About the lab
The Just Places Lab is a multidisciplinary platform for research and creative action centered on community memory and imagination, 'equity preservation,' and socially just places. The lab is directed by Dr. Jennifer Minner and sits within Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.
Featured projects (5)
Just Places Lab is one of several founding members of CR0WD, along with Historic Ithaca, the Susan Christopherson Center for Community Planning, and the Circular Construction Lab at Cornell University. it is a growing group with expertise in salvage, reuse, and preservation including also leadership from Finger Lakes ReUse, Cortland ReUse, and the Preservation Association of Central New York. CR0WD works with New York State communities to promote sustainability and resilience of the built environment through thoughtful deconstruction that that recognizes the environmental, cultural and economic value of salvage and reuse of building materials and architectural elements.
This project began in collaboration with Nick Goldsmith, Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Ithaca and the Town of Ithaca; Susan Holland, Executive Director of Historic Ithaca; and students in my land use planning methods class. Student work was focused on developing equity indicators that could be used to focus and evaluate progress on local resolutions of the Green New Deal. I am also particularly interested in research that advances elements of the Green New Deal pertaining to existing building stock; historic preservation; circular economy, reuse, and waste reduction; and arts, culture and intangible heritage.
This project began as an extension to research and the idea of 'equity preservation' and inspired by some of the socially engaged art that I encountered in research on urban memory (especially films of Wendy Rogers, Sue Ward, and Debra Beattie, and the public artwork of Jonathan Jones) and equity preservation (especially Dennis Maher's and art initiatives of People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo) and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery). At the moment, I am engaging in research via a special topics seminar I am teaching Spring 2020. It is an exploration of creative means of community preservation with a focus on creative practices that have the potential to repair, maintain, celebrate, defend, remember, reinterpret, adapt, and preserve places and communities. This seminar poses a series of questions: How do artistic practices and arts organizations shape, interpret, and help us remember a city’s past? How do artistic practices relate to professional fields that engage with communities and shape the built environment (e.g. planning, historic preservation, architecture, and landscape architecture?) What can city planning and preservation learn from the arts? What can the arts learn from planning and preservation? How can the arts and practices loosely associated with “creative place-making” engage in ethical repair and sustenance of a community without, and potentially directly resisting, processes of commodification, alienation, exclusion, gentrification and displacement? How can the arts assist in the retention of collective memory? What are means of rendering largely invisible histories, people, and aspects of a community visible? Can instilling curiosity and consciousness about patterns in the built environment, social histories, and collective identities translate into both individual and community benefits? How does one ‘count’ or evaluate this? “Other than counting people and dollars and having retinal sensors and brain scanners hooked up to those who tour specific environments, how do we, as a culture, substantiate the impact that places--particularly places charged by art/design/history-- have upon our psyches? How can we apply qualitative research methods associated with the humanistic aspects of the built environment to evaluate the impacts of preservation, architecture, art, and community? In what ways can 'equity' be a part of the barometers of success?” (Quotes from Dennis Maher) What are community preservation practices, beyond standard regulatory approaches like landmarking, that preserve intangible heritage and community? Most of the examples gathered in readings and through previous research are focused on visual arts, media studies, and historic preservation. However, participants are encouraged to consider many other media types and modes of artistic practice to discussions. The aim of this class is to engage in appreciative and critical inquiry through discussion of readings; guest lectures; and a field trip to Buffalo, New York. Seminar participants will craft a plan for deep evaluation of either: 1) the non-profit organization Society for the Advancement of Construction-related Arts or 2) Enterprise Community Partner’s prior Collaborative Action Grant awards.
In this project, I am outlining an equity preservation agenda. This research involves a graduate level workshop at Cornell University in partnership with the Policy and Research Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation Rightsizing Network. This agenda was first articulated in my JAPA article on the synergies, tensions, and silences between the preservation and planning as two allied fields.
This project began with questions of sustainable adaptation at former international expo/world's fair sites. The project has evolved over time to include additional sites. How are former mega-event sites preserved and adapted over time? How are they remembered? What can we learn from the adaptations and interpretations of these sites to inform the practices of city planning and preservation?
Featured research (27)
International exhibitions, also known as world's fairs or international expos, are important examples of large-scale mega-events. Regulated and promoted by the Bureau of International Expositions, world and specialized expos are purported to aid in the achievement of urban development goals for host cities and nations. Scholars have focused analyses on the social and economic impacts of staging mega-events and in the immediate years after events. In this article, the authors consider the spatial and land use aspects of expo sites, developing a post-expo typology to aid in in-depth and comparative analysis of spatial patterns across sites and years after the mega-event. The authors then present a framework for equitable urban development, to consider the equity dimension of sustainability at former mega-event sites. The urban development typology is then considered with the equitable urban development framework, to propose interventions that are specific to particular expo types. The article links consideration of spatial land use patterns and expo legacies long after the first wave of urban development associated with staging an expo has passed.
