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Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces

Zealous Nuts crowd around Fred Kent on the mall next to BikeStation in downtown Long Beach

Before I start gushing and you think I’ve lost all objectivity, let me critique Fred Kent‘s presentation this morning at Studio 111 in Long Beach. My credentials in urban planning are thin to none, but as a Tech Coast Angel I see a lot of PowerPoint presentations and I often give constructive feedback to aspiring entrepreneurs seeking funding. That said, Fred’s slides could use a little work. The material he’s covering is fascinating, at least to this morning’s audience, but he might hire a real photographer to tag along with him on his worldwide travels. And too many of his best slides were crowded with text and as I struggled to read, make notes and absorb his avalanche of urban design guidelines, I’m thinking each of those bullets is worthy of a slide to themselves. Fred, get yourself a copy of Presentation Zen and I’ll vote for you for President. Now, I’m ready to gush…

Charlie Gandy lured Fred to Long Beach for this presentation followed by a walking tour of downtown. Fred has quite a long list of credits in urban redesign; his Project for Public Spaces has influenced modern marvels of the public space like Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center and Times Square in NY, to name just a few and although his slides don’t do justice to his contributions, many of us have visited these iconic places and know first hand of the impact he can conjure.

Even alleys start to look interesting as Fred points out opportunities

Fred starts, “You’re all change agents,” and goes on to describe how people want to change their communities, and that in his entire career this seems to him the best time to change things. This encourages all of us and like any good presenter, he’s out to knock us off-balance:

Turn everything upside down to get it right side up.

He’s had to argue with many traffic engineers over the years; he knows the resistance to change we’re all experiencing as we attempt to improve bike and pedestrian safety in our communities. He’s been there and shares many one-liners:

Great cities are defined by their neighborhoods.

Which strikes me, and others I imagine, as such a simple thing to say, but then I realize how profound it is. Not downtowns, attractions, or highways — the neighborhoods we call home.

I was listening to gain additional arguments for converting Newport Beach’s Old City Hall into a transportation hub, so imagine how I perked up when he described his Power of 10. It works like this — as he’s designing a new public space he’s looking for 10 destinations and maybe each has 10 places and each of these has 10 things to do. Yes, that makes the scope of his projects big fast, and probably grows his fee by a power of 10, too, but when I begin to think of applying this to a transportation hub for the Balboa peninsula, all of a sudden I feel like I have a new tool. Of course one destination would be the hub itself; others would be the McFadden pier, the Balboa pier, the Wedge, Lido Island, maybe not, but Lido peninsula, yes — and I can start to picture a hub with a shuttle bus, a bike share, maybe even a pedicab like San Diego has and Long Beach soon will have, and I have something I can talk to others about and attempt to align some support.

Fred’s favorite quote of the morning, the one that gets the biggest laugh and the one that sticks with my fellow bikeNewportBeach advocates Dan Murphy and Matt O’Toole — the phrase we repeat on the long bike ride home: Zealous Nuts. Yes, a little derogatory, but fitting at the same time, too. “When you find the Zealous Nuts in the community, change begins to happen.” I’ll sign up for that.

Charlie Gandy wrapping up

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Frank Peters

listen to my podcast shows at cdmCyclist.com

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