Reflection

4 months ago, I was sitting in the Umbra advising office trying to finalize my schedule, and I decided to choose a class called “Placemaking”. This was a concept I had never experienced nor heard of, and I figured this class would expose me to new concepts and ideas. At the end of the semester I can honestly say that this class has done that, and more.

This has been a special class because all of our projects are based on the needs of the neighborhood that we worked in, Borgo Bello. Why is that special? We actually engaged and interacted with a local Italians to ensure a more efficient use of their neighborhood space. One space in particular held a special place in our hearts, and we devoted most of our time and effort into transforming that space.

In order to understand how to transform the terrace, we read many articles from some of the best “placemakers” in history. Jane Jacobs was one of these iconic figures, and her previous work offered valuable information that we used when considering the future of the terrace. The bulk of Jacobs’ work that we read focused on the idea of sidewalk safety and the characteristics of a successful sidewalk. Concepts like “eyes on the street”, having strangers around, and lighting are all things we considered when transforming the terrace. We also wanted to provide objects that would help children “take the streets back”. One example of this is today when we dug the tires into the ground. Hopefully children will feel a sense of pride in their “streets” after spending more time on the terrace.

While on the topic of children, I wanted to reflect on the experience I had when visiting the elementary school. I was lucky enough to spend a day in class with second and third graders, all of whom shared with us their ideas regarding the Kaki project. The Kaki project is a global mission that focuses on spreading the message of love and peace across different countries. Listening to the words of the children was one of the most moving experiences I had in the class. The words were simple, but the concepts were large. Their message of love and peace has stuck with me since being there, and I only hope that they grow up projecting the same message. Our world needs it.

My main takeaway from this class is based on a much broader concept than the class. In order to make successful progress in a relationship, group, or organization we have to listen to the needs of others and act on those needs. Only then will we be able make gains in whatever it is we are trying to achieve.

Thanks so much for an awesome semester and a great class!

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The New and Improved Terrace

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This might look like the average side street to a person passing by, but it is not. It leads to a terrace that is loved and taken care of by the community. In the beginning of April our placemaking class and the community came together to clean the terrace. We all worked to repaint the furniture, clean the ground, and pull some weeds to make the terrace clean after a long winter of disuse. We had a very successful clean up and involved the community of Borgo Bello. This clean up day was a great example of how the participatory process can work if you bring people together. We had a group of people who already had the skills and desires to clean an area and encouraged them to make our space beautiful too. I am so hopeful for this community after seeing all these people show up and work so hard for our project. I think this was a good step in making our terrace a place everyone wants to visit. It can be so hard to gather the community to help little projects thrive. But the Borgo Bello community proved that they want to create a better community for everyone.

The terrace is now clean. What is next?

In the workshop our class has been working hard to furnish the terrace. We have built tables and benches so people can sit and enjoy the view. We have cut, sanded, painted, and primed our projects in order to give the terrace more character. We as a class have worked hard to ensure that the terrace will be seen and used. By the end of this week all our projects should be finished and ready to unveil at the final event. I am excited for the final event so we can show the community and Umbra students all our hard work and efforts on the terrace. Overall I think we accomplished a lot this semester with the community and on the terrace. I hope that future Umbra students will be able to use and add to our project.

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Sunday Clean Up

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to engage with some of the “zealous nuts” of the Borgo Bello community. There was a great turnout at the clean up, and we didn’t just clean. We listened to music, danced and ate some of the best home cooked food I’ve ever had. It was a fun event and everyone participated for the same reason, which connected everyone though not everyone knew each other before the event. Having said these great things, a couple of things in particular that have left a bad taste in my mouth.

After trimming the weeds, it was evident that the terrace may not actually be entirely safe. Under the weeds, we found what looked like old needles and syringes from drug users. The idea that people carelessly threw those objects on the ground bothers me, especially since we would not have been able to see them if the weeds weren’t trimmed. What if a group of children were playing tag and one accidentally stepped on one? This all goes back to the idea that we need more eyes on the street, especially if the terrace is supposed to be an ideal location for children. There needs to be more traffic otherwise these things will continue to happen. More traffic will not entirely eliminate the use of this space for drugs, but it might make people think twice about throwing it on the ground. Another observation that bothered me was that the colorful picture frame with our Umbra logo had been smashed. The people using the terrace clearly didn’t have the respect for the work being done by placemakers. I don’t believe that everyone who uses it is causing trouble, but once again it is clear that a sketchy crowd is attracted to this space.

Part of the reason that kids haven’t taken back the streets is because of things like this. I feel that Borgo Bello is a relatively safe neighborhood, but there may be some suspicious activity taking place at night. Due to knowledge of this suspicious activity, parents may be forbidding there kids to wonder into less popular places. The terrace isn’t an extremely popular place (at least not yet). More traffic through this area will help create a safety net from those “sketchy” groups of people.

 

 

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Placemaking: where puppets meet Canederli.

