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Unsolicited Architecture for Celebration and Place Making

buckybar_04At the 2016 New Partners for Smart Growth conference, PlaceMatters set up an exhibit demonstrating ways to incorporate pop-up design into community planning and stakeholder engagement. At the front end of the exhibit was a pocket park featuring a geodesic dome made out of umbrellas. I got the idea from photos I had seen of a pop-up event in Rotterdam where students from Dutch Architecture Studios created a dome made of umbrellas and re-assembled it in a few hours on the streets of Rotterdam catalyzing an impromptu party underneath. They called the structure a Bucky Bar, in honor of Buckminster Fuller and his multiple designs of geodesic domes. In one of the write-ups on this event, they gave the structure and associated event the label of unsolicited architecture  I like this term as another classification of what we often refer to as  tactical urbanism or pop-up up design, referring to the deployment of easy to assemble structures that draw attention and encourage spontaneity, socializing, and conversations about placemaking.

Live•Ride•Share - Pop-up Demostration - May 2016Since the New Partners conference, PlaceMatters did a pop-up demonstration of a protected bike lane and place making activities, May 17th as part of the Live•Ride•Share conference. A self imposed goal of this pop-up demonstration was to be able to set up and take down the demonstration in under 30 minutes, utilizing materials that had been used in prior demonstrations and/or would be reusable in the future with minimal waste and clean-up. The demonstration included contributions from the Ladies Fancywork Society that is famous in the Denver Region for their crochet bombing techniques, adding art and beauty to objects in the area. My favorite crochet bomb they made for us was the flower petals/leaf added to the “B” sign of the nearby B-cycle bikeshare rack. They also decorated the bike racks, trees, and one of the bikes next to the pop-up demonstration.


The Making of the Umbrella Tent

Luckily, I was able to find a Sketchup Design done by Taff Goch that I imported into my own SketchUp model of our exhibit area. Below are some screenshots of the exhibit and the dome design.

Sketchup rendering of NPSG 2016 parkletGeodesic umbrella dome - NPSG 2016

As you can see from the photos and the SketchUp model, this partial dome is made out of a combination of octagons, squares, and 7 prong stars, which I confess caused hours of head scratching on how these shapes could come together to form a dome. It helps to realize the pattern cannot be repeated to create a fully enclosed polyhedron. If I did it again, I would probably make a dome out of 5-ribbed and 6-ribbed umbrellas, mimicking the soccer ball design of a truncated icosahedron but with extra hexagons.

DIY 7 rib umbrella for geodesic umbrella dome - NPSG 2016One of the challenges I ran into was finding similar umbrellas to what creators at the Dutch Architecture Studios used. It’s not hard to find octagon umbrellas but finding heptagon or 14-rib umbrellas that are the right size is another matter. The umbrellas I ended up finding and ordering were shipped from China. And because I ordered them 2 weeks before the event, I realized they would not arrive until after the conference. To be able to build the dome without the 7 or 14 rib umbrellas, I ended up making a 7 prong hub in Sketchup and printing the hub with a 3D printer. I used ¼ oak dowels for the spokes. We then put a white photography umbrella in the hole of the center of the hub. Special thanks to Drew Hastings and Holst Architecture, in Portland, for offering to print the hubs on their new 3D printer. 

Here is a panoramic picture of the entire exhibit area.

Panoramic view of NPSG 2016 PlaceMatters Parklet

For a blog entry on all the parklets featured at the conference refer to the following overview put together by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). In addition to the indoor parklet, PlaceMatters partnered with ALTA Planning in Portland to do a pop-up demonstration of a protected bike lane on Broadway Street, just outside of the Hyatt Hotel where the conference was. Here is a nice blog posted on Bike Portland’s website about the demonstration and some of the challenges of doing a demonstration under wet conditions.

Additional notes on building your own umbrella dome

Not sure how long these links will remain valid, but here are links to the materials I found.

