Director, Urban Commons Lab, University of Washington, USA
Professor Jeff Hou has taught in the department since 2001. He is the Director of the Urban Commons Lab and previously served as Department Chair and Graduate Program Coordinator for the Department of Landscape Architecture. Prof. Hou’s research, teaching, and practice focus on community design, design activism, public space and democracy, and social and environmental justice.
In a career that spans across the Pacific, Hou has worked with indigenous tribes, farmers, and fishers in Taiwan, neighborhood residents in Japan, villagers in China, and inner-city immigrant youths and elders in North American cities, in projects ranging from conservation of wildlife habitats to design of urban open space. He has written extensively on the agency of citizens and communities in shaping the built environments, with edited, co-authored, and co-edited books including Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities (2010), Transcultural Cities: Border-Crossing and Placemaking (2013), Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Learning from Urban Community Gardens in Seattle (2009), Now Urbanism: The Future City is Here (2015), and Messy Urbanism: Understanding the “Other” Cities of Asia (2016). His recent book, City Unsilenced: Urban Resistance and Public Space in the Age of Shrinking Democracy (2017) examines the role of public space in an era of increased political contestation in the neo-liberalizing society. Another recent book Design as Democracy: Techniques for Collective Creativity (2017) is a compendium of community engagement techniques that address fundamental questions in democratizing the design practice.
Efforts like this created a form of public space when the actual physical space is no longer available or accessible, and that to me was perhaps the most powerful thing that I’ve witnessed during the current pandemic, one that I think challenged the common assumptions of how public realm and public space function.
Insight from "Reframing the Role of Public Space during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic"
The community has shown its resilience during the pandemic. Storefronts have become canvas for local artists, a truly coordinated neighbourhood effort with local donations of supplies and materials. As Jeff notes, this is “one of few bright spots in terms of community resilience and the transformation of the public realm, our streets have never been so colourful and interesting.” Community-based organisations and individuals organised themselves to help those in need, especially senior citizens under the stay-at-home order and local businesses that were hit. Students, albeit without access to school facilities, created production lines to fabricate personal protection equipment for healthcare workers, 552 units fabricated and shipped to New Orleans, Brooklyn, Atlanta, and Seattle.