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Our last meeting, on February 28th, was really interesting! We went on the terrace and started from the analysis of some practical aspects that were pointed out during the community meeting the week before. We divided in two groups, one realized a map of the parking lot which is in front of the terrace and the second went in the neighbourhood to choose the right spots to put the signage on.

We are finally arrived at the moment when all we’ve planned and discussed during the meeting have to be done. The parking lot has to draw back for about 80cm and the signage, either the red thread or the arrows, has to be placed. I was in the second group and, during our patrol, we had the chance to visit the new book store that opened in the neighbourhood.

After that, we all moved together to the Teatro di Figura to meet Mario Mirabassi and to continue thinking about the terrace/drawing some ideas about the furniture. Mario, as always, was really happy to have the chance to explain us a bit deeper the activities of the TFU. He told us that the TFU, which is a travelling theatre, mostly performs shows using modern characters rather than traditional ones and rivisiting fairy tales. He told us the different components that belong to the Teatro d’Animazione e Figura (not the one in Perugia but the general branch of this figurative art): marionettes (moved with strings), puppets (moved with hands), shadows and objects. The Mario, and the TFU in general, are in particular experts of puppets. He created and mastered a personal technique that allows the performer to move puppets in unusual ways, impossible with the normal techniques, using a specific mechanical system. He also told us about a lot of events TFU is involved in such as the huge manifestation in July called “Figuriamoci…di essere bambini” (which is a word pun in Italian) which attracts more than forty thousand people from all the Europe. He also talked about the carnival tradition in Perugia especially regarding the Bartoccio, a local mask, and the story of this character. He was a farmer that lived next to the river Tevere and, once in a year, came to the city of Perugia to sell his products. He didn’t understand the traditions of the city and its rules together with the behaviour of the citizens. So he started criticizing writing on papers some rhymes in the dialect of Perugia; those were called “Bartocciate” (he was a literate farmer!). During the Carnival, as a tradition, someone has to perform the role of the Bartoccio and, since few years, Mario has been nominated the new Bartoccio of the city!

Mario also showed the room in which all the puppets are held in; it’s like the Harem of puppets.

After the lesson some of us went to a bar/confectionery in order to wait to 7,45 pm because we had our class dinner to the “Do Pazzi” restaurant in Borgo Bello. Also David Grohmann joined us! We all enjoyed the evening; really great food and atmosphere! We all had fun and had the change to know deeper each other. We also had the chance to meet Mrs Lorenzo who is fantastic and not only because she, as me, comes from Naples. We had a really nice time remembering our city, talking about our roots and, I have to admit it, criticizing a bit something that we still don’t understand of Perugia and Perugians. One of my favourite sentences says “A man can leave Naples but Naples will never leave a man”.

I really enjoyed this day and i sincerely hope to repeat the dinner experience!

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The Symposium

online-community.jpegLast Wednesday we had our first briefing with the community at the Teatro di Figura. We were so excited to present the ideas we came up with during past classes and, more important, we wanted to see what the community thought about the actual situation and what are their priorities.

Before starting the conversation, we had the chance to introduce each other while drinking some Prosecco and Spumante because I wanted to celebrate my graduation with the class and, most important, because, as suggested by our historical and philosophical traditions, he importance and the success of this kind of events is proportional to the amount of wine/alcohol available (see Plato’s Symposium). There were a lot of familiar faces such as, for example, Orfeo and Mario and other people that will become familiar to us very soon (I really liked the American couple). The only thing I have to say is that, compared to the high presence of members from the community, no one from the administration was present (non a big surprise, right?).

We started presenting our work in general and exposing some ideas of interventions organized in a fantastic grid created by Prof. Lorenzo together with Viviana. Basically, as we expected, we all recognized as priorities the following actions: cleaning up the site (with a “Spring Cleaning” event for the first time), moving the parking lot a bit further from the terrace (in order to let people to see the place), making it recognizable as you enter the little square and putting the appropriate signage all around. The interesting and challenging part is that we need to integrate these practical actions with promotional events in order to make the community aware of what’s going on and, let’s hope, making them eager to participate in the process.

The discussion gave us the opportunity to directly how the participatory process of decision making works; as any typical Italian discussion, there were some moments when people started talking over each other (poor Viviana! She had an hard time trying to manage the conversation) but, in general, it seems like there are no big differences of perspective regarding the terrace and what has to be done.

We now have crystal clear directions on what we have to do; we should start building something using the materials we already have and word on the accessibility aspect putting signage all around the neighbourhood. We are really excited to start because we have a lot of interesting ideas. The only thing left to do is to figure out how to involve more people in this process, how to let them understand that this project is a first step to start thinking about our individual role in the society we live in. By understanding the importance of what we can do in our neighbourhood people can realize that our personal ideas can make the difference; taking care of our places is the first step to claim back the social dimension which is the basis for the education of good citizens.

