Our immediate surroundings are an essential part of our personal fulfillment and quality of life. By respectfully interacting with different aspects of our neighborhoods, including its residents, we can build upon and create an atmosphere that people are proud of. By engaging with and improving the physical parts of our community, we become part of the bigger picture.
By participating in local activities, charities, fundraisers, musical events, and other community projects you begin your part in making a difference in society as a whole. The BIGGEST picture is what we all get caught up in; we become overwhelmed by crises presented to us on a global scale. Some of us, including myself, may think “how can I actually make a difference?”
Well this is the greatest part- we can each make a difference by living our own lives consciously! Just as we improve upon ourselves through examining our own personal traits and habits, we can also improve the world around us by deciding to become conscious of doing so. Dive into your environment, make it an asset to your life, appreciate the people around you and help repair and revitalize what may be suffering in your neighborhood. By having a personal and emotional investment in your community is what sparks the vital connection of human interaction. All urban, suburban, and rural environments are dynamic places with dynamic people and thus have totally unique flavors. We need to help turn SPACE into PLACE. Creating and contributing to your neighborhood, town, or city can transform the physical landscape, attitudes of residents, and social health of the community. At times, sitting in front of your computer or television is easier than having to put your energy into human interactions and activities. But balance is key: seeking human interaction as opposed to commercial or Internet entertainment is certainly more personally fulfilling.
These ideas constitute the concept of “Placemaking”. Placemaking is a method of revitalization to help bring all parts of our cities, especially neighborhoods, back to social and economic health. Human participation is the backbone of Placemaking. One organization promoting and enacting these ideas is the City Repair Project, created in Portland, Oregon in 1996. The City Repair Project describes its mission as, “…organized group action that educates and inspires communities and individuals to creatively transform the places where they live. City Repair facilitates artistic and ecologically oriented placemaking through projects that honor the interconnection of human communities and the natural world… with the idea that localization – of culture, of economy, of decision-making – is a necessary foundation of sustainability. By reclaiming urban spaces to create community-oriented places, we plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication to empower our communities and nurture our local culture.” This project is community-driven, adaptable, inclusive, flexible, transformative, inspiring, and collaborative. City Repair has expanded extensively on the West Coast and now has projects on the right coast, including Asheville, NC! City repair implements an array of projects like building benches made of recycled materials, where neighbors can sit, rest, and talk with each other, kiosks on sidewalks where you can post information about local events, and street paintings in the public right-of-way that demonstrate to all that pass through that this is a PLACE: inhabited, known, and loved by its residents!
This is it! This is what can transform our country and world. Creating a place that people care about, and were a part of creating. The projects that City Repair implements are given life by the local communities who discuss what they need to make their neighborhoods more welcoming and more connected using the resources they have. When community members acknowledge and discuss what is lacking in their community, it quickly becomes apparent how coming together as a whole can fulfill their needs. At the core of our human-ness, we all have basically the same needs. We are all interconnected and need to help our communities be an asset to our lives.
There are three core elements to Placemaking: natural building, permaculture, and public art. Natural building is a method of construction that involves social sustainability while being conscious of environmental conservation. Sustainablity is the idea that different facets of our world are capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage. The materials used in natural building are minimally processed, low toxicity, locally available, and aren’t dependent on energy consumption or expensive equipment. These ecologically sustainable materials reflect simplicity and unobtrusiveness to our natural environment, just like the way our lives should be. Permaculture cultivates the importance of using locally available resources, in a recyclable, infinite manner. We can support permaculture objectives by buying local produce, ALWAYS recycling, never buying water bottles (get a sweet Nalgene and a water filter!) and by being conscious of how much we consume, and how much waste we create. By using regenerative materials, we can actually create cultural and economic sustainability. Public art (my favorite part) brings people together through creativity. Public art can take the form of sculptures, paintings, murals, chalk drawings, or functional art like benches and lampposts. Most importantly, public art is fun!
As a community begins to recognize and fix their problems, the people involved develop close relationships and more of an investment in each other’s wellbeing because they live in the same place and are dealing with the same problems. Creating a commonality among different types of people powerfully transcends those differences, and instead fosters an environment absent of isolation and full of ideas that bring the members together to accomplish a common goal. This is the real sense of community: allowing for connections not based on differences, but on positive change and understanding.
I encourage all of you to check out the City Repair Project (cityrepair.org) and see if they are doing community projects in your local area, or research projects already started in your area, or start your own with a few friends (chances are it will grow)!
Much Love and Light!