Matt Tomasulo / CityFabric
DIY - The Greater Raleigh Community
Personally, I consider “Walk Raleigh” as one of the top three projects–if not the winner, then at least second or third place. However, in our little bit of judging bureaucracy majority rules, so “Walk Raleigh” has been consigned into “Honorable Mention” land. The top honorable mention, maybe, but no trophy.
“Walk Raleigh” is a simple, elegant project, a clever hack of existing reality. The idea is super-simple, the type of nice simplicity where the project is obvious, but a “well, duh” obvious that makes you feel a little dumber for never having come up with it, and then excited and happy, because the possibilities and replacatability unfold immediately.
It is useful, both for locals (I live in Brooklyn, and I have zero idea how long it would take to walk to Prospect Park, or the waterfront, or Manhattan.) and people new to a town (I like walking in new places, but hate getting lost if I have to be somewhere by a certain time. If I ever went to Raleigh I could see the city, get to where I need to go in the time I have, and avoid cabbies eager to rip off a Yankee.) A hallmark of a solid, interesting DIY project is if it inspires others to repeat it. “Walk Raleigh” can, and should spread everywhere. The QR codes leading to the Google maps are a nice touch, especially since the walks seemed to be mapped for an interesting, instead of purely utilitarian walk. – Hackett
Walk Raleigh started as a group of 27 unsanctioned signs installed at 3 different intersections around downtown Raleigh. The signs are basic; they include an arrow, general destination, color, QR code and text stating how many minutes by foot it is to walk to said destination. The destinations are made up of commercial areas, civic landmarks and public open space. Within a month, Walk Raleigh attracted local, national and international attention, appearing on The Atlantic, NPR and The BBC (among other media outlets). The City of Raleigh has now officially approved Walk Raleigh as pilot educational program.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Problem to Solve:
How do you break down the perceived social barrier of walking in Raleigh, N.C.? How do you create a safer environment for pedestrians in downtown Raleigh? How do you increase economic development, social wealth, personal safety and healthier urban environments?
Raleigh is one of the fastest growing cities and strongest economies in the US and doubled in size from 1990 to 2010. Raleigh is now competing with other, larger cities for new residents, new businesses and other economic development opportunities. With Raleigh growing so fast, there are many discussions about how the city will adapting and maintain the quality of life it has successfully crafted over the past decade. With all the growth moving towards downtown and not out to the burbs, Raleigh is having to entirely revision its future through strategic decisions that are being made now.
Despite the extreme growth in Raleigh, the auto is still influencing most civic decisions. We challenge the city to consider the pedestrian as much as the auto. Citizens in Raleigh perceive downtown as un-safe and dangerous even though there is a significant residential population residing in downtown. Personal health is a huge issue for Raleigh residents. Daily physical activity is difficult when we lack public parks and possess an excess of 8 lane roadways. The challenge requires a very simple solution to address all these varying health, safety and economic issues that the city is facing with rapid growth and decision-making.
A year ago, while still in school, I launched a small business focused on integrating nerdy abstract maps called figuregrounds that we use in urban planning with common, everyday apparel items in hopes of creating simple conversations about downtown Raleigh. The hope was to make it easier for people to relate to their city. The t-shirts were a huge success and have grown rapidly. The success of the tees exceeded my expectations and helped convince me that the city is, in fact, craving new ideas, visions and tactics for making Raleigh a healthier and safer place to live.
Between my landscape architecture and urban planning degrees, I have focused significantly on ways to help create healthy and safe environments. (I quickly learned that in school, projects are executed in a matter of weeks versus months (or years) at the city level.) When I was tripped up by city setbacks when incorporating a school project into the public realm, I decided to craft a new, professional looking project that could potentially challenge the status quo. Using my knowledge of Raleigh, I target 3 different demographics of citizens at three very distinct intersections in and around downtown Raleigh.
This project is definitely an advocacy campaign, but it intentionally does not tell anyone to physically do anything. To change perception, information cannot discriminate or alienate. It has to be accessible for the young and old, red and blue.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Over the past 4 years I have studied landscape architecture, city & regional planning and urban design. I have studied in Copenhagen and Prague, participated and won two national healthy living and development competitions, taught younger students for 3 years, and founded a nationally recognized student-produced and curated journal. While in school I started a small business,CityFabric, that uses maps on t-shirts as a simple communication tool to build civic pride, engagement and inspire greater understanding about where you live. With CityFabric, I have traveled all over the country for markets and events selling the tees, meeting countless citizens and learning about incredible communities. With my firsthand experience from traveling for school and business, coupled with my values instilled by school, I began to tinker with public projects in Raleigh – the 2nd fastest growing city in the country. As an active community member, I have actively engaged with the real problems and opportunities that the city is facing. Walk Raleigh leverages walking and the pedestrian as a key agent in making decisions about Raleigh’s future.
We believe everyone is a pedestrian (and really, everyone is everyday – whether they realize it or not). Walking, being a pedestrian, and having a healthy environment (socially, economically & environmentally) to be a pedestrian in should be an option for everyone. Walk Raleigh has proven that simple interventions, sometimes by one person, can influence perception and change policy dramatically. We do not want to block any opportunity for this walking campaign to stop with us. We believe open and positive conversations about how we live can lead to good decisions in the future. We see these signs as a great tool to help cities experimenting with new ideas and tactics of accommodating different transit choices and introducing new ideas with minimal risk. We do not believe that a project intended for the greater good should be limited to any one group, organization or place.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Walk Raleigh has proved its value faster than I could have ever imagined. A month after installation, The Atlantic featured the project. 1 week after that, The BBC came to town to cover the story as well, gaining top viewership the day it aired. Walking has tremendous value in the future vibrancy and vitality of our cities. Up until this project, walking advocacy has typically been left for the older, established and sadly bland advocacy groups that are generally telling people to walk because its healthy. I have expanded on the conversation of walking as an economic development tool for cities to reestablish the urban realm as a place for people.
These signs do not tell people to walk in any way. However, they do offer the information needed to realize that walking IS a CHOICE in Raleigh. These signs have helped expand the public conversation to include pedestrian infrastructure and safety, and how it pertains to the future growth of Raleigh.
You might be asking yourself, why walking, that so basic?
It’s our belief that everyone is a pedestrian and should have the CHOICE to be one. Walking is not scary, but in some cities and places it can seem that way.
Beyond the obvious personal health benefits, with more and more pedestrians on the street, the healthier our places become socially, economically and environmentally. We have found that one of the greatest obstacles with walking is actually public perception, which we hope to positively influence thru Walk Raleigh.
• Self initiated –
• “Guerrilla” – unsanctioned –
• Accessible for all
• Open sourced platform planned – already distributing to other cities
• Manuals and how-to’s
• Offered to take down at anytime
• Non-permanent, plastic and zip ties “snip snip”
• Organized, designed and made the signs at a locally. Everything is custom & deliberate.
• Were actually removed for being illegal
• Rally 1300 people to sign a petition to restore the signs in 3 days
• Made a simple facebook and twitter hand to manage information and the social community
• Promoted feedback and conversation about the project.