One of the strongest themes of the C.Rushing blog has been the value of community conversation regarding urbanism and development. The fact that civic discourse has emerged as a major theme is surprising and most unexpected. I really thought that the blog would focus more specifically on physical elements of design. For most of my professional career I have considered myself a man of action who valued deeds more than words. I think there is great value in that approach to work. Projects are great, they are tangible, and in a sense they are easy. As my world view continues to evolve, however, the fact that projects are not the ultimate goal has become more clear. Projects are tools that help us in accomplishing the ultimate goal: creating a livable community.
As the year in blogging has progressed, fighting the urge to bitch has become a constant battle. I resolved early on to maintain a positive tone in my writing and to not let this space devolve into a constant critique of the people, processes and projects with which I disagree. I have had lapses (I have called out Buffalo Wild Wings, Applebee’s, and traffic engineers), but these instances are scarce and I think those few comments were fair. A dispassionate observer might say that, for balance’s sake, the blog could probably go a bit heavier on critique than it does. Yet, I still resist the temptation.
|O.K., it hasn't all been positive, but you try to write a blog |
about urban design in downtown Chattanooga and not
talk about this one...
The way in which we communicate with each other nowadays is shameful. We live in a society where people go online and write things they would never say to someone in person. Much has been written about youths and cyber-bullying, unfortunately the phenomenon is a problem for adults as well. The unfortunate (and disturbing) fact is that this tone has made its way from the internet to the real world. It has become increasingly difficult to have an adult conversation regarding anything to do with society. Somewhere along the line insult and sarcasm became acceptable if not required methods of communication. The tone of public discourse has become mean-spirited and puerile.
Community meetings regarding the development of our society are, for the most part, dysfunctional. To begin with, people rarely show up unless there is something to bitch about. When people do show, the meetings are invariably either hijacked by those with separate agendas (witness the Tea Partiers at any planning related meeting) or they devolve into polarized, Us vs. Them confrontations. The red/blue dynamic has been well documented, we pick our side and duke it out. There is no room for compromise or reconsideration for fear of tainting ideological purity or losing moral high ground.
A city, an institution based on and created for society, can only be as healthy as the society that stewards it. If the society is incapable of having conversations regarding its future health, how can we expect that the shared physical environment will be evolve in a healthy way? As important as the thing being discussed is how the thing is discussed. Why critique the design of a building if we can’t even hold a civil conversation about why the design of the building is important?
First things first: we need to establish a tone for civic conversation that is civil and inclusive. My sincere hope is that our community can conduct serious and substantive conversations regarding urbanism and urban design. As with anything, the key to performance is practice. Obviously, the primary objective of having an engaged design community is to elevate the level of design and quality of life in the city. Beyond that, if the design community is engaged in an ongoing civil conversation then it will have the capacity to maintain an adult tone should any controversial topic arise in the future. Fortunately, with opportunities such as River City Company’s Urban Design Challenge, the Urban Deign Forum, and others, the community has proven that we are ready to reengage. Long may the conversation last.
In the coming week I hope that you are surrounded by people that you love and that love you. Have a very merry Christmas!!
(I was going to say "Bear-y Christmas"
but that would be sacrilegious)