1. Speak to Me / Breathe (Breathe In the Air)

Earlier this year, I promised that the C.Rushing blog would be done bigger and better than last year. Of course, whether or not I’m delivering on that is debatable. Not wanting to let you down, I’ve been thinking about what I could do. Like a bolt of lightning, it stuck. What do rock bands do when they get full of themselves and want to put on a show? That’s right, they play the White Album in concert in its entirety. Capital idea! Create a series of blog entries that follow the structure of a classic album. Unfortunately, the White Album has thirty tracks and it would be tough for me to develop an urban design analog for "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey". That leaves only one serious contender doesn’t it? Ladies and gentleman, it is with great joy that I offer you the first installment of the C.Rushing urban design interpretation of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon…

Breathe, breathe in the air.

Don't be afraid to care.

Leave but don't leave me.

Look around and choose your own ground.

Long you live and high you fly

And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry

And all you touch and all you see

Is all your life will ever be.

Run, rabbit run.

Dig that hole, forget the sun,

And when at last the work is done

Don't sit down it's time to dig another one.

For long you live and high you fly

But only if you ride the tide

And balanced on the biggest wave

You race towards an early grave.

Greatest. Cover. Ever.
For some reason I always fixate on the subtle
white reflected ray produced by incident ray.

Of course, Speak to Me has no true lyrics, only snippets of interviews and vocals that occur later in the album. The title, however, suggests communication- one of the major themes of the renaissance of our city. In my mind, there were a couple of incredibly important types of speaking that enabled use to achieve what we have. Note that I’m writing about what we did in the past, but hopefully we have not forgotten these skills and will put them to use in the not to distant future.

The level of public input during the rebirth of the city is a famous theme.  Speak to me- the call of civic leaders seeking public input on how we could go about fixing things. As we embarked upon our journey, every effort was made to work in a collaborative way that sought, valued, and incorporated public input. Public input is important for a variety of reasons: more people with more perspective have greater potential to develop broad and innovative ideas; participation in an input process gives the participants a sense of ownership and pride in the overall process, making implementation more likely; strong consensus in a public input process can provide a mandate for leaders and elected officials to take bold action. This side of the equation seems to be well understood, and something we rightly point to with great pride.

The other example of communication is the story less told. Speak to me- the call of the public to understand what the issues are, what alternatives exist, and an appeal for leadership. We all understand the tremendous value of public input- it's impossible to build a healthy city without it. What is sometimes overlooked is the vital importance of structuring the framework for input. To be frank, the value of citizen input in a vacuum is somewhat limited. While there is value in the act of participating and in the sense of ownership that can be conveyed, public input is most valuable when it can be focused on something tangible. Meaningful public input has a companion component – education.  The establishment of a framework or set of conditions for the citizenry to react to results in a far more informed and useful consensus than can be achieved otherwise. Setting forth ideas about what good urban design is, about what our community could potentially become, and about our options for the future is of vital importance. This process of dialogue and education creates a capacity in the community to be able to understand and achieve greater things. Laying this groundwork creates a strong foundation, whereas operating from a less informed base results in random input and less informative solutions. Which is not to say that it lacks value- as mentioned earlier, the process of coming together in and of itself is a positive thing.

Communication is a two-way activity– so it has to be with the dialogue concerning how we build the city. When it comes to city building, effective communication is undertaken from a place of open dialogue, not by dictation or unilateralism. It is a process of proposal and comment, opinion and response, action and reaction.

Despite the fact that Breathe (in the Air) has lyrics and is longer that Speak to Me, it is getting short shrift here (I’m running long, and this is a blog not a book). Anyway, the connection is clear and I don’t need to run it into the ground. Breathe in the Air– isn’t it nice to be able do so? Just a few short years ago that wasn’t such an appetizing prospect in our city. Through the hard work of many hands we turned the dirtiest city in the country into the clean(er) jewel that we are. Think about that this week and breathe, breathe in the air, don't be afraid to care…

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