Thursday, February 03, 2005

Thesis Proposal Anyone?

Hey, kids. If anyone wants to know where I am and what I'm doing in the next six months, direct them here. I've included my latest thesis proposal so that my friends, family, and ... employers ... ahem ... can know what I'm spending all my time on. Please direct all correspondence, condolensces, ideas, and suggested readings here. See you in October.

During a facilitated community visioning, residents of the area surrounding 4th Street and Montano in Albuquerque’s North Valley expressed a desire for a district identity. Some talked about identity in terms of marketing – a kind of branding to increase tourism and promote economic revitalization of the 4th Street corridor. Others talked about being able to refer to the place where they live with a name, versus an intersection, which itself is problematic and troublesome to many area residents. Still others talked about developing an identity as a reason for the community to come together in the process of choosing a name for itself – a kind of community organizing that would include examining their collective values in order to choose one name that could encapsulate their vision and love for this place.

Despite the differences in the ways residents talked about identity, all seemed to agree that identity had a direct relationship with “place-making” through physical improvements that would both reflect the community’s self-imposed identity and help to enrich and protect it.

In this thesis, I propose to examine residents’ desires for identity and begin to tease out the values, goals, and implications embedded in their various definitions. Only by understanding what residents hope to achieve through “identity” can proposals be made for a process to get them there and outline next steps to take.

It will also be important to look closely at who was included in this initial conversation and who was not, which may indicate not only the subject position of those present, but also the social divisions in the community that may complicate the selection of a “collective identity.” Perhaps because of the methods used to gather community participation in this particular visioning process, residents seemed to be similar in class, values, ethnicity, and residency. This similarity among these residents may have led them to assume more homogeneity in the wider community than may really exist. The community’s diversity must be taken into account in any discussion of a process to create a community identity – whether through assuming a name or through place-making physical improvements.

In general, I intend to problematize the concept of identity itself, exploring not just how and why residents’ definitions vary, but also to determine whether physical improvements to the area could achieve the kind of place-making that residents’ desire for identity seemed to imply. If so, a process of community design might simultaneously avoid the problematic issues raised by residents’ current ways of talking about identity – such as identity as market branding or condensing multiple values and perspectives of what this place should be into one name – while creating a shared sense of place that allows for multiple perspectives, a variety of ways to use it, and eventually perhaps a name that arises once the neighborhood becomes what residents’ want it to be.

This thesis posits that instead of picking a name that will inspire the physical form and desired economic development, residents should focus on making the physical improvements that will first and foremost create the place residents want it to be, with the secondary benefit of bringing the community together through a participatory design process, and a tertiary benefit of eventually inspiring a name.

The final portion of the thesis will include a visual analysis of the cultural landscape and a proposal for a participatory urban design process.

I. Introduction: Briefly set 4th Street/Montano context, visioning process, thesis
II. Theory: Operational definitions for “identity” & “place-making” and problematics
III. Neighborhood Process & Mapping Data: Link examples to theory
a. Community Visioning Process explained
b. Workshop I maps
c. Workshop II discussions/maps
IV. Visual analysis
a. Cultural Landscape Reading (existing conditions)
b. Kevin Lynch nodes, districts, edges, paths, landmarks
V. Proposals/Recommendations
a. Physical: potential improvements – strengthening connections
and enhancing what works
b. Process: participatory community designCautions: Recap of identity
problematics, history/cultural appropriation, homogenization
c. Cautions: Recap of identity problematics, history/cultural appropriation,