Talk To: first site visit and burning questions!
Thursday afternoon we made our first visit into the heart of Barriera, the pilot neighborhood for TalkTO. Others will follow soon, but we have already gathered much information.
First: the agency for urban regeneration, Urban (use browser translator), has an outpost there, served by municipal officiers and volunteers, all animated by the same enthusiastic, proactive will to work for people, to make their life better. If one thing was clear from the conversation that followed, it is: Barriera is a living place, where you can experiment and pilot change. Indeed, where you have to experiment.
That was amazing for itself to know.
The goal of the visit was to meet representatives of the department of urban signs: if you want to deploy a new vocabulary of symbols, even if intended to navigate pedestrians, you need to speak with them. We had several questions for them and for Urban’s fellows: what do you recommend us to signal? What do you need to signal? What are the most important landmarks for people? Is it possible, above all, to deploy a kind of “sidewalk signs system” without competing – in drivers attention – with the standard road signs recognized and imposed by the law?
Well, the sign-guys did not come. On the other hand there were six representatives of the municipality, including an executive, the responsible for the public baths of the neighborhood, the head of Urban, two assistants and an officier appointed to study a system of signs to drive bicycles and pedestrian through the safer roads. They all knew the positions of the dept of urban signs on the topic – which was good -, and had more experiences/observations to share.
What we learnt, in bullets:
1. According to a recent anthropological study, the very landmarks of Barriera’s territory, for residents, are: the street market (open every day, 7 to 13, and offering a large variety of fresh foods and consumables at affordable prices), the public baths (use browser translator), and the public library. By coincidence I’ve just read this passionate piece about the crucial role of public libraries for people with low means, in US: so, if they are so important, why are they progressively disappearing and why their funds are increasingly squeezed??
2. Barriera is originally composed by three historical sub-districts: people living in each of them tend to gravitate within it, while public services (like, indeed, the market, the library, schools etc) are centralized. Therefore there is a need to drain people from their district of origin to those services. Talk To could serve such a need.
3. Public wifi hotspots are emerging (yeah): they need to be recognized and identified by residents and visitors!
4. The urban regeneration process that is involving Barriera is already started, but still it is supposed to end in 5 to 10 years: new services, buildings, lines, paths, parks, etc will emerge and will need to be signaled, but none of them by May 2012 (where we are supposed to deploy the pilot!). There is a chance that Talk To could elaborate a common and comprehensive vocabulary of signs for all these future emergences: such a vocabulary could be introduced to citizens in advance, through a capillary communication campaign, and, in the future, be visible as sidewalk signs.
5. Barriera is an historical neighborhood, with an historical heart: although the urban works are redesigning many surfaces, obviously some roads will not be touched. These roads are likely to be quite narrow and there is no way to design a bicycle line or a larger sidewalk. So bicycles and pedestrians need to be conducted through safe paths, which are still promiscuous, but safer because of lower speed limit for cars, for instance, or because their is no street parking allowance. These safe-mixed-paths need to be signaled for bikes and pedestrians.
6. There is a very interesting initiative for children mobility, called ‘Pedibus‘ (Feetbus): it works like a bus, with a driver and stops and lines, but without the actual bus. Children walk, from home to school and viceversa typically, in groups under the guidance of an adult. Stops, lines and paths need to be signaled as well.
7. There is a chance not to collide with road signs: we have to take care that drivers don’t get distracted by Talk To new signs for pedestrians. It is more than a design requirement, it is a strict constraint.
8. Finally, a big basic issue: suppose that we decide what to signal and along which path. We have already taken the first two key design decision but we are not done: we need to know where exactly to put the sign. On which support, at which height. The original intent of Talk To was to spray the signs over urban furniture, such as benches, garbage bins and similar objects. But, turning to real word, are there enough benches on Barriera’s roads? Mmhhh, not sure. Are they easily removable? Theoretically no, although it happens. Is the garbage Authority available to collaborate? Maybe, maybe not. Are materials used to stencil the signs suitable to be clearly visible and durable on every surface (for instance on curbs)?
These are the first burning questions we are going to answer next: next meeting is the 1st of March and next week we plan to do a second site trip, perhaps on a ‘Pedibus’ board!
We’ll keep you updated;)