It is the nature of cities to share beauty and horror. Waterton, a small town at the edge of one of Canada’s national parks, was threatened by wildfire this fall, a reminder of the real threat faced last year. It was also a reminder of how towns, communities and cities are intrinsically related to each other.
September 2017 saw the Kenow Wildfire lick and nibble at the edges of the town; the visitor centre was consumed by fire, as well as other park buildings, bridges, roadways, housing and water and electrical systems. This September’s threat was a reminder of the relationship a town has with other towns and cities.
The Kenow wildfire of 2017 started with an intense lightening and thunder storm west of the park and town. The official message of Parks Canada, in the Park’s activity guide, describes events like this: over the course of a week, “hot weather, strong winds and extremely dry conditions fulled the extreme behaviour” of the fire.
Further: “Parks Canada worked closely with partner agencies and neighbouring jurisdictions as the fire progressed. Fire crews created fuel line breaks and helicopters dropped water on hotspots to prevent the spread of fire. In addition, fire retardant was sprayed on picnic shelters, washrooms, and other visitor facilities. In the Waterton townsite, high-volume water pumps and sprinkler systems were installed around the edge of the community and trees, shrubs, grasses, and other flammable items were removed from properties.” While this work was done by Parks Canada employees and residents of the townsite, others came to their aid. They did not fight the fire on their own.
The activity guide: “Heroic efforts by Parks Canada, with the support of the firefighters from agencies across the country and municipal fire departments from nearby communities and the cities of Lethbridge and Calgary, saved the Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site and the community of Waterton. We are forever grateful for your courage, your tireless efforts, and for all that you accomplished.”
Others came to their aid. They did not fight the fire on their own.
Simply put, the town could not save itself; it needed others to come in and help. A year later, the town was still saying thank you.
Not only do we require each other to survive within a city, but this survival strategy also scales up. Cities need other cities to survive.
It is in the nature of our cities and communities to share what is both horror and beauty. We move between our cities to escape horror, or provide assistance and support to those experiencing horror, and we move between our cities to enjoy beauty. It is in our nature.
With some planner colleagues, we have been testing the idea of “the healing city”, or a “city that heals itself”. Some people get it, and some people don’t. I think our response to this idea depends on our relationship to trauma and discomfort.
In a bar on Thursday night, I was with a group of colleagues celebrating the winter season. As you can imagine, a lot of chit chat, some things to nibble on, drinks in our hands, and pockets of people in conversation. One of the conversations was about one of our colleagues, whose 13-year-old daughter committed suicide two days earlier. The news was just spreading and, of course, we are shocked and horrified, sorting out our own reactions to this news from how to make sure our colleague and her family are getting the support they need. One of the people connecting people with each other is grappling with her own child threatening suicide that very afternoon. A friend cancelled our Friday supper date because she has to be at home on what appears to be a suicide watch for her teenager. Which frees up tonight (Friday) to support a friend (and my son) whose 18-year-old (my son’s best friend) spent the night in emergency for a tricky medical situation and will be in the hospital for a few days.
This morning, I am thinking about the TVs in the bar last night. Screens upon screens of messages like this:
WTF? (What the f&*$?)
WTF? Why are three young people who have, are threatening and contemplating suicide? One of these young people is among a wave of classmates exploring suicide. Why is this converging in my attention? WTF?
What are we not paying attention to, and why?
I notice two qualities of healing in my city. The first is the physical kind that can be clear and apparent (even when it sneaks up on us) and lands us in the hospital. It can be from a sickness, or an accident that causes injury, and it is usually obvious and clear how to handle it for medical professionals. This is the kind of healing our health system is largely created to do – like for my son’s friend – and we are learning as a society how to be more preventative and helpful, whether it is for disease or accidents.
The second quality of healing needed in my city is emotional, mental, and spiritual in nature. It is the trauma that comes with the physical events, or it is emotional, mental, and spiritual trauma that is experienced. It is the stuff we don’t see, or care to look at. It is the distress a teenager experiences that makes suicide an option. It is the attempted cultural genocide of colonial culture on Indigenous peoples. It is the upheaval experienced by refugees who have arrived in our city. It is the confusion experienced by newcomers finding their way in a new place. It is the settler population coming to grips with “losing” unearned power and privilege. It is everyone who has or is experiencing abuses of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual power. It is all the stuff we don’t want to talk about because it is too uncomfortable and disruptive.
A city that heals itself is a city with the courage to talk about the stuff that is uncomfortable and disruptive.
