…is the title of a presentation I will give at the upcoming Ecocity World Summit August 22-26 in Montréal, Canada. I just found out a few days ago that my proposal got accepted, and so now I’ve got to figure out how to squeeze everything there is to say on the topic into a 15 minute
jam dance show talk.
Here’s the general premise:
Throughout history, cities’ identities have been shaped by creative expression. From unique architecture and standout museums to vibrant music scenes and local culinary customs, it’s the flow of the human imagination that lends a city its heart and soul. Art in its most pure manifestation evokes that which does not yet exist, challenging our habitual assumptions about what’s possible and inviting us to envision new ways of seeing things. As such, it’s in natural alignment with the ecocity, an entity whose realization hinges on our willingness to imagine new and different ways of living together and moving around in the age of climate change. While a general artistic approach is the canvas upon which any aspiring ecocity planner must paint her larger vision, there’s a form of creative expression that most closely reflects ecocity culture and its principles: Street art.
As it will be part of a session entitled The Art of Ecocity Building: Art, Community and Public Space I might as well get some extra walkable mileage out of all those photos I’ve taken of the many delightfully unusual activities that go on in my neighborhood.
This visual and musical presentation of San Francisco’s Mission District will show how street art can instill an ecocity mentality in its residents by promoting and celebrating the intangible yet crucial elements of successful sustainable urban design, such as walking, slowing down, marveling at the spaces between, and being an active part of the community. From colorful murals on laundromats to soulful street altars on the Day of the Dead, from dance performances on building walls to makeshift living rooms in parking spaces, this diverse neighborhood reminds us of the importance of a creatively engaged community in the transition of the ecocity from theoretical model to living breathing organism.
The conference this year is organized by the The Montréal Urban Ecology Centre (MUEC), a non-profit organization founded in 1996 which aims to develop and share expertise on the most democratic and viable approaches to sustainable urban development. I had the great pleasure to meet and hang out with Executive Director Luc Rabouin at the last conference in Istanbul, and I just know that this one is going to be very special. Personally, I’m particularly excited about the mobile workshops; the two I’m planning to attend are Bikeable Montréal, exploring the city’s bike network, and Greening the city with urban agriculture, a trip that will take us to Montréal’s largest outdoor produce market and a bunch of community gardens.
Speaking of urban agriculture, I think that food is a huge creative catalyst in rethinking how we live together in the city.
By spotlighting cultural components like street art, music and food that naturally contribute to more walkable, livable cities, this session will help participants to better identify and promote already existing ecocity elements around which any infrastructure changes can and should be designed.
I think too often in our modern world we think of solutions to the ecological imbalance on this planet in terms of checklists only: From MPG to LEED and from waste diversion rates to carbon footprints, we are so focused on the tangible that we tend to neglect the power of the sublime. Like the obsession with test scores to measure education, we often pay less attention to the actual process than the desired result. Sometimes all we have to do is stop and listen, even or especially when the music is coming from the most unexpected places…
The point I’ll be trying to make is that there is no one-size-fits all formula to create an ecocity. The most brilliant planners and architects may whip out a blueprint that touches all the right buttons and looks great on paper. By including generous public space, bike lanes, urban creeks, trees, etc they can create the perfect setting for more immediate living in sync with natural rhythms. However, you can’t just whip this guy out of your handbook…
or mandate situations like these…
The challenges we face will not be met by building patterns, politics and technology alone. In order to change the infrastructure of our cities and towns, we also have to change the infrastructure within ourselves. There is a heart and a soul in every place, and art, inspiration and imagination are the windows through which they appear. “Street art” to me is more than just literal paintings or drawings but a symbol for unearthing the creative energy of a place. Discovering that energy is at the core of a shift toward ecocity thinking; nourishing and harnessing it the key to creating a vibrant, organic and lasting ecocity culture.
Crossposted at Daily Kos
This is the sequel to yesterday’s Imagine There’s No Cars in the Streets diary.
If you’re anywhere near Montreal, early bird registration for the Ecocity World Summit ends tomorrow.
For ongoing musical, visual and poetic reflections, check out my site, Tuber Creations – Seeds for Creative Change.