Pamela Conrad: “Leading the Charge for Change”

Pamela Conrad, CMG Associate, is “Leading the Charge against Climate Change” – speaking on the subject at both the World Design Summit in Montreal on October 17th and at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on October 20th.

Pamela’s talks will focus on what landscape architects can do to ‘Drawdown’ the carbon footprint of their projects. Not only can we reduce the impact that our work has on the environment, but landscapes also have the unique capability of becoming ‘green machines’ that can help to reverse global warming.

This comes at a critical time as the landscape architecture profession is defining its role in the fight against climate change.

At the World Design Summit Pamela joins a group of experts and panelist from around the globe that are focused on Designing for the Earth and at ASLA Pamela is co-presenting with Martha Schwartz.



Project of the Week

Alexandra Zahn’s SOLARberg entry won honorable mention in PennDesign’s LA+ imagination island competition.

SOLARberg is an inflatable, modular solar still. It passively generates fresh, clean water from the ocean by replicating the way nature makes rain. This water is pumped inland using wave energy, without the need for electricity. SOLARberg extracts from the ocean the freshwater we are losing due to our melting glaciers. With enough of these solar still modulars (roughly the size of the Great Barrier Reef) Solberg’s have the capacity to harvest enough water to lower sea levels 3 feet over 100 years. 

Thanks to the LA+ publication team, PennDesign and the jury: James Corner Marion Weiss, Javier Arpa, Mathew Gandy, Mark Kingwell, and Richard Weller.


Irishtown Bend

Project of the Week

Irishtown Bend embodies latent cultural and ecological opportunities in America’s post-industrial river cities. This 34-acre site on the steep banks of the Cuyahoga River, once home to a vibrant Irish community and a network of railroad depots, warehouses, and docks, has sat vacant, disconnected from its surrounding neighborhood, and unsafe for use for decades.

A new vision plan leverages the immediate need to keep the severely eroding slope from sliding into the Cuyahoga River, a critical infrastructural corridor and active shipping channel, with the creation of a new urban waterfront park providing open space and recreational opportunities to the adjacent underserved community now disconnected from the river. The vision celebrates the site’s cultural and industrial history while adding ecological value to a traditional bulkhead stabilization.


Resilient by Design

Project of the Week 

We are excited to be part of the All Bay Collective, one of the 10 teams selected to participate in the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge. The challenge addresses the threats of sea level rise, severe storms, drought, flooding and earthquakes as well as issues of affordability and inequity in the Bay Area by bringing together local residents, public officials and local, national and international experts to develop innovative, community-based solutions that will strengthen the area’s resilience.

As part of the All Bay Collective, we are excited to collaborate with AECOM, University of California Berkeley – College of Environmental Design, Berkeley Center for New Media, the Terner Center, California College of the Arts, IDEO, Silvestrum, SKEO and Moll de Monchaux!  Our team is a diverse and innovative group of locally based/globally experienced professionals, academics, students and policy makers.

To learn more about the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge, click here.

Terminal One

Project of the Week

This new waterfront park built on a historic wharf will provide public access to a previously off-limits stretch of the San Francisco Bay shoreline. A Bay Trail extension, waterfront promenade, picnic deck, and coastal sculpture garden allow spectacular views of the Bay, Mount Tamalpais and San Francisco.



Dogpatch Arts Plaza

Project of the Week

The Dogpatch Arts Plaza is a converted dead-end street, creating about 8,000 square feet of art-focused public space at 19th and Indiana Streets in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood.  Inspired by the popular Decompression Festival held on Indiana Street each year, the plaza combines Burning Man’s artistic spirit with the Dogpatch’s industrial heritage to create an outdoor gallery and gathering space.  The space is meant to act as a “third place” where neighbors and passers-by can come together to engage with art and with each other.  The plaza is set to open later this year.

Dogpatch Arts Plaza Plan

More information on the Dogpatch Arts Plaza can be found here.

Headlands Center for the Arts

Project of the Week

With more than 3,000 square feet of new programming space, The Commons expands the multi-disciplinary Headland Center for the Arts’ services for resident artists and day visitors alike with three newly commissioned, permanent artworks by local, national, and international artists; and additional places to gather, relax, and enjoy the area’s renowned natural beauty.

