For the local activist looking to transform their city, Jaime Lerner’s book Urban Acupuncture is a rich little devotional. It’s not a long, academic book loaded with theory and complex concepts. Instead, it’s a series of stories, ideas expressed in short yet memorable increments. People often learn best when a story is attached to an idea (even if it’s an abstract one), and Urban Acupuncture is intended to inspire through Jaime Lerner’s personal stories about his experiences in other cities and bringing reform to his own.
Personally, my favorite story/lesson from Urban Acupuncture was Jaime Lerner’s transformation of one of the streets in his city into a pedestrian street. He makes the transformation rapidly, in 72 hours, working nonstop, and would not begin the project until he knew that it would be completed in so short a time that any resistance that could potentially form would not have the time to do so. He basically blitzed reform, resistance be damned, and I saw that as being quite courageous and politically astute. One could call it heavy-handed, undemocratic, abusive of power, and even tyrannical; I won’t say that his methods were completely ethical. But in this day and age, when in the United States politicians are too cowardly to bring serious change, I found the story refreshing and could only wish the same courage were in this country’s politicians as well (or more accurately in those wishing to create positive change; the selfish ones are plenty bold).
With that said, the courage Jaime Lerner brought is the courage any reformer—be they a politician or not—in any city, who is serious about bringing positive change, both can and should have. And while most may not have the mayor’s power, they can still have an impact. Reform will be more powerful when it is swift (though no recklessly executed) and effective, and it can transform communities.
…the courage Jaime Lerner brought is the courage any reformer—be they a politician or not—in any city, who is serious about bringing positive change, both can and should have.
Jaime Lerner challenged his readers to map out their city, and I did so. I drew Salt Lake City and mapped out some of the most memorable places there: the capitol building (where my prom was held), the SLCPL (where I spent a lot of time hanging out while Mom volunteered in Art at the Main), the Delta Center (Energy Solutions Arena is such a wordy, contrived, and ugly name, with nine syllables versus four, so I tend not to use it), Temple Square (I may not be LDS, but I’ve enjoyed a walk through that beautiful place), the Gallivan Center (where I enjoyed a day at the Salt Lake International Jazz Festival, with jazz playing across a green lawn surrounded by food trucks and tall buildings beneath a warm, bright sun), even the train stops (and the red line I ride every day to school). There’s more to downtown Salt Lake City I know I could, such as restaurants and parks and stores I have visited, but I barely had room to draw what I did.
What is in my power to change in the city? There are big reforms that could make a big impact, such as making the city more pedestrian friendly, and those reforms would require a large movement to pressure policy makers, which may be beyond my present abilities. One small change I could make, though, is at the library. I like to walk the library wall, and the view at the top is marvelous; it may be one of the best views of the city one can get. When I last walked the wall, though, it clearly has been neglected. Weeds grow out from the pavement of the walkway. The garden at the top could also use some work. The area is quite lovely and would make excellent community space, but it’s rarely used.
It would not take much to revitalize the library roof. The weeds could be killed with chemicals and plucked, the garden better maintained, and events could be held up on the roof, such as indie concerts, book signings, parties, and so on. It’s a small reform, but often little changes could revitalize larger areas. Revitalizing the roof could give the library new life, and the library could bring more life year-round to 400 S. All it takes is someone being attentive and caring enough to do something to make a difference, and the chain reaction could spread well beyond the initial act.