Participatory Planning IV
Categories: Press

Santa Barbara Independent newspaper

Issue: May 29th, 2010; Written by: Cat Neushul

Article title: UCSB Invading Isla Vista: Effort to bring more art and culture to the college town


The Bottomline newspaper

Issue: May 13-24, 2010- Issue 11; Written by: Alyctra Matsushita

Article title: UCSB Urban Planners mull ideas for Isla Vista layout

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WORD magazine

Issue: Spring 2010- Issue 8; Written by: Ryan Miller; Photographed by: G. Matthew Saad; Designed by: Adam Herzog

Article title: Becoming SOMEWHERE

After a year in IV, I’ve completely cast off the idea of walking on a sidewalk. I no longer flinch at the sound of my neighbors having sex, and raucous beer pong on a Wednesday night seems oddly comforting.

As in all successful communities, the overall vibe in Isla Vista is recycled from one person to the next in an endless chorus of social capital. With so many hearty partiers packed into such a small space, we create a surplus of these networks without even trying.

But how might social capital be related to the physical urban landscape of Isla Vista? In fact, the town’s landscape- dictated by its zoning and sub-divisions- has had a huge impact on the way we live. For starters, consider the way the city is zoned as a bedroom community; block after block of densely populated 1950s suburbia has shaped a student ghetto out of IV, creating a unique template for college life. The high population density breaks down social barriers and intensifies the parties but also makes privacy a luxury item. It’s no wonder I’ve grown accustomed to everything my neighbors do at all hours of the night- we are practically stacked on top of each other. And why do we all walk in the street? It’s not a choice; we simply have no sidewalks!

I was fortunate enough to meet Seetha Raghupathy recently to discuss how IV’s history of unregulated growth has contributed to its current social landscape. As an architect and urban designer, she is most interested in how the development of the physical landscape can dictate the sociological, economic, and political climate.

A self proclaimed Utopian, Raghupathy has been brought into IV to conduct research by colleague and UCSB Spatial Studies professor, Kim Yasuda. Since June of 2009, Raghupathy has been working with Yasuda and the local community to map the social and physical factors that define IV, including mattes of student life, economic and cultural sustainability, housing, and environmental impact.

While Raghupathy brings urban planning expertise- she has spent the past couple of years planning and researching communities in the US, India and South Africa- Yasuda is committed to the arts. As the co-director of the UC Institute for Research in the Arts, she has created engaging partnerships between academia and local and regional communities. Recently, Yasuda has been involved in projects where her interdisciplinary classes go out into the community to create. Some of Yasuda’s best- known projects in IV include the posh Pardall lamppost banners completed last year and the renovation of Fresh Start in 2008. “This is really what we want to start seeing- students getting out there and going to work in their own community”, said Yasuda excitedly, at a community update meeting in January.

Produced by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center and many dedicated students, IV Arts hosts free and low cost events and programs in IV, including Magic Lantern Theater, Improvability, and the magazine that you are reading right now. Members of the IV and UCSB communities agree that programming like this enriches the dialog between the campus and the community, while providing great entertainment for students. “Through programming”, Seetha tells me, “our project will engage community members in IV’s public spaces.”

At the project’s current stage, Raghupathy has finished most of her research, and the crew is getting ready to implement their ideas as pilot programs. Ideas range from interactive art projects and installations, to musical and cultural programs in IV streets and parks, to having street vendors scatter along DP to sell food on the weekends. The pilot programs will test the potential for urban planning and the arts to shape a sustainable change in the IV community.

What kind of change? That’s up to the community members, the true stakeholders in the project. Raghupathy and Yasuda see it as an opportunity for Isla Vistans to work together. That’s why they hold open community meetings and workshops. The goal is to open up the planning process to involve anyone who wants to partake.

While community change can be spurred from the top down, Raghupathy warned that this often promotes too much regulation and control. By using a collaborative community process where all stakeholders are equally valued, Raghupathy and Yasuda’s plan will work from the ground up. Their team is dedicated to a more organic approach to place-making.

“The planning process is a loop, and the process is designed to empower members. That’s the dialogue a community needs, and that’s what we are trying to initiate,” says Raghupathy.

Since the project champions an interdisciplinary and inclusive approach to sustainable change, the team is collaborating with UCSB’s Geography Department to map the results of the pilot programs. They will employ cell phones and GPS receivers to map flows of people and get feedback to track the progress of the pilots.

Some skeptical Isla Vistans question the aim of the project saying that UCSB is trying to infiltrate IV to show the partying. After all, the same people behind the controversial Master Plan support this project too.

When I asked Raghupathy about the project’s intention with regard to the alcohol- dominant social scene, she was sure to remind me that she is contracted as a non-partisan facilitator. In other words, her reports are intended to provide an unbiased analysis of IV that’s free of an agenda. Though, she is far from the enemy of party-hungry Isla Vistans. She’s here to deliver an outside perspective to our beloved town, to try and make sense of it all- I’m sure she stays very busy.

Place-making favors optimism over skepticism. It looks forward constructively to a positive and safe Isla Vista that values community above all. However, the project is still in its beginning stages. It will succeed only as long as the community stays involved and interested.

So what’s wrong with a little Utopia in IV? To be honest, I couldn’t think of anything better.