There is an indirect Green Party connection, however. When my ladyfriend Kayleen was in Chicago for the Illinois GP's ballot access drive last month, she attended a seminar at the University of Chicago's Place Lab, entitled Ethical Redevelopment: Arts + Culture Build Cities. (She also made her aegyptophile pilgrimage to U. Chicago's Oriental Institute.)
The material that she brought home made my head spin with possibilities when I finally got around to reading it two weeks after she returned. I was going to share this last week, but the horrors in the news pre-empted me.
Chicago is a great example of a city that does a lot of things right, and a great many things horribly wrong. It is truly a city of neighborhoods, its famous ethnic enclaves well demarcated by commercial avenues, yet not mutually inaccessible. It is quite possible to live there without one's own motor vehicle. But it has that troublesome history of corrupt governance, interracial strife, violent crime, and equally violent policing.
The majority of the inhabitants of Chicago's South Side, home ground for the University of Chicago, is African American. It is infamous for poverty, desperation, crime, but there is a lot of good happening there that doesn't make the headlines. Poverty was widespread on the South Side before the Great Migration of Southern Blacks in the 1920s. All the way back to the Fire of 1871, there were huddled masses of immigrants living and working amid the slaughterhouses of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.
Take Amtrak's Texas Eagle into Chicago, as Kayleen did, and you pass through many South Side neighborhoods. What was until recently an endless sea of four-story brick row-houses is now interspersed with fancy new developments. As in many other American cities, the current redevelopment of the South Side is mostly profit-driven rather than community-driven: Builders purchase older buildings cheaply, knock them down, build fancy new ones, charge double or triple the rents of the old buildings, and fill them with upwardly mobile residents.
This kind of development has its good points: Black residents who have broken out of multi-generational poverty have a place to live in the old neighborhood, and adventurous hipsters of all ethnicities move in to bring a lively diversity to the South Side. What's missing, however, are the amenities one finds easily in the gentrified North Side, within walking distance of almost everywhere: cafés and other family-friendly "third spaces," farmers' markets selling fresh produce, art galleries, clean and safe parks.
Enough prologue, enough preaching. Let's proceed to a summary of the Principles of Ethical Redevelopment as identified by Place Lab. If the following reminds a bit of the I Ching or the explanations of the Tarot, you're not alone.
- Repurpose + Re-propose. Concepts: possibility, transgression. This approach to city- or community-building is about resource availability and ingenuity—start with what you have, and recognize existing local assets and latent value in the discarded and overlooked.
- Engaged Participation. Concepts: neighborliness, localism, access points. The work is for many, with many, and, ultimately, by many.
- Pedagogical Moments. Concepts: knowledge transfer, social responsibility. Without leveraging these structures and moments for pedagogical exchange, opportunities for teaching, learning, and cultivating talent are unrealized.
- The Indeterminate. Concepts: imagination, intuition, faith. Leave room for the unexpected and unanticipated. It may be the best part of the work.
- Design. Concepts: aesthetic, desirability. Urban design thinking asks about the connections that could happen between one house and another, one neighbor and another.
- Place over Time. Concepts: flexibility, nimbleness. Participants come to rely on anchor spaces as consistent resources of cultural and spiritual sustenance.
- Stack, Leverage + Access. Concepts: scaling up, strategy. Demonstrating capacity permits access to greater resources. Proof of infrastructure is persuasive.
- Constellations. Concepts: ecosystem, diverse entities. A project taps into a particular kind of power when it refuses to be singular, when it takes up space and assembles believers from disparate corners.
- Platforms. Concepts: the thing that makes the thing, hang time*. A space where like-minded folk can come and say, "What else can be done? What can I do 10 blocks away from my block? How do I share what I love to do with others?"
* I love this concept of "hang time." It refers to the effect of spaces that encourage people to linger, and not just dash in, fulfill immediate needs, and depart. Sometimes that effect comes through spaces that encourage socializing, sometimes from the ability to be alone in a crowd, enjoying quiet time with a book, music, one's own thoughts, or all that and more. As one of the explanatory paragraphs states, "The event—what is happening—is beside the point. The point is that folks are meeting, exchanging, and learning. Create intentional hang time. It builds bonds, which build community." In other words, this intentional hang time is (or can be) the thing that makes the thing.