Our last Hatch session provided perhaps the most insight into areas in which our artists had not previously worked, but could potentially be a great asset. We were joined by planners Heather Alhadeff and Allison Bustin of Center Forward who had a lot of great thoughts and information about how artists could be valuable in the city planning process.
Why do we even need to plan cities and public spaces in the first place? Firstly, planning provides us with a neutrally informed set of data that we can then use to make long term plans, prepared for the future and adjust for changing needs. It is, in essence, a way of thinking about the interrelatedness of different causes from a micro/macro context (how does one small decision affect the larger whole?). Communities can use and often need different types of plans when looking at overall sustainability and building quality of life within their jurisdiction. Planners often also interact with other disciplines including architects, engineers, city officials, developers, urban designers and public health officials.
A catalyst of city planning originated out of a need to plan cities because of public health. By planning how and where resources and housing was located, cities could hope to avoid large outbreaks of illness and plague. Through planning, we can anticipate and mitigate issues before they even arise. We can also protect private property rights as well as public expectations with a shared vision for the entire community.
There are six steps in the planning process – Visioning, Community Engagement, Assessment of Conditions, Recommendations, Client and Public Approval, and Implementation. Each step requires a collaborative effort among the planning team along with the community in order to achieve a shared vision. Proper due diligence and communication is imperative to creating a shared, sustainable vision for the community.
Artists can be a boon to planners and city developers in that their skill set helps to unite people and break down barriers. Artists can also use their skills to activate spaces that are vacant or might otherwise go unused. Heather stressed that artists can be an important part of any step in the planning process in a variety of different ways because of the creative problem solving skill set that is essential to their work. In Heather’s opinion, traditional city planning did a poor job of activating and engaging people in public spaces. This is largely as a result of trends in planning and space that led to lots of large unused public spaces and elaborate indoor environments. Because of this, we discussed several case studies where artists had been utilized during the planning process with very successful results. In particular, the creative skills that are artists have in spades are highly sought after already by the business community because of their problem-solving applicability. The economic impact of artists on the business community combined with recent cultural changes and qualities people associate with place make artists an ideal addition at any point in the planning process. Most interestingly, Heather had the artists brainstorm projects in the public realm that related to the specific skill sets they had to offer. Jessyca Holland has written a blog pertaining to this brainstorm activity. Her description of the artists’ contributions is available here.
Lastly, Heather and Allison gave the Hatch artists a crash course in best practices for RFPs and RFQs. We looked through all of the components that make up a good RFP/RFQ and how to derive as much information as possible from the posting. In general it seems as if the best projects generally have the most detailed RFPs, because the organization involved has a very clear idea of the project scope and what they are envisioning. The less detailed posting can sometimes indicate that the organization does not have a good grasp on what they need/want. Above all, it was emphasized that in each stage of the RFP proposal process, following all instructions and guidelines down to the letter was paramount. Typos, sloppiness in appearance, being even one minute late with your proposal, and not following directions are all very easy ways to self select yourself out of the process because of carelessness and lack of attention to details. Proposals often come from groups of people with a variety of backgrounds. Although projects may not be specifically art based, the skills of artists can still often be utilized. Therefore, artists should consider not just proposals related to the creation of a specific work but also those that deal all aspects of the public realm. Best practices for the interview process were also considered. Who presents is important as that person(s) should present clear messaging and possess sharp public speaking skills. We closed out the end of the day by thumbing through several sample proposals that were both good and bad to look at examples of the process.
C4 Atlanta would like to see artists engaged at every phase of planning in the city of Atlanta.