We’ve been working with BRIDGE housing, the master developer for a housing and mixed use project at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland. We’ve been thinking a lot about how developers might create an authentic sense of place identity that enhances an existing neighborhood and adds a new level of vibrancy to what is currently a rather lonely transit stop sandwiched between freeways and wide, car-oriented boulevards.

dsc_0089_smThough clearly a very different design project set in against a different kind of urban backdrop, the below article about the Via Verde public housing project in The Bronx grapples with related issues. What is the value of creating a beloved place? How can such a place be created from scratch? This alchemy involves finding the right balance between prescribed uses and space for improvisation.

As designers and storytellers, we help define place by observing what is there, what is already true, and weaving that through the vision of what’s to come. Like the built environment, the success, authenticity, and seamlessness of the brand depends on a delicate balance between the rooted and the imaginary, existing facts and future plans.

In a Bronx Complex, Doing Good Mixes With Looking Good

By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN,The New York Times, September 26, 2011

…Put differently, architecture doesn’t solve unemployment or poverty, and neighborhoods rise or fall as decent places to live on the quality of their background buildings, which do and should predominate. But they’re distinguished by their landmarks, by the buildings and places that people come to love.
The greenest and most economical architecture is ultimately the architecture that is preserved because it’s cherished. Bad designs, demolished after 20 years, as so many ill-conceived housing projects have been, are the costliest propositions in the end.