Boston in Your Hands

The latest Play Date at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art was held last weekend, to much applause and hands-on revelry in the spirit of planning. Titled 'Design a City: Boston In Your Hands' and conducted by urban planner James Rojas, the event invited families and children to envision the city's future by manipulating the built environment through recycled objects.
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James Rojas is a planner at Metro in Los Angeles, and has been a longtime advocate of finding innovative solutions for public participation in planning. Last week, he brought his interactive workshop to Boston, where he installed a massive model of a car-free Boston for over four hundred enthusiastic families and children. In encouraging the kids to touch the model and move the buildings around on the large site map of Boston, the concept of the 'ideal city' constantly transformed as the work built upon the contributions of others.

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Highlighting the waterfront, open spaces, and livable streets in his model, Rojas also supplied the children with action figures and Disney characters to help them create their own urban narratives for the city. While some kids tinkered for about five minutes, others could not leave it -- one boy sought to build a community of churches in the North End, another girl staged a tea party for her characters on the rooftops, and one baby remained a staunch defender of her rowhouses in the Back Bay. There was equal building up as there was knocking down, with kids alternating between skyscraper champions and playful little Godzillas.

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At 2 o'clock, everyone gathered into the ICA's Art Lab, and each family was given a small cardboard base, a medley of recycled materials, and a total of twenty minutes to create a never-before-seen Boston. Wielding popsicle sticks, colored blocks, foam, buttons, and more, the kids crafted their ideal neighborhood: we saw a skating Boston, where all roads are used only for skating and people could ski-jump from building to building; a water-windmill-run Boston, a Boston made of canals, a solar-energy powered Boston, a Boston of art museums, and even an underwater Boston where everyone swims to get around.

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We've covered James Rojas's work before in his re-envisioning of LA's Chinatown, and we're excited to see where he'll take this interactive merrymaking next.

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Tiffany Chu
Besides writing and designing, Tiffany Chu's passions include photography, cartography, and all things Scandinavian.


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