What we see at street level in many urban neighborhoods does not reflect our aspirations for ourselves and our society. If we’re serious about having a well-educated society, let’s build cities where learning experiences are prominent, accessible, and enjoyable. Let’s show off our best teachers, librarians, and educators doing great work, and give them opportunities to adapt their craft to a public setting. The Uni takes learning public.
Many urban residents, especially children, do not have easy access to books and places to read outside of school. Book stores are closing. Public libraries in many cities are underfunded. Electronic communication, video games, and online socializing are sapping more and more of our attention. We seem to be losing touch with books at the very moment, and in the very places, we need them the most. The Uni brings back the book.
Cities need new solutions that are lighter-weight, more flexible, less expensive to operate, and better integrated into our patterns of daily life. We’re inspired by Project for Public Spaces‘ call for “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” solutions.The Uni anticipates a future when cities become still more dense, space even more expensive, and fast-paced social, environmental, and technological change are the norm. At the same time, the Uni recalls a past when we gathered around to hear the news, absorb a story, or learn a skill from another person. The Uni gives us a new place to do what we’ve done throughout history—gather together and be better for it.
Large institutions want to be able to reach new audiences efficiently and develop new outlets for their work. Small institutions may simply need a public platform. In all cases, it is a challenge for institutions to implement programs outside their walls. The Uni provides them with a way to do this. Significantly, it also provides a place to experiment and learn new engagement strategies that work equally well “back home” in more traditional environments. The Uni supports existing institutions.
We see a growing demand for the kinds of experiences the Uni will offer—opportunities to read, learn, exchange ideas and share expertise. The demand is coming from younger people eager to discover new affinity groups and find alternative ways of socializing; from families evaluating whether or not the place they live provides the right kinds of environmental “inputs” for their growing kids; from seniors looking for more accessible activities; and from visitors looking for unique experiences that reveal the values and culture of a place. We think all these people will appreciate the Uni’s programming, but also its “walk-up” interface, which allows individuals to approach, observe and decide on-the-fly whether or how much to participate. Even those who don’t directly participate will appreciate the effort being made to give books, learning, and ideas a prominent place at street level in the city. The Uni provides a meaningful experience at street-level.