Here at Pedestrian Space we love to do Friday Art Features, typically featuring artists from around the world whose work includes themes of urbanism and mobility.
This Friday, we are excited to feature Betty Laurincova, an urban design consultant and illustrator from Bratislava, Slovakia, currently based on the Isle of Man.
“I would have never guessed I would live in a place like this. I am originally from Bratislava, Slovakia, where I spent most of my life and graduated as an architect. After my studies, I worked as an architect for a local studio, then got offered an internship in Stockholm, Sweden as an urban designer.
My interest in urban design grew gradually. Looking back it was very natural for me to go this way. I have always had an interest in people and society. My other option for university studies was social anthropology. I realized urban design combined architecture with my interest in people.
I stayed in Stockholm for almost five years, working for two more companies. During this time, I received a Diploma in UX design. It again combines my interest in people and design. I believe communication and user research is key in any design process.
I moved to the Isle of Man for a relationship. I was also in the mood for an adventure. I wanted to explore how I can implement my skillset and knowledge in such a different environment than what I am used to.
What is the relationship between the city and your art? Does urbanism influence your work?
I have always enjoyed the visual part of the design, and it was my colleagues at Urban Minds (a Swedish company I used to work for) who supported my start with urban illustrations.
I am a big supporter of participation in urban planning, but communication can struggle in the process. My illustrations are simple and playful and can make the whole topic of urban planning more accessible.
How do we want to gain feedback from people when they might not understand the plans, yet finished shiny renders don’t seem to be open for discussion? The sketches are rough and always ask for more input.
My biggest motivator is to get everyone involved on the same page. If it is a traffic engineer or a five-year-old who will live in the planned street.
I am currently learning more and more about graphic facilitation, and I hope to push my passion for communication to the next level.
You’ve lived in several different cities, regions and types of settings. How do all of these experiences shape your view of sustainable urbanism and human communities in general?
I am still really learning what it is to live on the Isle of Man, a semi-rural place where the largest town has only 30 000 inhabitants. One thing is the perception of distance. What I would walk/bike in Stockholm, people call a taxi for here. It is not my place to judge, but it helps me to understand.
On the topic of for example walkability and cycling infrastructure, Stockholm is very far ahead, Bratislava is on a very good way and Douglas (Isle of Man) is starting to realise its importance. I can use my experiences from previous cities here, but I have to be careful and respectful towards the local specifics. The simplest way I use my experience is by showing references from elsewhere that I visited myself. It is a fine balance between look this intervention worked in Bratislava and we are a small town we don’t do things like that.
On a very specific note, on the Isle of Man one opinion is, there is no point in investing in public spaces because the weather is not great. But Stockholm is cold and dark most of the year too, and they make it work.
I prefer to work with markers on layered sketch papers. I enjoy traditionally drawing by hand. I then combine, edit and colour my illustrations in photoshop. I also have a Wacom tablet that I use for some of my works with Photoshop or Illustrator. I like experimenting, but I usually come back to marker/paper combination.-Betty Laurincova, on mediums worked with
How do you move around your area of residence and what is your favourite mode? How have you moved around other cities you lived in?
At the moment I have the luck to live very central and walk everywhere. I love my bikes, but it is too close to the centre plus I live on a hill and have a single-speed bike 🙂 For longer distances, I take a bus. The buses here work very well, in my opinion. There is space for improvement in their communication (schedules, maps) which might motivate people to use them more.
In Stockholm, I was a real cycling enthusiast and activist. Cycling helped me make new friends when I moved to Sweden, and I only grew my passion. I commuted all year round, in ice and snow, with studded tyres and all weatherproof gear. And I wasn’t the only one. Stockholm is a good example of how the weather is not a factor in urban cycling. I tried all types of transport in Stockholm, yet the surprising thing is, bikes are not allowed on regular railways. It was disappointing to me because in Slovakia most trains take bikes for a very cheap fee.
I used to commute by bike in Bratislava as well, but it was not always like that. Before I either walked or took public transport. I became an active urban cyclist while living in Belgium, where cycling is part of everyone’s lifestyle. I just fell in love with cycling and the freedom it gives you.
What is your favourite street or sidewalk space in your area of residence?
In Douglas, my favourite street would be Woodbourne street (turning to Bucks Rd later) going down from my house to the centre. It is a busy street with a lot of traffic but also generous sidewalks. There is also a bit of room for improvement, and that fascinates me too.
