By Lauren Matthews Posted December 2, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
In late October, New Yorkers who happened to pass by Duarte Square—a half-acre triangular park in lower Manhattan—probably noticed a mysterious new structure being raised on a lot that once played host to Occupy Wall Street marchers. While on-site workers stayed tight-lipped over the next two weeks, curious city dwellers finally got answers when the expansive, transparent tent space opened its doors on November 9 as the headquarters for “Talking Transition,” a nonpartisan forum for New Yorkers to express their views to newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio’s incoming administration.
The citywide program was not planned by de Blasio’s campaign however, but rather supported by an independent coalition of foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the New York Women’s Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, in an effort to create an open conversation about the future of New York and the city’s transition to a new mayor for the first time in 12 years. Running through November 23, de Blasio himself eventually showed up at the tent during the program’s final week.
The three-week program, which also included street teams canvassing high-traffic areas throughout the five boroughs, was centered around the 500-person-capacity temporary meeting space, designed by Production Glue. “Our directive was to design and create a space that was very open, inviting, and approachable,” said Jennifer Kurland, the event production firm’s principal and executive producer. “Transparency was a big message throughout the program. The content coming from inside the tent was the important part, and we just wanted to lay the groundwork for that.”
The space hosted panel discussions on public policy issues and offered opportunities for visitors to let their voices be heard. At iPad stations, people could take a survey—also available online—that allowed them to answer questions about their neighborhoods and other topics. (At the end of the initiative, a full report with the data collected from New Yorkers during the project was sent to the de Blasio administration.) New Yorkers could also share their opinions in a more low-tech way by filling out stickers color coded by topic and placing them up on the space’s plyboard walls. “We originally had only a couple of walls designated for the stickers, but within a couple days they became completely covered,” Kurland said. “So we ended up telling people that as long as it wasn’t a screen, they could put a sticker on it. We’re hoping the sticker-covered panels will find a home potentially in the offices of the foundations that supported the program—they’ve become a living art piece.” The tent was also home to musical performances, film screenings, and even an interactive mural painting project overseen by mural-making nonprofit group Groundswell.
During its run, the Talking Transition tent saw more than 10,000 visitors pass through, and the overall program had more than 50,000 survey respondents, with 300,000 questions answered. “It’s not uncommon that [Mayor Bloomberg] was the only mayor people have known, so it’s an interesting time,” Kurland said. “This new exciting chapter is opening up, and it’s a really special thing for the people of New York.”