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Best of 2012: Reappropriating City Spaces

Instead of leaving unused objects for the scrap yard, many city dwellers are realizing the opportunity to think creatively about underutilized spaces.

Not everyone is a natural handyman or MacGyver—seeing dozens of uses in a paper clip or knowing how to masterfully use duct tape. Nevertheless, a Dutch design firm believes that all of us can work to find new uses for broken and unused items, rejecting our knee-jerk reaction to dispose of anything that can be replaced.

This way of thinking—reflected in their Repair Manifesto, which suggests these items can be revived instead of simply replaced—is alive and well in many of America’s cities. Instead of leaving unused objects for the scrapyard, many city dwellers are realizing the opportunity to think creatively about underutilized spaces in their neighborhoods, and are repurposing them into vibrant additions that serve the needs of their community. Let's take a look at some of the developments in 2012.

There's the Donation Meter Program. In Denver, the Adopt-A-Meter program turned dozens of old, underfed parking meters into ‘donation’ meters where people can give spare change to support local homeless shelters and nonprofits. Several other cities have followed this lead, including Atlanta, San Francisco, Nashville, and Miami. Since 2007, Denver has raised over $100,000 through spare change and $1,000 individual sponsorships for each of the 86 refurbished meters in the downtown area.

In Washington D.C., THEARC and the District government are working together to turn a piece of old infrastructure into a fresh addition to the community. One of the old 11th Street bridges set for demolition is now being repurposed as the city’s first elevated park, connecting the communities of Capitol Hill and Anacostia. Set to open in 2016, this park will be “a new venue for healthy recreation, environmental education and the arts” with plans to include performance spaces, farmer’s markets, skate parks, and waterfront activities.

An energy company in Sweden added light therapy panels to bus stops to help their commuters fight the winter blues, parklets have added some green, chill space to city parking spaces, and defunct phone booths in London and NYC have become pop-up libraries.

Most recently, earlier this month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed New York City's own public design contest—Reinvent Payphones. Bloomberg is calling all techies, creatives, and inspired citizens to enter proposals to repurpose the 11,412 underused phone booths lining NYC streets. Already, more than 250 phone booths have been refitted as free WiFi hot spots and interactive tablets that provide local information.

What do you think is the best way to repurpose these 11,000 phone booths? Do we need to update our technology or are we in need of more community building strategies like in Denver and Washington?

Here’s hoping that these projects continue to inspire individuals and cities to view ‘useless’ objects as an opportunity for creativity and engagement in the New Year.

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