  • Octagon Umbrellas: Rainstoppers 34-Inch Children’s Umbrella – great price and the plastic knobs on the ends are perfect for tying the umbrellas together with pipe cleaner wire.
  • 14-rib Umbrellas: ColorDrip Business Style Windproof Automatic Travel Sun-Rain Umbrella – it took a long time to find these since 14 rib umbrellas are rare, and finding the right size is even more rare. Because these ship from China they took more than a month to arrive.
  • Top of geodesic umbrella domeFor the center support pole, I used a 10 foot black pipe from Home Depot with two floor flanges for each end. On the bottom, I screwed the flange into a 12X12X1” piece of oak. On the top, I used bailing wire to attach the flange to the four umbrellas at the top.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or need further details on materials and construction of the dome.


The Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Walkable and Bike-able City and Town Centers

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A great webinar hosted by Smart Growth Online, Sign up HERE!

Date and time:Friday, October 30, 2015 2:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time (New York, GMT-04:00)

Duration:1 hour 30 minutes

Description:The webinar will feature the experiences of 8 U.S. cities in creating or increasing the walkability and bicycle-friendliness of their downtown areas. The cities profiled include small towns (Grandview, MO and West Jefferson, NC); medium-sized cities (Orlando, FL, Redmond, WA and Lancaster, CA) and large cities (the Bronx in NYC, Cleveland, OH, and Charlotte, NC). The webinar will focus on the implemented strategies, the resulting increases in walkability and bike-friendliness, and the economic and fiscal benefits of each project.

– Jim Cohen, Senior Lecturer and Director, Urban Studies and Planning Program, University of Maryland College Park (Moderator)
– Dennis Randolph, Director of Public Works, Grandview, MO
– Carolyn Hope, Park Planning, Arts and Culture Manager, Department of Parks and Recreation, Redmond, WA
– Brian Ludicke, Planning Director, Lancaster, CA
– Gustavo Castro, Project Manager, Transportation Planning Division, Orlando, FL
– Dean Ledbetter, Senior Planning Engineer, North Carolina Department of Transportation

Ponderosa Mobile Home Park: Building Trust and Capacity

Since March 2015, PlaceMatters has been working at the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park in North Boulder, CO, around issues of affordable housing, community engagement and communicating complexities. Through our grant with HUD-EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative and a subsequent contract with Trestle Strategy Group, we had the pleasure of working with the Ponderosa community and the City of Boulder to navigate the complexities of annexation for the parcel of land that currently offers a valuable asset for low-income residents.

The community of Ponderosa is unique: 69 trailers are located on a privately-owned parcel that falls under the Boulder County jurisdiction but is surrounded by the City; residents enjoy wonderful views of the foothills, river and park access, a community garden, and can walk to shops, bus routes, and bike paths.The community offers affordable, single family units that are not subsidized by affordable housing programs or the government. The residents know they have something special, which is why many of them have been here for over twenty years. 


Green frame - view The issue of affordability in Boulder has been at the forefront of the regional conversation and for good reason. reports that the median selling price for a home in Boulder, CO from May to August 2015 was $538,000. In 2014 the Boulder Weekly reported that the large number of high earning households in the community is creating higher housing prices and a dwindling stock of affordable housing units. As part of addressing affordability, Boulder has looked to preserving mobile home parks as an asset.


As residents have noted, they are proud to own their homes and that they are not subsidized. They appreciate having their own space, not in a multi-story apartment building and value having room for their children to play in a stable community. From their perspective, the park is a very different life than other affordable housing types.

However, Ponderosa, like many mobile home parks that are owed by a single landowner, certainly does have issues to confront. Aging infrastructure can be overly burdensome for a single landowner or cause drastic rent hikes to cover. Road improvements and flooding concerns can also be factors. The City of Boulder is working with the landowners to find innovative and collaborative ways to address these issues and keep the residents of Ponderosa in place.