Promenade View

Promenade View

The site is nestled between and immediately surrounding Headlands’ two main buildings, where it will feature a new central plaza with a  casual outdoor amphitheater for performances and events;  a  new  pedestrian  walkway  that  connects  the  artist  residency  studios  and  main public buildings  on  campus;  and  a  comprehensive  redesign  of  the  current  public  entryway that’s  more  welcoming  and  accessible. The design resonates with Headlands’ overlapping cultural and natural histories, creates more social interaction, and carefully places the architectural elements in a way that allows them to be discovered almost as artifacts.



Alcatraz Embarkation Site

Project of the Week  

The Alcatraz Embarkation Site is located at the midpoint of a series of public spaces along the Embarcadero and San Francisco’s waterfront. Since there is no crossing of the Embarcadero at the Alcatraz Embarkation Site, it is important to note that pedestrian flow became a driving concept of the redesign and site programming. This means visitors will either approach from the east or west where the crosswalks, muni stops, and parking areas are located. With this in mind, the goal is to divide the site into three parts:

  1. A Civic Plaza that will bring the Embarcadero into the site;
  2.  An Embarkation Area that will organize Alcatraz ferry embarkation operations while providing a framework for interpretive elements and experiences;
  3.  A Disembarkation Tour and Cafe that will provide comfort, dining, and social connection to visitors and locals alike.

Alcatraz Embarkation Site Diagram

By drawing the character, scale, and materials of the Embarcadero promenade into the site, we are able to respect and reinforce the flow of visitors utilizing this space.


The Commons Grand Opening + Public Celebration


Join us and Headlands Center for the Arts in the unveiling of The Commons, the latest artist-led enhancement to the Headlands’ historic campus located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The Commons will open to the public on Sunday, September 17, 2017 with a free daytime celebration featuring art installations, live, music, family-friendly activities, food trucks, and more!

The Commons project creates new social and programmatic spaces that expand and enrich the Headlands experience for artists, staff, and visitors. A generous, flexible central outdoor space serves as a venue for performances, events, and gathering for everyday use, allowing visitors and artists to interact and appreciate the beauty of the Headlands landscape. A concrete overlook and terraces reference the historic concrete military bunkers in the Marin Headlands and shape views toward the Rodeo Lagoon watershed. A pedestrian promenade connects the studios and commissary building and includes commissioned art installations by artists Ball-Nogues Studio and Nathan Lynch. A third commission by artist Chris Kabel will be mounted on one of the buildings that frames the central outdoor space. Native plants, grown by the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy nursery and planted by volunteers, will add beauty to the new landscape, frame major program spaces, and integrate the Headlands Center with the larger landscape.

CMG is proud to be a partner with the Headlands Center for the Arts and the National Park Service.

Event Details:

Where: 944 Fort Barry, Sausalito, CA
When:  Sunday, September 17, 2017
Time:  12 – 5 PM
Cost:  Free

Click here for more details.

Democratic Public Space

Intro By: Kevin Conger

One of the cornerstones of our mission at CMG is to improve the social wellbeing of our cities, so a lot of our work is focused on public space. I like to use the term “democratic public space” because it gets at the role of public space in relation to our democratic society and differentiates public space from privately-owned space that has some level of public access, like Zuccotti Park. Democratic public space involves complex relationships between ownership, agency, occupation, control, and freedom. Of course a lot of smart people have been thinking about this topic for many years and much has been written on the subject. Nevertheless, CMG identified Democratic Public Space as the research topic for our 2017 summer interns, Nahal Sohbati and Rivka Weinstock, primarily to engage our entire studio in the conversation and to directly apply the principles to projects we are currently working on, like San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza and Crissy Field. With the recent events in Charlottesville and the upcoming controversial rally this weekend at Crissy Field, this topic has a real sense of urgency.


CMG Intern Research Summer 2017

Presented August 11, 2017

Interns and Authors:

Nahal Sohbati, Academy of Art University, San Francisco, Studying for Masters of Landscape Architecture

Rivka Weinstock, University of Pennsylvania, Studying for Masters of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning

Democratic Public Space, as defined as an ideal for all public spaces, is a place that is publicly owned, universally accessible, both physically and in perception; allows for a diversity of voices and users in all stages of design and occupancy; allows for flexibility of use; is freely used by all individuals and encourages freedom of speech and expression.

