“Urban Prototyping” Festival to Transform Public Space Through Citizen Experiments

  •  Oct 11, 2012
  •  Press Release

“Tactical urbanism” meets technology to develop scalable design projects for cities around the world

(SAN FRANCISCO) Oct 11, 2012– The past several years have seen a surge in new forms of civic engagement, with teams of citizens joining together to build apps and projects that use technology to address contemporary urban issues. Now, a new initiative is bringing this same open-source “hacking” mentality to the physical realm. Building on the parallel rise of “tactical urbanism”–the use of small-scale, informal designs to seed long-term changes to the city landscape– the Urban Prototyping (UP) Festival aims to support new design and technology projects that improve the urban environment by creating more inspiring, livable and engaging public spaces.

The San Francisco UP Festival will take place on October 20, 2012, and will feature over 20 model projects set up in streets and parking lots in a 3-block area around the 5M Project at 5th and Mission. Each project embodies the concept of open source and will be documented so that they can be replicated in any city worldwide. Model projects range from the whimsical to practical and include outdoor gardens, urban playscapes, glowing crosswalks, public urinals, urban parasol structures, and much more. The projects will give everyone the chance to see firsthand how these rapidly prototyped urban interventions can change and challenge the way we use, share, and contribute to our public spaces.

The initiative is led by the San Francisco digital culture organization Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA), in partnership Intersection for the Arts (IFTA). GAFFTA has been recognized for its large-scale festivals and hackathons at the intersection of technology, art, and urban issues, and IFTA is exploring the economic impact of the arts in placemaking through its new 5MPlaceworks initiative.

The Urban Prototyping Festival demonstrates the role of innovation and art to reinvigorate public space,” said Josette Melchor, executive director of GAFFTA. “The movement starts in the capital of innovation, San Francisco, and is spreading its arms to the world. Our talented community is responsible for the content of the event and we are pleased to provide–with our many partners–a platform on which citizens engage and design the changes they want for themselves.

Lead collaborators on UP are Rebar, a design studio whose projects reframe the way we think about public spaces worldwide; and global design and innovation firm IDEO.

UP stands out among other public design festivals for its focus on creating projects which are easily replicable, and can be adopted by cities worldwide. The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation and the City’s Planning Department are working closely with UP to identify projects suitable for larger-scale pilots similar to the parklet program.

San Francisco is home to so much talent and opportunity,” says Jay Nath, the Mayor’s Chief Innovation Officer. “As the innovation capital of the world, we are excited to use Urban Prototyping to showcase the city itself as a platform for creativity – ultimately leading to new pieces of infrastructure and design that transform our public spaces.

After the San Francisco festival, UP events will be planned with partners in other cities, to explore how design, art, and technology can serve as tools for civic participation.


Gray Area Foundation for the Arts
Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (@GAFFTA) is a San Francisco nonprofit dedicated to building social consciousness through digital culture. GAFFTA produces exhibitions, events, education, and research at the intersection of art, technology, and society. In this capacity, we maintain relationships with the world’s top academic researchers, innovative corporations, visionary artists, and civic leaders. By continually engaging and connecting this diverse community with challenges and opportunities, we extract forward-thinking projects with proven capacity to create positive change.

Intersection for the Arts
Founded in the early 1960’s and incorporated in 1965, Intersection is a leading edge arts and community development organization that brings people together across boundaries to instigate change. Intersection initiates ground-breaking programming and broad-based collaboration that actively demonstrates that art and creativity realized through meaningful, inclusive, and collaborative places fuels vibrancy and facilitates positive change. Intersection is currently a core collaborator on the 5M Project – a four-acre mixed-use development project in the heart of San Francisco. At 5M, more than 2,000 creative organizations have linked together: TechShop, Hub, SFMade, Off the Grid, SOCAP, among others. Together, they are working to transform an underutilized property into a vibrant place for community and innovation. With the support of ArtPlace, Intersection and Forest City Development are co-creating PlaceWorks – a pioneering new model that fuses innovation in cultural, community and economic development practice with the goal of unlocking the enormous value that is generated when we reach across typical silos to share resources, programs, experience, connections and infrastructure.

Rebar is an interdisciplinary studio operating at the intersection of art, design and ecology. Our mission is to create objects, spaces and ideas that inspire people to re-imagine the environment and our place in it. Our studio produces artwork and design solutions that shape the landscape and public realm, rooted in the belief that human interaction, community and a sense of wonder form the basis of the good life. We engage with large projects and small, from city and regional scale plans to design objects that fit in the hand.

IDEO is an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow. We identify new ways to serve and support people by uncovering latent needs, behaviors, and desires. We envision new companies and brands, and we design the products, services, spaces, and interactive experiences that bring them to life. We help organizations build creative culture and the internal systems required to sustain innovation and launch new ventures.