 Green frame - river

Our work on this project started with compiling research on practices and land use policies for mobile home parks across the nation. PlaceMatters reviewed existing policy for mobile home parks across the nation, area experts in mobile home park issues and created a resource guide for mobile home park policy considerations, common issues and area experts. The research led us to understand that
Colorado has relatively few protections for residents and unfavorable land use policies for parks. It also showed how parks can become places where residents thrive from an appreciable asset.


Research provided the base knowledge that we needed to engage with the community. Marine Siohan and Anne Kuechenmeister had the opportunity to work with Ponderosa residents alongside Trestle. Annexation is a complicated process that is difficult to understand. The community was also starting in a place of mistrust for city government. The team knew that building trust and communicating complex issues, while learning about what the community needs and values were, would be critical pieces to guide the annexation scenarios that were recommended.  In order to build trust and learn about the community, PlaceMatters sought to shift the power dynamic of interactions between the team and residents.


Crowd at July 1 meetingMeetings were held in the community, in a comfortable outdoor space, in English and Spanish, using low-tech community methods. This was the basis for integrating power shifting techniques to open up dialogue.


PlaceMatters used a variation of PhotoVoice, a process of collecting input telling place based stories through photos. Residents used red and green frames to take photos of what they wanted improved and what they value and appreciate in the community. Red frame symbolized what they would like to be changed about their community and green frames represent what they value. Residents taught us what was important to them about the community and what they would like to change. This helped us understand values and community assets while building trust.


Using photography to communicate also assisted in breaking down language barriers between English and Spanish and made enabled people with different levels of literacy to equally participate. In addition, the activity was accessible to youth and adults, and resulted in nuances being communicated in a way that may be lost in a traditional written survey.


Alongside static photos, we also worked with residents to videotape their stories and connections to Ponderosa and the surrounding community. Through storytelling residents have shared their vision for the future and what they value about their community. Sharing residents’ voices has given city leaders a better understanding of who lives here and why the opportunities that the park affords them is so valuable. We are excited to announce that after seeing the video and hearing information on the park, the Boulder City Council has stated that they are not willing to move forward with annexation if it means that residents will be displaced.


Attachment C - Green Frame-2



Re-imagine West Colfax!




Caption: The Colfax Viaduct facilitated moving vehicles, and trolleys in its early days, from Downtown Denver to West Colfax. Many businesses were moved to make way for its construction. Photo from:

Colfax Avenue turned 140 years old this year. Since its inception as a six block long road, it has swelled and expanded to over 26 miles across the Denver metro area and has become the longest continuous commercial street in the United States. At one point, Colfax was the place of mansions, trolleys, trees, and wealth, but with the introduction of interstate highways and disinvestment in the properties along Colfax, the spine of Denver fell from prominence. Colfax became less of a destination to live close to and more of a thoroughfare, widened to 60 feet, for moving vehicles East and West through the center of the city.


Today Denver is seeing a resurgence of population in the city and higher demand for urbanized, bikeable and walkable living. Colfax continues to transform, with new businesses adding to existing, and more residents wanting to be within close proximity to vibrancy. However, the physical layout of the road has not changed at the same pace as the communities that surround it. The incongruent change has created concerns for pedestrians and bikers.



Biker uses the pedestrian space to navigate West Colfax. Photo credit: Anne Kuechenmeister


The West Colfax Business Improvement District from Sheridan to Federal Blvd is one area of Colfax leading the charge to find design solutions to make the road more compatible to walking, biking, and transit. Data collected by PlaceMatters, WalkDenver, the University of Colorado, and residents in the West Colfax area has helped pinpoint key pedestrian concerns. Bike route analysis has identified large service gaps, which create high stress biking environments. Stakeholder input has further refined priorities for area businesses, property owners, residents, employees, and visitors. The resulting partnership and efforts to identify design solutions for the area is called Re-imagine West Colfax.



