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.
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.
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).