I think this may be the longest gap in my writing since the blog has begun. There are a number of reasons for this, but suffice to say, we’re back, and I hope to be blogging strong over the course of the next week.
Not that life wasn’t full of interesting things to learn and experience in Berkeley over the past week! For now though, I once again find myself uprooted, and about to plunge into another chapter of exploration.
To sum up the past week in brief prior to said plunge: reveling in a final few days of work on the farm, planting flowers and prepping beds; hidden hot springs bathing off of route 1 on the way to Bolinas (you gotta love a hot springs that’s only accessible once a month, when the tide is exceptionally low); biking across the East Bay as part of the the “tour de ferment“, sampling some of the community’s finest home-brewed offerings; and a heck of a lot of time in the south bay, hiking, enjoying vegan Chinese food, and just generally relaxing and enjoying time with Amanda (whom you may have met in an earlier post).
After all that, I packed up my things in my car, and have made my way once more to where, in many ways, I feel this whole journey towards a deeper understanding of sustainability began: Portland, OR.
I have come here for an event called the Village Building Convergence, and its concurrently functioning village building design course. After a blazing eleven hour drive up the 5, broken in two only by a brief visit with an old friend in Eugene (who just happens to live by the Ninkasi brewery and a great soul food restaurant called Papas, both of which I whole-heartily and full-bellied-ly recommend), I arrived in Portland last night at 10:30 in the evening, and proceeded to have a 4 hour conversation with my good friends and Portland hosts Amanda (another Amanda 😉 and Nat about our lives of late, and the state of affairs in the world.
I love coming to a place, and immediately finding myself among people who are taking an active look at the world, trying to take an earnest appraisal of the full depth of its problems and challenges (as well as the joys that persist), and then doing their darndest to document, process, and help others to understand these issues through videos, documentaries, gatherings and just general wit and good humor, that we might work towards fairer and more just lives for all. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few months, it is indeed that the seeking of knowledge and truth are important tools for invoking the sort of changes we may wish to see in the world, and for creating systems that are truly “sustainable” over the long haul. It’s one thing to identify and address the overt symptoms of a problem – and it’s another to identify its source, and actually fix things.
I’d like to wax poetic on this idea, but to ground things a bit, let me apply this idea to what I have thus far surmised about the Village Building Convergence and its umbrella organization, City Repair. From what I understand, City Repair started a little more than a decade ago as an effort to plug community spaces and village-like connections back into the grid system of neighborhoods of Portland. The simplest form this took was the infusion of circles into what has typically been a system of squares and rectangles – in this case, the painting of large mandalas in the center of neighborhood intersections with designs determined by local inhabitants. Around these circles then began to grow any number of different community objects, tools and spaces: neighborhood bulletin boards, cob benches, garden beds, compost bins, free boxes, mosaics and more.
Seen from one perspective, City Repair has taken a look at one of the strange the paradoxes of modern cities and urban neighborhoods, which I think can best be summarized as “why don’t I know my neighbors anymore?”, and sought to address this challenge not through imposing a solution, but helping others to manifest a solution for themselves; giving tools to communities to help those communities through a productive and collaborative design process, that ultimately leads to a sense of ownership, and a sense of connection that permeates both process and product. It would be one thing to go around the city painting mandalas at intersections; it’s entirely another to start with one, to get community investment and input, and to then slowly share the tools and processes with others who have similar questions and desires, and who may simply be looking for a little guidance and motivation to get started.
Fast forward eleven years from the first City Repair project, and you’ve now got close to thirty neighborhoods all working on projects as part of the 11th annual Village Building Convergence here in Portland. In my mind, City Repair’s success comes from a wonderful combination of thought, action, and finally, inspiration (the most intangible and perhaps important tool for change of them all). The intentions of the program are clear, but adaptable, its products and projects bound by this system of intent, but open to the inputs and needs of different communities, and its impact a combination of the more immediate outward, physical changes, coupled with the long term inward shift that comes from collaboration, involvement, and investment.
As someone who has given a lot of thought lately to clarifying values, creating with those values in mind, and then has been trying to figure out how to encourage a similar exploration and creative, productive process in others, I feel really lucky to be where I am now, after months building an urban farm, and to be learning from the folks at City Repair. Over the course of the next ten days, I’ll be in classes for the mornings, and then heading off to spots around Portland to participate in hands on projects in communities, putting the theoretical into practice. I expect there’s be a lot to learn, as well as a lot of folks to meet and connect with – and I’ll do my darndest to keep on top of it all and share as it’s happening!
I’d love to hear your thoughts as this dense week and a half of learning takes place! Until then,