Saturday, July 13, 2013

An Amazing Week

What an amazing week this was, a chance to engage an entire new community of people and thought, and to connect that to the community in which I live. As a landscape architect, I have always been interested far beyond the simplicity of designing a space, I chose to work in landscape because of the dynamics of working in both the built and natural environments. Ecosystem was a term that I learned early in my creative life. This week, I met leaders of a diverse community, all of whom use the word ecosystem, but, in wholly different ways than mine. I got to stretch my intellectual legs a bit, and it was truly a joy.

Initially, I met with quite a few folks over a lecture and dinner, where many were asking the question of how government, commerce and creativity can interact. See in people from local governments reaching out to understand why creativity and innovation are important in this new economy, and how those concepts will play out in a world where government will soon not be the stimulus of development was very interesting. I share one true trait with many people of 50+ years on this earth, and that is a healthy skepticism of government and what it can achieve, and of how it tends to think. Belying that mythos, there were people there, asking how do we tap into this movement. I was happy to see one of those people was from the city in which I reside.

And far too often, we are lead to believe that these innovators, makers and creators are slackers, 'kids' who have no idea how to make a living, how serious life is, or just how to get a 'real' job. Yet, I spoke with a young man, whose start-up company just went into round three of Venture Capital funding, signed on 6 new employees and created a set of tools that will not only aid the oil industry in being far more efficient in water use, save them a significant amount of time and money, but, will let them to leave behind significantly cleaner water in the environment. I met a young woman who is engaged through a small 15 person firm, to convince corporations that there is both profit and connection in being more innovative in sustainability, that the change isn't to offer a more recyclable can, or use less paper, but, to move companies such as Coca-Cola or AT&T to change their core values and products to enable the market to allow better and more sustainable lives, a better society, through commerce. Innovation and creativity, sustainability and caring as means to better business and better societies. All in one.

I met a man, in his mid-60's who has decided to create a center for innovation and technology, and he is reaching out to the people who are doing just that. The best thing was, that he knew he didn't get it, and he wants to. He hosted a group of over a dozen people, leaders in a diverse group of communities, all focused on creating a different world, to come into his space, and to tell him what he needs to learn. No holds barred, no feelings spared, he asked these folks to tell him what they saw and how he could reach out to them. Over the typical sandwich and cookies lunch and a nice Powerpoint deck, he then turned the floor over and did absolutely nothing to defend or explain himself. The discussion was blunt, direct and honest. Exactly what you would hope every round table in every office would be. And when he was told that he had it all wrong, he seemed genuinely pleased that he had a new and better understanding, stating that "he was at the start, and not the end of the process, that was clear now".

And it all came down to comfort zone, environment and ecosystem, my old friends of design, no redefined by these young minds. The idea that a change in the economic fortunes of failing communities is not about filling a single building, even the success of a single building, comes down to the ecosystem that the building is a part of. And that is what needed to come from this meeting, that a single building, a single actor, a single piece of technology does not make the revolution. If we want to have a more vital community, if this owner wants to fill his single building, he has to address the community around him. Years ago, my firm was tasked to create a wonderful playground, and when we looked at the site, it became apparent that there were no children nearby and no way for them to get there. We questioned the client as to the direction of the project and the place he desired a playground. He felt he could make something nice, and it would become viable. It failed, as it always would fail. It is reckless to ignore the environment in which you wish to create life, as life needs nurturing.

I have believed for some time, that the future of community development and revitalization lays in partnerships of the government and private commerce, to create communities supportive of growth and evolution. Treating community and society as organic beings, that evolve, that require an ecosystem that nurtures growth, that encourages change, that chooses to see the problems, but rather than cling to old concepts and values, seeks to create new concepts and values. I had a good week, because I saw young minds creating and pushing, I saw old minds opening to the possibilities, I saw people communicating and teaching, learning from each other in a positive way and not the constant barrage of fear and conflict that has become the norm of today's world.

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