A city that heals itself is a city with the courage to talk about the stuff that is uncomfortable and disruptive. A healing city invites the legitimacy of others’ experience of life in the city; it invites revisiting our current power structures about who gets the help they need, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. One conversation last night shone a light on two family suicide stories from a couple decades ago: the child on the wealthy side of the family got help and attention while the child on the poor side of the family did not.
I’m sitting with these questions today:
Do we know why young people are contemplating and committing suicide? Are we doing anything about it?
Do we know if all citizens have access to our hospitals and get the help they need? Do some people get better care than others based on colour of skin or language spoken? Are we doing anything about it?
Do we know the truth about our colonial nature? Are we doing anything about it?
Do we know the experience of people not at all like us? Are we doing anything to understand and accept the changes we need to make ourselves to allow them to improve their conditions?
A city that looks after its citizens looks after its citizens. Should a city choose to be a place where people are looked after, I recognize that there will always be healing work to do. A healing city recognizes that there is always healing work to do.
A city that looks after its citizens looks after its citizens.
It doesn’t feel good when people in your city scream at you. Last month I was on my bike, on a downtown street, making my way to the new bike lanes a few blocks away. A truck driver yelled at the top of his lungs: USETHE F$&#ING BIKE LANES!!!
Only three days before this happened, I jumped on a bicycle, rode 15 minutes on streets of various sizes that accommodated many modes of transportation — bicycles, pedestrians, scooters, cars, trucks, buses and trams – to get to Utrecht’s Central Station in the Netherlands. I got on a train with my bicycle and in 30 minutes was emerging from Amsterdam’s Central Station with a map in my pocket and two hands on handlebars, to make my way on bustling unfamiliar medieval streets to Park Museumplein and the surrounding sights. I was in the busy throng of people moving in many ways through the city.
There were choices about how to move in Utrecht and Amsterdam. I could choose to move by car, on foot, on a bicycle powered by me or electricity or gas, or by bus, tram or train. The city is designed for choice and the inhabitants live the choices they have made available to themselves. There are people who choose cars. There are people who choose bicycles or scooters. There are people who choose buses, trams and trains. And there are people who choose it all. Most importantly, those choices are available just about everywhere. There is significant public investment made to do this, in the streets and even bicycle parking lots. (Check out this article about the Utrecht Central Station bicycle parking facilities for 22000 bicycles.)
The inhabitants live the choices they have made available to themselves.
There are sensible separations that are responsive to scale and speed, always with a the larger intention to allow choice. There are no bicyles on highways, but bicyles can be on trains or you can ride your bike between cities. In the city proper, bicycles are everywhere and the city is made for it. Make a sidewalk a bit wider, paint it a different colour and there’s room for bicycles on a busy street of any size. On a small local street, bicycles are on the street with the cars. Intersections are made for all modes of transportation and while messy compared to the simplicity of an intersections only for cars, it works perfectly. All people, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation, exhibit care and look out for each other. That’s how it works: accommodation.
All people, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation, exhibit care and look out for each other. That’s how it works: accommodation.
Back in Edmonton, in North America, my experience is a startling contrast. In one 20 minute ride into downtown and back home I realize:
There is no place for me to be. I have to choose to be like a car and be on the road or choose to be like a pedestrian and be on the sidewalk. My ride starts on a quiet street so I choose the street. When the car traffic gets busier I ride on the sidewalk. I don’t like to do this.
The new bicycle path does not go to where I am going, so I choose not to use it, despite wanting to support the public investment.
Friendly drivers don’t know what do to. On a quiet street I choose to ride on the street. At an intersection where I have the stop sign, a driver stops and waves me on. This is nice, but she would not stop like this if I was a car.
The streets with new bicycle lanes downtown do not go where I am going. As I travel through downtown, I pass cross streets with bicycle lanes. I could move south, away from where I am going, to be on a bicycle lane, but that is out of my way and doesn’t feel right. I stay on the street because there are few vehicles.
There isn’t a place to park my bike. I arrive at my destination, Edmonton Tower, for a meeting with City of Edmonton colleagues. There is room for 12 bicycles to park and it is full. I ask, again, for the security personnel to pass along to the management that more facilities for bicycle parking are needed.
Some drivers are ANGRY. On my way home, I decide to go out of my way to use one of the new bicycle lanes, so there is one more visible cyclist using this investment. On my way there I find myself on a narrow street with no sidewalk because of construction. This is when the driver screams out his window: USE THE F&%$ING BIKE LANE!!!! I was in the only place I could be to get to the bike lane.