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Community Meeting

Unfortunately I was not able to attend the meeting due to a nasty case of strep throat, but from what I have read it sounds like the community was more than willing to contribute ideas to the terrace. This in itself is exciting. When community members are getting excited about a vision for a specific space, it’s almost inevitable that some type of change will be made. It also looked like the ideas provided by the community members were somewhat parallel to things we talked about in class, which is also a great sign. When the community members and the people providing the additions to a space are on the same page, it makes such a positive impact on the space.

I would have loved to be there and see the way the community members presented their ideas. A few of us mentioned that there was a language barrier but it was still easy to understand the passion surrounding specific topics. I think that the future of the terrace is so bright. We have an active community with a vision for a better space, and a class of students and professors who are ready to take on some changes. It’s an exciting time to be a placemaker!

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Community

The community meeting last Wednesday was not only fun, but informative for me. It was nice to see all of the people invested and interested in helping create the terrace into something even better than it is now. I also loved to see their willingness to participate in the process. While my Italian is not good enough to have understood everything, especially after a certain point, I think a lot of planning got done. Although I do not recall his name, I liked the input by one particular person at the meeting about the feasibility of cheap, environmentally friendly lightly at the terrace. I hope that this is one of those things in which we can put together before the end of the semester, but if the process takes much longer that is fine as well.

I believe that the meeting also solidified many of the problems which the class wanted to address about the terrace. The maintenance has a solution for the moment, although perhaps we should try to clean it some before April as well if possible, and the lighting might be on its way to being figured out. Even if they were joking, I liked their idea of trying to slowly keep people from parking in front of the entrances to the terrace because that is a huge visibility factor. Even if we make a gate of sort for visibility, I do not think it will help so much if cars are still parked directly in front of it, so slowly convincing them to keep away from that spot somehow might work.
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Community Meeting

I found last weeks’s community meeting at the puppet theater to be extremely valuable. I had my doubts about the community members’ interest in our project, let alone showing up to the meeting. I was surprised by their enthusiasm and excitement for our project, as well as, their good ideas and suggestions. I found it helpful to our project to hear their opinions because this terrace is for them, not us. The community members at the meeting agreed with a lot of our ideas, but really resonated with pushing the parking away from the edge of the terrace. This was not something discussed in depth in class, but I think we all agree that it is an important first step to a successful terrace. I think all of the ideas talked about can be accomplished this semester.

On the cultural side, I thought this meeting was extremely interesting. I loved being able to observe what an Italian community meeting looks like. It was very eye opening to see their reactions, agreements and disagreements, etc. In America, from what I have observed, in community meetings, people not directly asked for their opinions. Usually the meeting is conducted by higher up people that present the problems and solutions to the people. Then there is a very structured open forum to discuss what the people want. Yet, in the end, most often than not, the conclusions are made by the officials, not the people. In our meeting with the Borgo Bello, everyone’s voice was heard and accounted for. I think that this kind of participatory collaboration is the most effective in drawing conclusions. We left our meeting with a set of accomplishable goals and the support and help of the local people. I can’t wait to get started!

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Community Meeting

 

Last Wednesday our class got to meet the active community members of Borgo Bello. It was great to see people show up and care about the terrace. Everyone who showed up looked engaged and ready to take part in our project. I was happy that we were able to meet and talk with people that have ties to this community. We had Vincenzo start off the conversation which helped that he was able to speak fluent Italian. Then two other brave students explained our ideas about the terrace. Immediately, people started to get excited and join in the conversation. Even though I could not understand the language most of the time, I could see the enthusiasm that the community has for our project which was really great. I enjoyed being able to hear from the people as to what would benefit them the most. We even got a local group to help clean the terrace. This is a big step in making the terrace a place everyone can enjoy. We learned a lot from this meeting and now have to decide on what are projects will consist of. How will we incorporate our ideas with the local knowledge of this place. We have a lot of work ahead of us but now we have more support and people who want to work towards the goal of cleaning up and improving the living room with a view. It is a beautiful place but it needs the help from us to make it a destination for everyone. I am excited to start making this place live up to its full potential. Soon we will be out of the planning stages and into the working stage. This is when the transformation can begin.

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Town Meeting

Last Wednesday we had the privilege of hosting a meeting for the members of Borgo Bello who are interested in helping us with our plan for the terrace. The meeting had an interesting dynamic because most of us (myself included) do not speak Italian so it was very easy to get lost in translation. I wish that I could have contributed to speaking out more at the meeting, but my attempt at speaking Italian would be awful! Everyone who spoke did an awesome job though!

It was very encouraging to see how many people came out to support us and our efforts to make this terrace beautiful. From the amount of participation at the meeting, I could tell how passionate these people are about the community they live in. Almost everyone who attended the meeting spoke up and voiced their own opinion. From what I could understand I think that mostly everyone agreed with the ideas we have already come up with. They also came up with a few of their own! Some of the ideas included: a monthly clean up of the terrace, adding something that can be seen from far away that makes the terrace visible, solar lighting and various shrubbery to make the terrace more attractive.

I am very excited to finally get to work on the terrace! Its finally getting warm out so I am sure we will have a lot of opportunities to work outside on the terrace. It is important that we focus on what’s feasible and necessary.

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