Last Friday, I attended the national conference of the Association for Community Design. It was mostly comprised of urban planners, urban designers and community advocates who want to make a difference in their community. We were all at the conference and in our respective professions and communities looking to be a catalyst for a change we can see. Maybe even a change we have a part in designing and facilitating. Days like these remind me why I went into urban planning. I wanted to be a rebuilder of ruins, restorer of hope not only socially, but physically, of homes, buildings, streets, parks and neighborhoods. Most of the people I met from the conference had that same passion, so I was in good company.
The theme of the conference was “neighbors.” I believe this was a good place to start because community usually begins with being a good neighbor. And with that theme, we had our sessions at different galleries along Broad Street that allowed us to walk and see the area, took neighborhood walking tours to understand the history of various neighborhoods and dined at restaurants around Richmond to get a flavor of Richmond’s best eateries. We took in the landscape, engaged businesses, arts organizations, history and local residents during our time. We practiced being good neighbors by getting to know the places and people of Richmond. We did this simply by getting out, eating together, walking and talking.
Love and Forgiveness
Sitting next to other planners and designers at lunch, our table discussion prompt was “what does love and forgiveness have a role in your work?” Wow, what a good question. This was my kind of conference, going from practicing being a neighbor; walking, open and curious, to practicing love and forgiveness. In the work I’ve done in community building these two themes are much needed, as we move toward one another to help build trust and understanding. Being open to change, challenge and growth as well as doing things for the better of the larger community are important, that’s love. I also think forgiveness is necessary. In the physical, social, economic and political arena of a city, there are many wrongs that have been done in the name of the good of the city. For example, we walked the Jackson Ward neighborhood in Richmond and stood next to the highway that destroyed a neighborhood and social fabric of its residents. Yes, love and forgiveness are necessary daily if we are going to get on with the business of building community. Forgiveness can help us reckon with the ills of the past and its impact on the present and love can bring us together in the present and bind us to one another as we go forward into the future.
From Noxious to Nature
One session really blew me away, it was about an African American neighborhood outside of Houston that was plagued for about 20 years from illegal dumping. There was enough trash on these few acres of land if piled up would be taller than any sky scraper in the city. The residents called and complained for years, but nothing happened. They were plagued by air pollution, noxious odors and toxins, rodents, debris and ash from recurring fires and constant light and truck traffic from dumping. The neighborhood brought suit against the city and finally won and the dump was shut down after 20 years. To reconcile for this offense, the city cleaned up the dump and turned it into an outdoor habitat and recreational center for the community. There was such a stark physical transformation, from noxious to nature. This type of change, ma be one of my favorite things to hear about and witness. It reminds me that one day, all things will be made new, but while we are here, we get to participate in the process.
Watch the documentary “Out of Deepwood” to learn more.