Another driver is ANGRY. A bit later, while crossing a street (on the street like a car) a driver honks his horn at me. I look (maybe it’s someone I know?) and see him moving his fingers as if I should be walking across the street. I shrug my shoulders. He honks again. Longer.
This is not the Edmonton I want to be, where the power of the car dominates the choices of its citizens. But lets be clear — we give the car its power. It is our choice. We attach ourselves to the car life and feel threatened by the choices that are available to all of us. The car brought us a sense of control, an ability to go where we want when we want. This is, however, a form of power over people who by choice or need do not use a car. More of us have control – in the form of choices – if more of us have choices about how to move around in our city.
To be friendly to all modes of transportation, this is what I envision for Edmonton:
Various modes of transportation are available to all citizens. This means both physical access (is the infrastructure there) but also the financial means of the user. This takes place both on the street and also across the city. (Note – street here means the entire public right-of-way.)
Various modes of transportation are available to all citizens EVERYWHERE. It isn’t about choosing specific places where bicycles and buses and trains will go. It’s about choosing specific places where bicycles will not go. Bicycle infrastructure is cheap and easy. Just do it. This takes place both on the street and also across the city.
There are clear rules for how street users behave because there is a clear place for them. Pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle drivers all have their own place to be on the street and know what to expect of each other. The bicycle is not a pedestrian or a car or a train, but since we don’t have a place for bicycles, we have unnecessary conflict between street users.
All street users are courteous and patient. It’s easy to navigate a street for cars or a street for pedestrians. It’s more complicated to navigate a street for cars and pedestrians. It’s more complicated to navigate a street with cars, pedestrians, bicycles, trams and scooters, but it is doable. Millions of humans live this in various parts of the world. The choice is ours, but it will take courage to behave in ways that are courteous and patient both as we recreate our city and figure out how to relate to each other and our city differently.
There is hard work ahead for us in North American cities. We have a built form that serves the car and we need to shift it to include other ways of moving. This is a gargantuan task, but is not the biggest task. The biggest task is to be civil and friendly with each other while doing the difficult work of making cities that serve citizens well.
If you didn’t personally hear me speak, how is it possible that you heard me? This is the undercurrent of skepticism that surfaced in the closing circle at an event I co-hosted earlier this month. While the gathering generated a great deal of meaning for participants and the client, this question compels me to dig into listening and meaning-making. Who listens and who makes meaning?
If you didn’t personally hear me speak, how is it possible that you heard me?
Here’s the situation: we invited people to 3-hour workshops to explore how a city can be a learning city. We started with a World Cafe, a series of conversations in small groups with a variety of people, as a way for people to get to know each other and dive into the topic. (Our questions reflected the 4 pillars of the UNESCO pillars of learning: learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together.)
After this ‘warm-up’, participants were ready for the big event: to make a 3D model of the city as a learning habitat.
As we made and explored the models, the groups saw patterns in the metaphors and operating principles. They identified the qualities of the system that wants to come more fully into being. They could see:
Connected webs of relationships with multiple layers of pathways and connections
Circles of life
Synergies and exchanges
Nature and natural, organic processes
Gathering places where people come together
Inclusivity and diversity
Beauty and art, whimsy and creativity, fun
Sustainability and self-sufficiency
A city that evolves by learning
Participants identified a way of knowing, doing, being and living together that creates a city that works for them. For my client, who is figuring out her role in stewarding a project to foster learning in the city, this vision is essential. Her work is to figure out how to nurture this system. Not be the system, or make the learning habitat alone, because one person is not responsible for the well-being of a system. Her role is help it be healthy, to live more fully into its pattern. She is one of many gardeners.
Participants identified a way of knowing, doing, being and living together that creates a city that works for them.
The challenge we face is the inertia of staying in familiar ways of relating with each other and being in relationship with the city around us. Just because we can see and feel a new way of operating does not mean we are ready to jump into it. This tension surfaced in our closing circle: one participant spoke to the work as a state of mind, another voiced skepticism about whether we got what we needed to move the project along. While the former could lean into a new way of ‘hearing’ the system, the latter could not.
The skepticism was about the ability of the process to listen. In a World Cafe the hosts–the ‘official’ listeners–don’t hear the conversations, which means that people are not heard–by the ‘official’ listeners. The assumption: if the ‘authority’ doesn’t hear me directly I am not heard.
Four questions come to mind:
Who has something to say?
Who needs to hear you?
Who will digest what you say and make meaning of it?
Who is responsible to respond to what you have to say?
