Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Participatory Design and Memories: the case of Biddeford, Portland

Biddeford, Portland. From
Participatory design.

A couple of days ago I posted an article about participatory design, and provided some recommendations and references. Now, I have found it relevant to post about the participatory design process in the city of Biddeford, Portland, USA, not only for the methodology, but for the inclusion of the citizens´ memories as part of this design process. What follows here is completely based and excerpted from Dina Mendros´ publication at Journal and the web page. Please enjoy the reading on good intentions and let us wish them the best of progress.

Biddeford´s cultural and economic roots are tied to the mill industry. When the mainstay textile companies left to the South, the City has been down on its luck, with a declining population, and few jobs opportunities. Just an empty and decaying town. The city struggles to shed its past image without becoming gentrified or marginalizing the current residents who call Biddeford home. As of the 2000 census, only 50 percent of Biddeford residents owned homes (well below the national average) and nearly 14 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.
The city is a Federal HUD Entitlement Community. HUD awards grants to entitlement community grantees to carry out a wide range of community development activities directed toward revitalizing neighborhoods, economic development, and providing improved community facilities and services.
Entitlement communities develop their own programs and funding priorities. However, grantees must give maximum feasible priority to activities which benefit low- and moderate-income persons; funds may not be used for activities which do not meet these broad national objectives.
Biddeford´s hard working residents are now reviving and reinventing their legacy. New urban programs and redevelopment efforts are giving new life into the shell factories and streetscapes and attracting new residents who are taking advantage of the affordable rents. Biddeford is then eligible for major community development and neighborhood revitalization grants to reduce blight and improve living conditions; the challenge will be to make those changes without displacing the traditional core of the community.
Biddeford’s Heart & Soul Community Planning initiative is focused on creating a Downtown Master Plan for revitalization, which will dovetail with its Main Street program and other redevelopment efforts. The authorities seek to engage the dispersed communities within the City limits and identify common values, which can then be incorporated into the Plan and into all future planning and development decisions. The Downtown Master Plan will cover a wide range of topics, including streetscape design and landscape architecture, types of businesses and organizations to attract newcomers and locals, and guidelines for growth.
The downtown business promotion organization, in partnership with the city and sponsored by a grant from the Orton Foundation, is working over the next two years to engage the community in remembering its past to help create a vision for the future. Heart of Biddeford, serving as the project coordinator, will use storytelling activities, neighborhood gatherings, community-wide forums and a regular newsletter to engage residents. The community will then incorporate information gleaned from these discussions into visualizing alternatives and drafting a Master Plan.
A committee of resident, business and civic leaders, educators and municipal officials has been created to guide the process.
At the La Kermesse festival in June, Heart of Biddeford gathered the names of places significant to residents and will be putting up wooden signs at some of these special locations throughout the city’s downtown. A telephone line is also set up so people can call in and leave a recorded message about what makes a particular HeartSpot memorable to them. Others will be able to listen to these messages at the Heart of Biddeford Web site. Unlike other master plans which often are prepared by city officials, the emphasis of this project is to find out what residents want. They don´t want to set parameters but to hear the community!
Memories can be related to dinners at the popular restaurant, going to the movies with a future husband at the Central Theater and sledding down the hill on Pike Street in the winter. Simple lots of memories, but so important for the City´s inhabitants.Mendros, Dina. Biddeford memories to be part of plan.Journal October 18, 2009

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