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.
When everyone is an activist, everyone can be better off. All too often we resign our responsibility to our community and let others dream. This often is to our detriment; the modernist dream held by city planners turned cities from communal places to places dominated by cars from suburbs. Everyone needs to look at their city and think about how they could improve it and make it enjoyable for themselves and those around them. A city planner in an office building cannot be expected to always make changes that make life for the pedestrian better, and it is the pedestrian’s responsibility to make their desires known. To repeat myself, everyone needs to be an activist.
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).
Most of my memories of Salt Lake City take place on 400 S. This was the street we would often drive through when I was a kid, before I went to the University of Utah. It is the street where the Salt Lake City Public Library (SLCPL) is, and I would spend a lot of time there when my mother would work in Art of the Main, the art gallery in the library. In 2008 during the Presidential campaign, we would visit the Democratic Party headquarters located in a building just off 400 S. When my church, Wasatch Hills Seventh-Day Adventist Church, would have their Inter-City Outreach (ICOR) program hand out clothing and other essentials to the homeless, they would do so at Pioneer Park, right along 400 S. And every day, when I commute to the University of Utah on Trax, the train drives up along 400 S. The street is synonymous with Salt Lake City to me, so naturally I chose to observe 400 S.