It is a bit harder to name a favourite in Stockholm, but in general, any place with a vibrant urban life makes me instantly happy. The streets of Södermalm or Östermalm with their small shops, cafes and squares.
In Bratislava, I like the city centre and the area climbing towards the castle. It is very green with beautiful old town villas.
But it is my hometown, and therefore I find it harder to pick favourites.
Are there other pedestrian areas in your area you like to spend time in or appreciate?
All the places by the water. The promenade in Douglas is under ongoing long and delayed renovation. I remember it from visiting a couple of years ago. It was so magical, with its Victorian features and fairy lights. The north key at the harbour is very popular for sitting outside in the sunset and can be very busy. As a city person, I enjoy busy and lively places.
What challenges, as well as opportunities, do you see with issues of walkability in your area?
As a pedestrian in Douglas, I notice how much space takes the road compared to the sidewalk. Many small streets are two-way with on-street parking, while they could be easily made one-way with parking and a more generous sidewalk. The size of some junctions is also disproportionate to the area where they are. All this influences the pedestrians because they have larger roads to cross, and it does not feel safe.
There are initiatives to make some roads one way or test some solutions with temporary tactical urbanism strategies. This is great, but again, they need better communication. Addressing what the closing side of a street brings to the people should be the main information instead of pragmatically informing what we take away.
What is your perception of sustainable urbanism in your area?
The main topics discussed connected to sustainability on the island are energy production/consumption and recycling. There is a need to connect these to the larger picture or urbanism, spatial or strategic planning. I believe the places where we live and spend our time influence our behaviour and can motivate us to live more sustainably. Urban planning, as I experienced it previously, is not present here. It is not about solving street by street, house by house, but looking at the town as a complex organism, from the sustainability point of view as well.
On living on the Isle of Man you noted that “It is an adventure here, very different. I always lived in cities where walking, public transport and cycling are more common than here in semi/rural place.” Has the shift affected your illustration or urban design work?
The main difference is that while living in Stockholm, I illustrated new proposals and planned neighbourhoods. On the island, I illustrate existing spaces adding a bit of a twist. There is more to improve in what the island already has than to focus on new development. Construction of new neighbourhoods is important, but it is harder to implement them into a broken fabric.
I also illustrate more traffic situations now. In Sweden, the proposals included a lot of shared spaces or squares. On the island, I am drawing an extra sidewalk and the possibility of a cyclist using a road.
You noted that “I had one larger project on the island, a document promoting walking/cycling in a small town here, that included 23 illustrations. The whole concept was my idea as well, so I could select most of the places that I illustrated.” Can you share more about this project?
It started as a request from town commissioners to create a couple of illustrations in places I would select. I wanted to put them into a larger context, so I explored the town walking around, noticing what could be improved to make my experience walking smoother or more fun. I defined social nodes in the town, and in connections with main residential areas, I found micro spaces that need attention to navigate the movement and motivate more people to walk and enjoy it.
The document started as a presentation for the commissioners only, but they decided to share it with the public. What started as five illustrations turned into almost 50 pages and 23 illustrations.
The document is a conversation starter, and I hope we will organise some interactive workshops with the public based on it in the future that will help us motivate real change in the town.
You can have a look at the document here:
You noted in one Instagram post:
“This morning I went to an inspiring event dedicated to active travel on the Isle of Man. We have heard examples from Manchester and London, some interesting data about how cycling friendlier places are happier places (happiness is a science after all).
On the same topic and the occasion of COP26 in Glasgow, 64 organisations published an open letter to governments to commit to significantly increasing the number of people who cycle in their countries.
From my experience, cycling has so many benefits when used as a form of transform. It is, in many cases, faster, boosts my mood and productivity, and it is more fun (but I am biased here because I have a fun pink bike). The fitness improvement and climate change impact are positive side effects too.”
Do you have more you can share about the event dedicated to active travel on the Isle of Man?
The event was organised by the local Chamber of Commerce, and the guests were Chris Boardman (previously Olympic professional cyclist and currently an urban cycling advocate) and Brian Deegan (Technical Director, Walking + Cycling at Urban Movement). They talked about their scheme for Greater Manchester Transport System, making the city cycling-friendly and the challenges they came across.
I particularly enjoyed their use of different participatory tools to get people on board with the idea. Once people found out, everybody wanted to have their neighbourhood included. They had an interactive online map that anyone could comment on, to collect feedback.