Definition of Democracy

Democracy is a mode of living together in which people manage for themselves the conditions of their own existence through collective decision making.

Image from "Le Droit À La Ville" by Henri Lefebvre

Image from “Le Droit À La Ville” by Henri Lefebvre

Democracy provides citidens with “the right to the city,” which includes the right to participation and appropriation in their shared urban environment. By citidens, we use Henri Lefebvre’s term, which combines citizen (a citizen of the nation-state) and denizen (an inhabitant of the city, who is not necessarily a citizen of the nation-state) (Purcell, 314; Parkinson, 25).

The right to participate maintains that citidens should play an integral role in any decision that contributes to the design or making of urban space. The right to appropriation is the right to occupy and use urban space, as well as the right to produce urban space so that it meets the needs of inhabitants (Purcell, 102).

Relationship between Democracy and Public Space

The first declaration issued by the people’s assembly of Syntagma square (Greece, 2011) read, in part:

“For a long time decisions have been made for us, without consulting us. We….have come to Syntagma Square (Greece, 2011)…because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us. We call all residents of Athens…and all of society to fill the public squares and to take their lives into their own hands. In these public squares we will shape our claims and our demands together.”  (Purcell, 321)

Public space allows for the free appropriation and expression of space in our cities by all inhabitants. (Within our current system, public spaces do not necessarily always allow for the right to participation, though we argue that to be truly public, they should also include the right for full participation). Without public space, our society will shift into a polarized, privatized arena, dividing society into smaller target groups and segregating people along socio-economic classes. Public spaces are arenas for encountering difference, where we can learn to understand and tolerate the other, as well as participate and view the “theatres of everyday life” providing us with a picture of what makes up our society (Shaftoe, 5, Arendt, Poposki, 713).

Public spaces provide three dimensions of contact that can lead to civic engagement. The first is social contact with diverse populations, which many urban theorists say lead to tolerance (see Benjamin, Simmel, Mumford, Lefebvre, Jacobs). Seeing people who are different than you responding to a space in similar ways creates a temporary bond, which can lead to tolerance of the other. On the other hand, others argue that casual contact can sometimes have the opposite result (for example, snippets of conversation on the street are likely to strengthen adverse social-associations) (Wessel, 12). However, preference for common stimuli (for example, using the same community garden, playing a team sport, or enjoying the same music performance) and extended contact (which leads to familiarity, and then the possibility of friendship), seem to increase the positive effects of contact (Wessel, 7, 12). Programming that increases these elements should therefore be pursued.

The second dimension of public space that leads to civic engagement is contact with the physical, material and temporal nature of public space, which provides a sense of identification with the “pulse of the city”. Being in a space of what Amin calls “surplus” or multiplicity, or what Massey calls “throwntogetherness”, “the relatively unconstrained [and emergent] circulation of  multiple bodies in a shared physical space” and having your own spatial and temporal pattern within that space (“territorialization”), allows one to domesticize what could be seen as chaotic, promotes the negotiation of complexity, and provides a sense of belonging and connection to the larger fabric of civic society (Amin, 2006).

The third dimension, referred to as “symbolic projection”, is the symbolic and sensory expression of the currents and moods of public culture manifested in public space. This includes iconography (for example, the quality of design, images of consumption and advertisements and architectural expression) as well as active code (routines of usage and public gathering and what is appropriate behavior in a certain public space). Symbolic projections are powerful codes of public culture, both summarizing cultural trends as well as shaping public opinion (Amin, 2006).

The cultural and social cues of a space affect the type of user group that feels welcome in a space. For example, the redesign of Bryant Park utilized various cultural cues to discourage “undesirables” from using the space, enacting what Sharon Zukin coins “domestication by cappuccino” (Zukin, 1998).