The purpose of this gathering was not to figure out how one person and a steering committee will roll out a project, but how a whole city can live into a project, and the critical support it needs from the one person and a steering committee. This involves a very different kind of listening.
A conventional way of listening to many people is through an interview or survey, where someone sits down with you to hear what you have to say verbally, or reads what you have written. In this way of listening, you tell me what you know or think directly and then I turn around and make sense of what I have heard from you and everyone else I have heard from. An interview or survey is a familiar way of ‘speaking into’ a system; it’s what we know.
World Cafe + Model Building
You tell me what you know and think with no interaction with other people
You talk and think and go deeper with other people (who may have very different perspectives)
Individuals and the whole
WHO MAKES MEANING
I analyze and make meaning alone
We figure out what it means as a group
WHERE YOU FIT
You remain outside the system
We are inside and part of the system
I see what’s happening and I tell you
We see what’s happening and we build relationships with each other to figure out what’s next
I maintain responsibility
We share responsibility
I want to know what people think (informative)
We want to know what we think and figure out our way forward together as a whole (collaborative)
Interviews and surveys are informative tools, with their time and place, not collaborative tools. Their purpose is not in helping a system see the relationships and patterns within itself. The choice for my client: informing herself or the city informing itself. The choice for citizens: rely on her to fix things, or jump in and help to improve (see improve vs. fix).
My client’s work, ultimately, will be to help people see and operate in a system that is not linear and tidy. That is the learning for a learning city. The challenge is to figure out how to nurture this system and do so in a way that honours the familiar, linear ways of learning as well.
As citizens and individuals, we must reconcile this fact: as one voice in a survey, or one voice in a World Cafe, I am only one voice among many. Our choice: entrench in the familiar or expand into new ways of making meaning that include us all.
As citizens and individuals, we must reconcile this fact: as one voice in a survey, or one voice in a World Cafe, I am only one voice among many.
The shape of a meeting reflects the purpose of the meeting: telling or listening. Both are appropriate depending on the intentional purpose of the meeting, and often telling and listening purposes are simultaneous. Here are questions I ask to figure out what shape I will use in preparing for a meeting:
What is the purpose of the gathering?
What needs to be told and who needs to tell it?
Who will be listening and to whom are they listening?
What are we listening for?
What is the shape that serves the purpose?
We are most familiar with two shapes of conversation: the board table and the theatre. These shapes, and our behaviour in these shapes, is about expertise and power; at the front of the room, or at the head of the table, is the one from whom we expect will tell us what to do, the boss or the expert. One person has the answers and the rest expect the answers. One person knows what to do and the others will make it happen.
These are shapes for telling and following, for providing direction.
We all participate in these shapes: the boss/expert expects others to follow and the subordinates have steep expectations of the boss/expert. The boss will say how things will unfold. Subordinates expect clear directions.
The shapes of telling and following are the right choice in the right circumstances. A doctor friend has extensive expertise is infectious diseases and she has a role in the health care system to serve as a resource for front-line doctors. She has knowledge they need in their work; when something strange happens in their practice she tells them what they need to know as a speaker at a conference, at meetings around board tables or by teleconference, or a one-on-one consult. While there is room for questions from front-line doctors to understand what she is telling them, they trust the information she conveys, take it and use it directly. My doctor friend is in the telling role. The front-liners listen and follow.
Listening is a crucial part of telling and following. The subordinates, or the audience, are there to listen and are expected but the boss/expert to listen. This is listening as an individual: I hear what the boss/expert has to say, I take some notes, and I will adjust my actions as dictated.
The shape of a conversation shifts dramatically if the gathering has a purpose different from telling and listening. The intentional purpose of a conversation may be to explore and digest, and figure out a way forward together. In this case, the shape shifts to circle, where the expertise and contributions of everyone–rather than one or select few–are welcomed. The listening is done by individuals and the group because the purpose of the conversation is about collective discernment: we have something to figure out together.
These are shapes for listening–as individuals and as a group–that lead to wise action.
Shapes of listening and discernment are the right choice in the right circumstances. A city planner colleague of mine is working to create a new set of rules to guide infill development in his city and he recognizes that there are people with different perspectives on this that need to be taken into account: other people in city hall, builders and developers, and citizens and community organizations. He recognizes that they all have pieces to the city-puzzle we are making. He needs to listen to them all and he recognizes that as these different perspectives listen to each other, better solutions come forward. He offers, around little tables and within the whole group, ways for people to listen to each other and find ways forward that look after a wide range of interests. This tangibly helps him in his work and it enables everyone else make a city that serves them well.