Kansas City Demonstration_0

Temporary design demonstration showing parklets, or pop-up parks, more space for pedestrians and added greenery/ Photo Credit: Kansas City Better Block

The Gates Family Foundation has awarded grants to PlaceMatters and WalkDenver and have partnered with Groundwork Denver, the University of Colorado, Alta Planning + Design, and Radian to organize a series of activities and events this summer assisting the West Colfax Business Improvement District and its efforts to demonstrate what the next era of Colfax could be. The Re-imagine West Colfax design demonstration on August 16th will include several types of bike lanes that allow riders to test what it feels like to ride on each. It will include pedestrian bulb outs to decrease the crossing distance on Colfax. Participants can also experience enhanced crosswalks, median refuges, wider sidewalks and small pop-up parks along Colfax. All of these features will be paired with food trucks, music, art and beer!



Pop up bike lane

Pop-up bike lane lets riders test a safer and lower stress riding experience

The long term vision for this demonstration is to show the community and city how data collection, community participation and short term design demonstrations can lead to better long term improvements and planning in the community. The temporary design demonstration allows residents, business owners, government agencies and traffic engineers to see the designs in action prior to long-term implementation.


If you would like to see collaborative community planning in progress, and test out how bike and pedestrian environments can be improved, please join us on August 16th, 10 am to 4 pm, on West Colfax Avenue between Tennyson and Utica.


Support Re-imagine West Colfax by volunteering your time. Please join us at a community meeting at 4500 W Colfax Ave Denver, CO 80204 from 6pm to 8pm on July 28th or August 11th.

Support Re-imagine West Colfax with your donation, and see your pledge matched by the WCBID’s $3000 match grant! Donate Now!

For more information contact: Anne Kuechenmeister,


This Saturday: Help shape Denver’s future at the DenverUP Scrimmage!

CBWish to help shape Denver’s future in a unique and fascinating way?

On June 6th, CityBuild and ReWork are teaming up for a full-day, immersive rapid prototyping scrimmage that will bring together Denver residents who care about making a positive impact on the Denver community (that’s you!).

The Challenges:

  • Urban Peak, which works with homeless youth, will be addressing the topic of how to better equip youth in their program for life-long employment.
  • EatDenver, which represents hundreds of independently owned local restaurants, will be exploring staffing challenges in the industry and mis-conceptions about careers in hospitality.
  • PlaceMatters will be exploring how Denver might be able to create (safe) public spaces for “unstructured play”, especially for those communities who don’t have a lot of resources at home.
  • Mile High United Way will be exploring how to make the Denver city centre more friendly and livable for families.
  • The Denver Public Library will be examining how to provide “library services” to emerging neighborhoods…but without requiring any brick-and-mortar
  • Zocalo Community Development will be addressing challenges with providing affordable housing options in Denver.
  • BikeDenver will be examining how we can create the right combination of biking, walking, car sharing, and public transport to reduce single-person vehicle commuting.
  • CityBuild will be exploring how we can engage more youthful generations in civic conversations

What’s rapid prototyping? A method used to accelerate the innovation process.

Wondering what’s in it for you? The scrimmage is a great opportunity to network with like-minded professionals, help create innovative solutions for leading organizations in the Denver community, and learn design-thinking and rapid prototyping skills that will translate to your professional life.

Wish to learn more about what prototyping looks like? Check out this 8-minute TED Talk from ReWork’s mentor Tom Chi, about building Google Glass.

When? Saturday, June 6th from 9:30am – 3:00pm

Where? Galvanize, 1062 Delaware St

Reserve your spot today! 

Just announced: Encourage a friend to join you and get a 20% discount! Just make sure to purchase your tickets together and to select the “Group” option on Eventbrite.

Re-Imagining West Colfax: Join Us on June 11th!

Calling all West Colfax community members, visitors, business owners, and advocates for biking and walking!

The West Colfax Business Improvement District, in conjunction with local partners, is hosting a resident engagement kick-off meeting on June 11th! Join us at Confluence Ministries from either 9 to 11am or 6 to 8pm to learn about the project and provide input on design preferences to improve walking and biking along West Colfax.

The feedback will be used to inform design decisions for a temporary installment of improvements for pedestrians and cyclists this summer in a tactical urbanism design demonstration.