then architects and artists can work together to create buildings/spaces that incorporate the stories.

The other thing he advocated for that I really appreciated was inclusion of the community in the design process. His model of participatory design is non-expert driven and inclusive of members of the different sub-communities.

I was happy to see a lot of folks from Carrboro there. These ideas will hopefully be included in the downtown transportation plan and in the open space planning. I'd also like to see some cooperation between the two town for transportation corridors between the two towns.


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