Why Now? Relevance Today

The origins of public space as we know it are Greek agoras and Roman forum, which were designed to allow for citizens to gather and take political action. With the transformation of our cities into industrial centers, then car-centric transportation systems, and finally, with digital technology, and a production economy aimed at and encouraging mass-consumption, the city has lost much of its democratic landscape. Public space is no longer for citizens, but designed for consumers, tourists, or employees and no longer controlled by citizens, but by developers, investors, business associations, governments, and police. Commercialization of public spaces segregates people into smaller target groups, and excludes non-paying citizens, seen as loitering. (Shiwari, 209; Parkinson, 4; Benerjee, 10-11).

Some may argue that much of our political life has moved to the digital realm. While the digital realm has made gathering more global, convenient and efficient, using social media as the only political platform runs the risk of echo chambers, and exclusion of diverse voices. Physical public gathering space allows for converging camps and a mix of peoples and perspectives beyond one’s personal network. Finally, we, as people, still take up, occupy and share space and so public and free space is still key to understanding ourselves vis a vis our influence on the larger world (Parkinson; Toloudi; Tiwari, 12).

Democratic Public Space vs. Public Space

Once we agree that public space is necessary in a democratic society, the question then becomes, how should our public spaces function? One way to look at it is as a controlled and orderly space for retreat and recreation, where a properly behaved person can enjoy the spectacle of the city. Another way to look at it is as a space for open interaction, representation, and accessible to all, including marginalized people (Mitchell, 115). This type of public space allows for chaos and disorder. Public Space in the latter respect, though sometimes messy, is extremely important in allowing for the observation and engagement with “difference,” without which we are in danger of becoming increasingly prejudiced and passive, as we delve deeper into our enveloped daily routines (Shaftoe, 19).

Mint Plaza, San Francisco [CMG]

Mint Plaza, San Francisco [CMG]

Design and Democracy

We need to constantly construct democracy, from the way that we approach the entire process of the production of urban space, including outreach, design and management, to the smallest detail of our experience sitting next to a stranger on a park bench. The process should be as equally important as the outcome.

The design profession focuses primarily on the economic and environmental sustainability of our cities, but we must think deeply and critically about social sustainability (Woodcraft et al. 2012). “Social sustainability”, defined by Woodcraft, “combines the design of the physical realm with the design of the social world” (Woodcraft et al., 2012). In our current system cities are products of professionals, instead of being the outcome of an engaging process of involved users, alienating users from their built environment. Places are not just containers for social life, but themselves social accomplishments, things we make together. And thus, our role as designers is not just as genius creatives, but as mediators and facilitators between the professional world and actual everyday users (Brain, 21).

The community engagement processes we use are token; a process is not more democratic simply because there are more people in the meeting. In our current engagement process there are many voices that are not heard, including young, ethnic minorities, socially marginalized groups, the elderly and people who choose not to participate. Maximum effort must be put into reaching out to voices that are unheard. The process of building a public space needs to expand outward to include education, community building, and then physical change (Frisk, 8).  By educating the public, they will be equipped with the necessary sets of skills to express themselves and their needs. In this process, designers and other professionals need to employ a language that can be understood and is accessible to all, which can be used in public debate.

By providing a community with the tools and language necessary to negotiate the complexities of the built environment, we give them the capacity to make collective decisions about their shared spaces. This is not only good for the design process and the specific community at hand, this is an investment in creating a democratically constructed city (Brain, 23).

There may not be one right way to design a democratic public space, but by learning and experimenting, testing assumptions, and responding, and by putting the citidens or users in the center of the process, we are performing democracy (Baker and Hurely, 11). Design also teaches us that the physical space around us is a manifestation of the way we construct our society and in turn how it constructs us. As Winston Churchill suggested, when we shape the city, in turn, it shapes us.

Washington Square Park, NYC

Washington Square Park, NYC

Given that context plays such a large role in what makes a design successful in any given place, there isn’t one way to design a democratic public space. For example, when Walter Hood was asked to redesign Lafayette Park in Oakland, it was used mainly by homeless people, drug users and other “undesirables.” Calls for a redesign were seen by some as a way to rid the space of “undesirables,” but Hood’s design attempted to accommodate the existing users, as well as include a wide array of new users. He did this by creating a series of spaces for different users, separated by berms, while maintaining visual connections. In designing a democratic public space, there’s not one right way to approach it; by setting diversity as the goal, and by understanding context, culture and users’ needs, the methods to achieving that goal will differ (Hester, 81).

