Some things I’m thinking about these days:
Nobody I know has a lot of free time, so I’m drawn to projects that get several things done at once. A Jane’s Walk gets people outside to enjoy the fresh air, helps them learn more about how their cities took shape and are changing, shows them how they can help steer that change, creates an opportunity for neighbours to meet each other, and preserves the legacy of Jane Jacobs. A clothing repairathon promotes awareness of the issues of “fast fashion” and textile waste, gives people an alternative to throwing out and replacing damaged articles of clothing, teaches mending skills, and is a fun creative and social activity. Social connection is what links most of these projects, and is what I’m most interested in right now; it’s the topic of my podcast, The Opposite of Lonely.
Another thing that many projects I like have in common is that they’re not designed to develop into anything huge; if they catch on, they spread not up but outward, into a network of small groups connecting different neighbourhoods, cities, or countries. They grow, not like an oak seedling broadening into a massive tree, but rather like a web of strawberry or dandelion plants taking over a field. At the 2017 EDITX design festival, one of the exhibitors’ statements included this: “Inefficient megaprojects are a thing of the past. The future is about many small things efficiently working in concert in very large quantities.”* It’s true in cultural, social and political initiatives, as well as in technology.
I love to explore, but I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that travel is the ultimate experience of adventure and discovery. Sure, I like to travel, but I’m not that interested in how many countries you’ve been to, or how challenging or luxurious your trips were — travel as competition or commodity. I’m more interested in going micro than macro — staying in one place but going deep, looking closely. I’ve lived in the same urban neighbourhood for over twenty years, and I still discover new things when I go for a walk. A secluded limestone courtyard on campus; a vegetable at the Chinatown markets that I’ve never tried before; a tiny art exhibit in a vitrine on a post in someone’s front yard. Around here lately, buildings vanish almost weekly, replaced by huge muddy pits from which condo towers sprout and climb into the sky. If you stand still for any length of time in an city, you can watch the cityscape change around you, sometimes incrementally, sometimes in waves.
*Jennifer Thorogood for Thomas Balaban Architects, exhibitor statement, EDITX design festival 2017