Duarte Square on Sixth Avenue and Canal Street is the site of a pop-up speaker’s corner-cum-town square called the Talking Transition Tent (TTT). The “transition” is to the administration of New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, and the “talking” is voicing the hopes, aspirations, and desires of and by a broad spectrum of New Yorkers for their city. It is a happy coincidence that the square is named for Juan Pablo Duarte, founding father of the Dominican Republic, who aspired to a self-sufficient nation based on liberal ideals.
Event production company Production Glue under Tom Bussey and Jen Kurland designed the tent. The opposite of politics behind closed doors, it features transparency and openness with glass and clear plastic walls and ceilings that create an inviting, approachable place where the community can come together. Built in just two weeks, all materials were cheap and readily available. Plastic milk crates form the large letters spelling “TALK” that greets you outside, the backdrop to the main stage Town Hall, hanging ceiling fixtures and table tops. They are complemented by plywood sheets with cutout letters spelling TALKING TRANSITION and for tables inside. A plastic-strip curtain at the entry is borrowed from bodega vocabulary.
Once inside, there are 32 iPads to register, fill out a survey (you can also do this online via social media, or at one of the mobile tent vans roving around the five boroughs), a digital soapbox where you can record your standup, sticky labels and markers to post “In Your Neighborhood” comments, a TV-studio-like area with cameras and director’s chairs, a cafe with refreshment and free tap water, a Town Hall space, and breakout rooms. With a Citibike station, number 1-train subway entrance, the Holland Tunnel, and two major avenues nearby this really is a crossroads.
The brainchild of Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations, the tent was implemented by deputy director Andrea Batista Schlesinger along with HR&A Advisors under Danny Fuchs. The activities in the tent are programmed around 9 topics: arts and culture; public safety and law enforcement; jobs and the economy; health and social services (youth, immigration, seniors, etc.); education; transportation; parks and public spaces; housing; and environment. New York City organizations planned the individual events. Week one included, “A Path to ‘Real’ Affordable Housing” (NY Communities for Change), “The New Resilient City: Big Infrastructure Meets Community Fabric,” (MAS and HR&A), “What is Affordable Housing” (CUP), and “Sustainable, Healthy, and Resilient Construction” (Urban Green Council). Week two included “Rethinking Regulation: New Priorities for City Building” (MAS), “Innovative Ideas for Preserving Affordable Housing” (Center for NYC Neighborhoods), and “Protecting the Waterfront” (Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance).
The results of all these efforts, honed down to 4 or 5 issues, will be presented—hopefully—to Mayor-elect de Blasio on November 23 at a Town Hall meeting in the tent, and compiled into a report by December. Citizens do want to be heard. As of November 17, there were already 30,000 people who had filled out the digital survey. But can TTT get in front of de Blasio? Chances are good since HR&A Advisors partner Carl Weisbrod is co-chairing de Blasio’s transition team.