All of these shapes are right in the right time and place. It all depends on the purpose: telling or listening, direction or conversation.
As you design and prepare for your next gathering, ponder these questions:
What is the purpose of the gathering?
What needs to be told and who needs to tell it?
Who will be listening and to whom are they listening?
We signed a 30-page contract with a client last week, full of legal details and formalities. It took about 10 minutes to sign it all. As I was getting the corporate seal and my fancy blue pen all ready to do their work, I realized that this formal contract is not as important as the contracts behind the contract. Continue reading Learning journey contracts
On Monday, I started a series of posts as part of my reflection on my family’s tour of the capital cities of the Nordic Nations with a post on our Nordic modes of transportation.
It seems there are two city pattern at work: one aimed at serving the movement of cars, and another aimed to serve the movement of people. The city planner in me needs to dig into what is different about cities there (Reykjavik, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki) and here.
Density by the numbers
I have chosen to compare the five Nordic cities with the three largest cities on the Canadian Prairies, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. With the exception of Reykjavik, the cities’ population ranges from just over 600,000 people to just over 1 million. (Note – the population of Copenhagen includes the municipality of Frederiksberg, which is surrounded by Copenhagen.)
The Prairie cities and Oslo have cover the largest area of land, with Reykjavik and Copenhagen covering the least area of land to house their inhabitants.
The resulting density of inhabitants per square kilometre is remarkable. Copenhagen and Stockholm are the most densely populated, at 6792 and 4782 people per square kilometre. Edmonton is the least densely populated at 1122 people per square kilometre. Winnipeg and Calgary come in at 1492 and 1555 people per square kilometre.
These are very different cities.
A feel for the density
In each city, we chose to stay in neighbourhoods to get a feel for the city. In Copenhagen, we stayed in an apartment in Frederiksberg. Thanks to Google Maps, I can show you the primary city pattern that accommodates high density without high-rise buildings. The overwhelming pattern is 6-storey buildings around the edges of the block with a courtyard in the center.
Every apartment has access to daylight. Every apartment has access to outdoor yard space that is semi-private. All services are stitched into the fabric of the neighbourhood. Businesses, schools and shopping centres are all at hand. So, too, are transportation systems to move people in various ways – by car, by bike, on foot, or bus. Nearby is a Metro station.
In contrast, my neighbourhood in Edmonton is mostly single family dwellings. When I moved in 7 years ago the neighbourhood was fighting a second tall building. Now there is spurts of uproar, though not always, about new rules that are allowing duplexes and secondary suites as a strategy to increase density in the city. There’s one tall building (look for it’s shadow) that raises the overall density, but the pattern is simple: 10 homes per block.
It’s not ugly. But it is different.
This low density pattern means that I have a 20 minute walk, one-way for groceries and some services. Adequate bus service is nearby. The streets are lined with wonderful trees. In short daylight hours of winter, the sun shines in to our homes. The low density means the use of cars is inevitable (though we are active and fit enough to walk or ride our bikes most often, or take the bus).
Copenhagen is 6 times more densely populated than Edmonton. Copenhagen and Edmonton exemplify two different cultural patterns of city building. One compels us to live physically closer to each other. The other compels to live physically apart from each other, creating space for us to be alone, both on our properties and in our cars. Both patterns have merits.
In my next post I will explore how public transportation infrastructure shows up in these cities and tease out how density relates to transportation infrastructure in practice.
In the meantime, which habitat feels more comfortable to you? The density of Copenhagen, or the expansiveness of Edmonton?
Your choice shapes your city.
Population, area and density: Thomas Brinkhoff: City Population, http://www.citypopulation.de
Everything a city does – or does not do – is a result of our actions as citizens, community organizations, the business community and our public institutions. How each of us show up in the city affects how the city serves us, individually and collectively. (Remember the difference between the corporate ‘City’ government and the ‘city‘ habitat we build for ourselves.)
Back in September, in village in the city, I connected the work of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea on the purpose of a village to the purpose of the city. The result was another a twist on what a city does for its citizens (a reminder of city purposes).
