“Architecture can never be a purely private event…”
– Michael Sorkin in All over the Map
Streets, parks, and avenues play a complex, essential, and diverse role in our towns and cities, sure. But, could they actually be the most important aspect to the practice of sustainability? Michael Sorkin, a world-famous architect, educator and author, focuses on “the elasticity of public space,” a concept that explains the interstitial and vague spaces in our lives that most people never seem notice. This is a phenomenon that the GIS-pioneer Jack Dangermond explains by saying, ““Fish don’t know about water and humans don’t really understand spatial analysis… we’ve been navigating all our lives without ever being conscious of it.” Actually, these spaces that so often go unnoticed are the ones that are most able to express, stimulate, and accommodate the naturally diverse and unpredictable forms of individual and collective expression. This quality is what makes cities come alive. It is what my friend Virginia calls the genius of the collective.
The way our towns and cities are developed today, there are very few opportunities to shape public spaces for ordinary citizens. The one or two meetings in the “public approval” process are often perfunctory and formal, the environment of these meetings stifles the creative process and excludes anyone who isn’t considered an expert. What happens for that piece of the neighborhood ends up being decided by people who don’t live there and know very little about those who do.
This is the approach the current paradigm, one which emerged from a patriarchal, colonial urge to formalize a hierarchy of living that standardized the power of certain privileged groups over others. Expression is a fundamental human need and in all in healthy societies it is right, it goes along with connection and this is what could be the antidote to what ails us all. Connection to ourselves, to each other, and to the Earth removes obstacles. It fosters resiliency, it makes it easier to go on, it sustains us. I know in my own work, it is the true and actual voice of this earth which sustains my work through late evenings, and weekends.
Lately, I have been studying Priestess alchemy as a way to connect with my predominantly North Western European ancestors. In this academic context where we are in conversation about designing people into the process of weaving our communities, I am savoring the lessons of gathering in circles of women to correspond with new or full moons. I am feeling the metaphor of working like a bee in collaboration with a hive, diligently working to provide species continuation and enriching communities through cross-pollination.
The Sanadora Collaborative, an organization I founded in 2016, doesn’t work for anyone, we work with groups that need help making their communities more able to be sustained; I believe this is a more archetypal feminine way of working that emphasizes the importance of capacity building so that in the end, the communities are designed by themselves. Visit CitySanadora.com to find out more.
This is very different from the current paradigm of design, planning, and policy disciplines which take away the power of local grassroots organizations and puts it in the hand of “experts” who don’t know how to listen to the people and their indigenous knowledge.
The emergence of groups like SDI who are specifically working in informal communities is reassuring, these teams are “challenging the notion that development solutions must come from professionals. In this way, communities begin to view themselves as holding the answers to their own problems rather than looking externally for professional help. ”
Another team called Urbz has carried out many projects in India with a similar ethos. From their website:
We believe that residents are experts of their neighborhoods. Their everyday experiences constitute an essential knowledge for architecture, planning, urban development and policy-making. We are committed to information sharing and public participation.
For the last several months now, I have been working on a similar project which is 100% community engagement driven and I am looking forward to sharing about that integral process in a dedicated space. For now, I’ll just plug the originator of the project at www.integralclimatechangesolutions.com.
Sanadora Collaborative is an international collective of experts on architecture, planning, urban development and policy-making. We take an ecofeminist, public-health driven approach to building and uplifting communities to achieve sustainable habits of growth in Latin America by 2030. Our work elevates indigenous wisdom and voices as a response to the globally rampant capitalist, patriarchal power structures of colonialism. We focus on creating connections between community groups at the informal, local, municipal, regional, national, and global in order to achieve true integral designs and plans for the future. We design now, and plan as we go, bringing the people of the place into the process at every stage, in order to build their capacity for leadership, organization, and implementation of sustainable development projects.
Our work is also dependent upon the use of a GIS, meaning that we use advanced technologies map everything. We focus on our ability to visualize and analyze a multi-dimensional, scalable model of the landscapes of ecology, hydrology, demographics, infrastructure, and politics in order to inform the decision-making processes that are a critical part of community development. This is actually my focus as Director of Geodesign in the organization. I get to steer the boat when it comes to integrating and overlaying the information that architecture, planning, development, and political science experts bring me.
If you want to learn more about user-centered urban design in Lima, Peru, check out a synopsis of my project called the Urban Climate Catalyst at www.urbanclimatecatalyst.com. More examples of this type of work, coming soon.
Thanks for stopping by and seeing what life is like in Veronica’s world.