This chapter can be freely access at : https://www.arch.columbia.edu/books/reader/826-preservation-sustainability-and-equity#reader-anchor-11 The whole book can be accessed using this URL: https://bit.ly/3rn11Vs Here are a couple of quotes from my chapter: "Preservation has much to build upon, including in-depth knowledge of tangible and intangible heritages, but these should not be used to maintain the status quo. These tools should instead be expanded and applied in the quest for transformative action that effectively responds to the most pressing issues of today. " Another quote: "How has preservation engaged with principles of circular economy and circular city initiatives? How have preservation practices promoted the ethics of conservation and thrift as useful concepts that can be applied in daily life and patterns of maintaining the built environment?"
The concept of circular economy seeks to disrupt the enormous amount of waste generated by a linear system. The system extracts raw materials from the earth to construct the built environment, including its buildings and infrastructure, only for those materials to be dumped into landfills after a relatively short lifespan (Fusco Girard & Nocca, 2019). In a circular system, natural resources and embodied carbon are conserved through prolonging the lifespan of existing building stock through preservation, retrofitting, and repair (Huuhka & Vestergaard, 2019; McCarthy & Glekas, 2019); deconstructing buildings and salvaging usable fixtures and building materials; and transforming new construction through designing with repurposed building materials and for deconstruction (Heisel and Hebel, 2021). There have been growing calls for whole countries, regions and communities to achieve circularity, particularly within Europe and Asia (Kovacic et al., 2019). Within North America, there have been efforts to re-envision local government and private sector systems of demolition with deconstruction, particularly within Vancouver, BC, Canada; in the Bay Area Deconstruction Working Group in California; Portland, Oregon; and New York, NY. However, research into how concepts of circular economy fit within the highly variable and uneven regulatory context of urban planning and historic preservation in North America remain limited. Likewise, there has been limited planning scholarship into how deconstruction efforts might fit into the creation of green jobs and sustainable transformation of construction activity. The Circularity Reuse, and Zero Waste Development (CR0WD) Taskforce developed out of an alliance of community leaders and academics concerned with a vast system of building material waste within New York State. CR0WD seeks to advance sustainability, resilience, and green jobs within the built environment. CR0WD's efforts are aimed at helping communities realize the environmental, cultural and economic benefits of prolonging the lifespan of buildings and reusing building materials and architectural elements through research, education, policy initiatives and design that emphasizes deconstruction, salvage, and preservation. The group is sustained through shared leadership between organizations such as: Historic Ithaca; the Susan Christopherson Center for Community Planning; the Preservation Association of Central New York; Finger Lakes ReUse; the City of Ithaca; as well as other nonprofit and governmental partners; and the research labs the Circular Construction Lab and Just Places Lab at Cornell University.
The built environment in US cities displays uneven geographies and patterns of spatial exclusion. Preservation, as a profession that cares for places and communities should help to redress these inequities. Likewise, socially engaged art and creative practices can act as catalysts for transformative change. This article describes three community engaged courses in which students drew connections between concepts of equitable preservation, socially engaged art, and the just city. The Equity Preservation Workshop focused on creating a toolkit of policies for preservation alliances with community development. In Just Places? Community Preservation, Art and Equity, students investigated how the arts can ignite historical consciousness and employ creative practices that repair, adapt, and preserve places. Art, Preservation, and the Just City generated ideas for creatively engaging youth with place, identities, and the built environment. Students conducted research with preservation organizations including the National Trust for Historic Preserva tion and Preservation Buffalo Niagara; a creative-placemaking program of Enterprise Community Partners; and Assembly House 150, a nonprofit in Buffalo that transforms lives and the built environment through art, design, and construction. This article describes these field investigations into the layers of intersection, interaction, and possibility between preservation, art, and social equity.
The Northland Pattern Wall: City of Past and Future Craft is an assemblage artwork created by artist and architecture professor Dennis Maher with coinstructors and students of the Society for the Advancement of Construction Related Arts (SACRA) program. SACRA is an arts-based vocational training program providing construction skills training to individuals in need. It is based at Assembly House 150, an artist-led experiential learning center in Buffalo, New York. This article employs qualitative methods inspired by the hermeneutic spiral to examine the Northland Pattern Wall, SACRA, and Assembly House 150. This article highlights takeaways for heritage conservation, as well as allied professions, about the relevance of building trades and creative practices that help to shape and conserve the built environment. The story behind the Northland Pattern Wall is used as an opportunity to reflect on the potential to build stronger alliances between professionals, tradespersons, and artists in designing creatively out of the patterns of the past to build a more sustainable and equitable future city.
- Department of City and Regional Planning
About Jennifer Minner
- Jennifer Minner is an Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. She directs the Just Places Lab. Her teaching and research apply expertise in preservation and land-use planning. With many collaborating scholars, she peers into global mega-event impact craters, travels along commercial corridors, decodes embedded assumptions in technologies, maps future scenarios, and analyzes the interstices + interconnections between art, memory, and built environment.