In his book, Convivial Urban Spaces, Henry Shaftoe studied several successful public urban spaces (successful in that they are used), and found that they share some common attributes, which he broadly categorizes under physical, geographical, managerial, and psychological/sensual (Shaftoe 139-141).


  • Plenty of sitting places
  • Good quality and robust
  • Adaptable (both for different uses and over time)
  • Asymmetrical, yet well proportioned (balance without symmetry)
  • Variety and intriguing details (i.e. not monolithic)
  • Carefully considered and appropriate horizontal surface treatments
  • Not too large – or too small
  • Permeable edges


  • Location (urban core, neighborhood or suburb)
  • Clusters, sequences and strings of spaces
  • Relation to transport (motorized and pedestrian routes)


  • Diversity of use
  • Promotion of a relaxed, round-the-clock culture
  • Inclusiveness
  • Well maintained and clean
  • Vehicular circulation banned or tightly controlled
  • Adequately lit
  • Animation/Activation

Psychological and Sensual

  • Human scale
  • Individuality and uniqueness
  • Feeling of safety (unthreatening)
  • Comfortable microclimate
  • Visually satisfactory
  • Incorporation of natural elements
  • Acoustically pleasant
  • Opportunities to eat and drink

Democratic Public Space as a System

When we talk about public spaces, we often construct a clear duality between public spaces and private spaces. Instead, it could be useful to bring more nuance into the way we understand public. Public Spaces could have one or more of the following features: (1) it is openly accessible; (2) it consumes collective resources (it’s owned by the public sector); (3) it has common impact; (4) it is a stage for the performance of public roles (Parkinson, 201).

Every public space should not have to perform every public role. It is important to look at the degree to which a particular city provides space for a variety of experiences and performances of democratic practices (Parkinson, 185).

Streetscapes – residential, commercial and civic boulevards

Square/Plaza – civic square (commons), church square, college campus

Park – garden, cemetery, large park, neighborhood park, regional park, national park

Linear Systems – bikeways, paths and trails

Outdoor Sport and Recreational Facilities – playgrounds, sport fields, school sites, golf courses, skate parks, outdoor fitness parks

Campground and Picnic Areas

Nature Preserves

(Sandalack and Uribe, 47)

Democratic Public Space should include the following:

  • Access
    • Accessibility to and from the space/connectivity
    • Universal Accessibility in the space
    • Mental/Psychological Accessibility
    • Inclusion and Belonging
    • Curfews/Policing
      • A safe, accessible and equitable space for all users regardless of physical or cognitive ability. Perceived accessibility is just as important as physical accessibility. Policing access and curfews discourage freedom of expression and use, which is essential to democratic public space.
  • Diversity
    • Diversity of users: inclusive across age, race, ethnicity, income, sexual identity, gender, religion, ability.
    • Diversity of voices in the design process
    • Promoting diversity and unity
      • Ensuring that a diversity of users are welcome and encouraged to use the space, ensuring a diversity of voices in the planning and design process. Ensuring that redesign of spaces promotes a diversity of users and does not exclude “undesirables”.
  • Ownership/Engagement/Guardianship
    • Owned by the public (as opposed to POPOS)
      • Public participation in the design process
      • Public guardianship post-occupancy
        • Public ownership of public space ensures that people have freedom of use and expression (and are not kicked out for self-expression, as in the case of Zucotti Park). How can we ensure that spaces are truly designed by the people and for the people? Are our current public engagement practices radical enough? Should public spaces be designed at all?
  • Flexibility
    • Programming/Usage
    • Spatial
    • Present and Future
      • Flexible to different users’ needs and different types of events, from social to more intimate. It should also consider present and future uses.
  • Freedom of Expression/Speech
    • Allowing for freedom of expression and speech
    • Serving as a “commons” – a space for expressions of community (ex. art events, festivals, celebrations, mourning, etc.)
      • Allowing for a mix of people and perspectives to freely express, exchange, debate, and dissent
  • Perception
    • Considering how a space is perceived and how that relates to all of the above categories.


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