Information and Beauty

I went and explored Candy Chang’s website containing projects she initiated in cities. These projects strike me as almost the definition of “pinpricks of change,” being so simple and elegant yet make a difference in a community, adding a certain “spice” (for a lack of a better word) that adds character. I really liked the elegance and the visual appeal of her projects. I especially like some of the guides she has made for renters and street vendors, which contain all the information these people (who often are vulnerable) need in order to get by and at the same time are visually appealing. I think it was from this project I learned the most.

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From a Neighborhood to a Community

… change does not happen when no one takes ownership of the community.

I have written frequently about what is wrong about suburbs and where I grew up. My criticism of suburbs have centered on how they fail to create communities. Everyone in a suburb lives in their own self-contained universe that does not require interaction with the people around them. Even though they are large neighborhoods, they are hardly communities. This is at least how I, someone who is not LDS, perceive where I grew up. Perhaps it would be different if I was one of those people who walked to church every Sunday morning (considering that churches are only two or three blocks apart at most) and would worship with all my neighbors. Even then, though, the fact that I feel like I don’t have a connection with my community means that it has failed; a good community includes all of those who live in it, not just those who are LDS.

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Mapping My Home

Jaime Lerner, the author of Urban Acupuncture, recommends that people draw a map of their city to get a feel for it. By drawing a map, one sees, with their eyes, what parts of a city are important to oneself. On his book tour, Jaime Lerner had a Toronto official draw a map of Toronto, and the official found the act enlightening. He drew all the major features he knew, along with all the features that were important to himself. He also drew the “pinpricks” he played a part in adding to Toronto, and he loved seeing all the work that he had done to the city visually. His map became a key part of Jaime Lerner’s presentation.

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A City is a Collective Dream

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.

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Processes toward a Restorative Urbanism

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.

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Living as a Flâneur

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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.

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