Transportation design and its failure to consider user experience

The caged-in walkway from Coliseum BART to the Amtrak station as experienced by John Kamp and Ian Griffiths
The caged-in walkway from Coliseum BART to the Amtrak station

See our recent video/blog collaboration with Ian Griffiths of Seamless Bay Area on the abysmal experience of making connections between transportation systems and lines within the Bay Area. In this case, we profiled the experience of transferring from Coliseum BART to the Coliseum Amtrak station. Mild spoiler alert: the transfer experience is beyond lousy – and, frankly, unsafe. Watch the video and read more HERE.

We’ve signed a book contract!

Prairieform's John Kamp and James Rojas of Place It! have just signed a book contract with Island Press!
Prairieform’s John Kamp and James Rojas of Place It! have just signed a book contract with Island Press!

Yep, it’s official: we’re writing a book – along with James Rojas of Place it! The book’s topic will, in a nutshell, be about creative, hands-on, and sensory-based ways of doing community engagement for urban design, landscape, and planning projects. We’re at an all-hands-on-deck moment with so many issues in our country and world at this point and time, so engaging everyone in the process – regardless of background, language ability, culture – is critical. More details as they come.

-John Kamp

Our western waterways

The Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena
The Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena in early April 2019

As you move further west in the country, water becomes all the more scarce, and thus its sources become all the more precious. Yet the relationship between water’s preciousness and how it has been treated through our infrastructure is really an inverse one – especially in California. While water is gold here, its sources, and the rivers and streams that carry it, have been treated like nothing more than garbage – the above photo a case in point, which we snapped while taking a hike through Nature Park in South Pasadena. While there are indeed many efforts to improve our stormwater retention, daylight channelized rivers, and expand rainwater harvesting efforts, we cannot stop there. It behooves us as a state to treat water as the precious giver of life that it ultimately is, on all levels and in all ways.

John Kamp

Does our infrastructure truly reflect our values?

A workshop James Rojas and I led at Walk SF on rethinking our transportation infrastructure
A workshop James Rojas and I led at Walk SF on rethinking our transportation infrastructure

The prevailing adage goes that our infrastructure reflects our values. Thus our transportation systems, with their high investment in roads and personal auto ownership, and low investment in rail and other transit networks, reflect our cultural propensity towards the individual and our reluctance to embrace a more collective cultural model. Yet what if this adage is wrong? What if the infrastructure we see does not so much reflect our cultural values but instead reflects the limited ways in which we plan and conduct outreach for our transportation systems in the first place?

See the full article on Streetsblog SF HERE.

John Kamp

The walking tour as sights, sounds, and memory

On the walking tour of South Colton, underneath a huge jacaranda tree
On the walking tour of South Colton, underneath a huge jacaranda tree (Prairieform’s John Kamp pointing out the effect of the canopy on the space)

There’s no better way to intimately familiarize oneself with an environment than through walking. You notice so many more details – both physical, such as the width of a sidewalk, and sensory, such as volumes and kinds of sounds, the amount of sunlight along a particular street, and smells (good and bad). Yet of utmost importance to any walking tour is ensuring that it includes local residents who live and breathe and feel the neighborhood every day.

In our walking tour of South Colton this past Saturday, we didn’t simply focus on pointing out flaws or improvement areas in infrastructure; a large part of the tour consisted of listening to residents about their stories and memories and what has made the place meaningful to them. Seventh Street, said one resident, used to be the “Broadway of South Colton.” Yet, once the 10 Freeway was built and cut the city in half, Seventh Street essentially became a dead-end street, and slowly the vibrant commercial and cultural life that existed on the street died away. Absent this resident’s story and this history, one would have no sense of just how integral the street was to the neighborhood, as today many of the lots along it stand vacant, with the remaining commercial buildings abandoned or locked up. Given the existing conditions now and the memories these residents all hold within them, how could Seventh Street become a new kind of bustling corridor for the neighborhood in which these memories and experiences are woven into its newest incarnation?

These are the kinds of questions and the kind of inquiry that planners and designers need to begin taking on if there is to be any hope of creating meaningful places that are truly unique, place-based, and for all residents and visitors to experience and enjoy.

To see more photos of the tour, click HERE.

John Kamp