Enjoying the multiple conversations that Monday’s piece started about Little Free Libraries, I can’t help but share the two that our family has been enjoying this summer. In doing so, there’s a striking difference between the development pattern of Monday’s neighbourhood in Kansas versus this 100-year-old Winnipeg neighbourhood in which I live. Do those development patterns have anything to do with the vastly different public responses that these libraries have received? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting contemplation.
A recent trip to Chicago on the first weekend of summer reinforced the importance of great public art. After a particularly harsh winter, the welcoming parks, squares, and plazas of the city were burgeoning with people soaking in the sunshine.
Coming home to talk with my husband, who happens to be an art museum director, we had some interesting conversations about the differences between civic art and public art. For my husband, there really is no difference, however in my industry, there is.
So I’m sitting in one of those community meetings we’ve all become familiar with of late. A local Tea Party type is making a passionate pitch for what his group considers Constitutional guarantees against government planning, and I get this deju vu tug.
I’ve been here before. I’VE BEEN THIS BEFORE.
Almost twenty years ago, just married, my wife and I bought an old house in a friendly but economically depressed old neighborhood. It was, at the time, a predominantly black neighborhood though, like many historic neighborhoods in and around Atlanta that predate our tumultuous, race-driven urban disinvestment of the 60s and 70s, it had also been a predominantly white neighborhood at one point as well.
Its history is significant and, in the almost two decades since, the process of absorbing and understanding it has been a meaningful one. But at the time, all those issues, together with the baggage that accompanies them, simply weren’t on our radar.
High on my list of must-read columnists is James Surowiecki of The New Yorker. His “Twilight of the Brands” piece in the February 17-24 edition provides a good example of how he takes apart outworn axioms of business success, then, from the wreckage, assembles a model better suited for the here and now.
The places we inhabit are rarely if ever arbitrary. They’re the products of intention. Personal. Economic. Environmental. Religious. We choose for ourselves, individually and collectively, the kind of places we want and — through leadership, policy, investment, advocacy, action and, at times, inaction — those places begin to take form.
It’s a complicated dance of complementary and competing interests. Making it something that happens for us, rather than something that happens to us, requires, perhaps more than anything, a shared understanding of exactly what it is we’re talking about. A common language.
I’m big on local. Not because I hate Walmart and 3,000 mile Caesar salads but because, as I see it, communities built on human-scaled, interdependent systems are better suited to taking on the challenges and opportunities presented by time.
That’s why, when it comes to the decisions that most directly impact day-to-day quality of life, I tend to advocate for smaller, more local, more responsive increments of control. Things like neighborhoods, NPUs, districts, and towns.
The world around us, whatever form it takes, comes to reflect the priorities of the people setting policy, making rules, and allocating funds. The more those people understand the nuances of context and maintain a shared stake in the outcome, the better things tend to be.
I tend to take the road less traveled.
For whatever reason, conventional approaches have never interested me. And the process I came up with for my city’s comp plan was no different.
Why? Well, first off, conventionalism leads to….. “BORING!” (Yell it out like no one can hear you!)
Slow and steady progress is built on an ongoing series of course corrections. Subtle variations in direction based on new variables, new challenges, and new innovations.
As times and circumstances change, some things inevitably become less productive. Or effective. Or conducive to contemporary sensibilities. So, we make changes.
Historically, they’ve been made by a matter of degrees. A minor turn here, a more substantial turn there. But today, in the modern era, we seem overly-fascinated with just one increment in particular. The most extreme increment. 180 degrees.
Out with the old, in with the new.