To show up well, in any of the roles we play in the city, we need to be conscious of our civic practice. After our basic survival needs are met, we engage in story and this feeds everything in the city, at every scale. Imagine the village again, where we share stories to ensure our collective survival. Our stories are also full of passion and they feed pride and identity. We will even battle and fight when our stories are threatened. In a village, we are called to be clear about our agreements with each other, and hold ourselves accountable to each other, to be fair and just. As a village develops, we are also compelled to take action on what needs to be done, and be creative and entrepreneurial, allowing our drive to thrive to fuel us. Eventually, we are able to see and learn and benefit from everyone’s contributions and gifts. The village becomes a place where we learn to live with conflicting truths and uncertainties, allowing us to live the ‘village’ everywhere. It is a place where we can integrate feeling and knowing, and simply be in awe of how the world works.
The Spiral reveals that there are layers of civic practice:
Once our survival needs are met, we …
Connect with each other through our stories. We belong to each other.
Allow our stories to fuel our passion, feed our identity and pride as individuals and as a group.
Seek clarity in our agreements with each other, and hold ourselves accountable, to be fair and just.
Take action on what needs action, allowing our drive to be creative to serve us as opportunities arise.
Look after each other, our diverse needs, and chase our diverse desires.
Explore what’s necessary, natural and next, learning anywhere, everywhere with anyone.
Integrate feeling and knowing, with radical optimism.
For the graphically inclined, here’s how they the layers of civic practice show up on the Spiral:
How do you nurture your civic practice? How do you ensure you show up well for your city?
The purpose of a village is also the purpose of a city. For Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, a village does many things at once: protects and looks after its inhabitants; feeds them and ensures the goods and services needed are on hand; supports the varied work of villagers so they can participate in community commerce; educates and initiates; governs with a social structure of shared mores; builds webs of identity and relationships; and grows the spirit of the place with traditions of meaning.
A village is doing many things at once, each of which connects to the story, the heart, of a place. The story is what connects and binds us to each other and is a foundation on which we build our cities.
In any human system, there is a progression of values, and our intelligence, that we experience that form our stories as individuals and any scale of collective (family, organization, village, city). I took at look at how these levels of values show up in the city. We begin with our full attention on our survival, and once that is looked after, our attention expands to focus on: collective survival; economic and military power; authority and moral codes; prosperity and entrepreneurship; diversity of knowledge; then systemic flow and global life force. (For more details on these levels of values, please explore my primer on Spiral Dynamics integral. For their application to the city, start with Is the unplanned city unplanned – part 4.)
As I look at Baldwin and Linnea’s model, I can see several layers of the Spiral. The village looks after the basic survival needs of villagers. It will step in and protect if need be. It has rules and protocols. It recognizes that it is a place where learning takes place. It recognizes that at the heart of the village is story, the glue that binds us. Here’s what happens if I look at the purpose of the city with “villageness” in mind:
What does a city do?
Meet basic needs of citizens
Nurture shared sense of belonging, for collective survival
Cultivate pride and identity / protect city from danger
Provide necessary structure to meet citizens’ needs (physical, economic, social)
Create the conditions for property, development and growth
Create the conditions for expanding knowledge, receiving and giving knowledge
Learn to flex and flow with uncertainty and conflicting truths
Serve as Gaia’s reflective organ
A city, just as a village, does many things at once. Not every citizen is doing each of these things all at the same time, but collectively, as our attention shifts to meet the demands of each moment, the city shifts too. The graphic at the top of this post is purposely purple, for the notion of village is firmly rooted in the early stages of human evolution, when we are grappling for collective survival, and where myths, mystery and story were our tools to understand the world.
Cultivating the village in the city is not about going back in time, but rather a way to cultivate a new story to tell ourselves about our cities and our roles in them as citizens. When we do, it will reshape all the layers we have created above the story.
[They] sought to create art that consciously responded to the world events surrounding them. All saw art as a form of spiritual quest.
I found these words in the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) pamphlet on their summer exhibition: Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Myths & the Mystical, describing the work of Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Anderson. As I explored their work, and the text provided by SAM, here are some juicy bits:
visualizations of the world in flux, of the human spirit transcendent, or of the cosmos.If there was any hope that the world could survive the threat of annihilation, . . . it was found . . . from the closely observed cycle of life.. . . symbols . . . through close observation of the world around them – in the energy of the wartime city or in the fight for survival that defines the natural world. . .. . . the visual language of Northwest Coast people as a . . . lexicon of symbols for conveying universal brotherhood, a common spirituality and a belief in the primacy of the laws of nature. . .
And I was compelled to see how the titles of their artwork could fit together:
The mythic and the mystical formfollows man, a rummage ofmoving moments riding on the mountainin the white nightsearching for the morningdove of the inner eyeto find on the seventh daythe seed was in itself
And Seattle? She was beautiful too. She is her own artwork.