I’ve been thinking a great deal about creative solutions lately. Obviously, this is something that I “do” – it’s a big part of my job as an artist, logically enough. But it’s also a way of seeing the world in a larger sense, a way of doing things that some people embrace as a means to face difficult things.
I find it overwhelming sometimes: How granular and complicated real solutions to real problems in communities are. There are so many things that need changing, and so many points of intersection between “issues” that sometimes teasing it all out feels like dealing with a huge knitting mistake. Too many dropped stitches already – too much lost/erased/silenced. Too hard to make community voices have an impact (more than lip service).
So, it was both appropriate and fortuitous that I came across this op-ed piece in the New York Times, written by two-time Bogotà mayor Antanas Mokus. I was delighted by his approach to complex problems – problems that many saw as insurmountable. It’s definitely worth a read in its entirety, and it’s good food for thought for our city. For all cities. The problems may be different, but doing things the way they’e always been done, or because a report backed up with statistics said it was a good idea, or the the latest study concluded things were most cost-effective if done in a certain way … isn’t necessarily the way to do things. I’m not suggesting for a minute that research and information gathering should’t be the starting point for any change – it’s the root of understanding what you have to tackle in many respects.
The solutions offered by more conventional linear approaches are the “usual suspects” … and while they all have elements that can be very useful for finding solutions to a wide range of urban issues, they very often miss crucial, creative solutions that make success a little more likely.
Things like: humour.
Things like: understanding that positive changes that last develop organically from within communities, and incorporate the diverse voices and character of that unique place.
Things like: measuring the cost of a project in dollars and cents and eventual profit ignores the value of built history and lived heritage, and can devastate (and erase) the unique fabric of entire communities. There are costs far more dear than building materials and infrastructure; the human relationship to the built landscape once removed, cannot be replaced.
Things like: tackling small(ish) things sequentially builds capacity in communities. Often, taking on something that is simple, that local people feel is achievable, and that they can control is the key to getting transforming a place for the better.
Concrete results empower people, and provide them with proof of their having a real, positive impact.
Things worked because people cooperated, and they did so because they were astonished at their own power. Hope that delivered results generated more hope.
When I look at what The Drawing Room is doing,
what Quarters Arts is doing
photo credits: Lori Gawryluik, Jaqueline Stelfox Ohm, Ester Malzahn
… I see ‘unusual suspects’ making changes that have impact. These are entities that have grown organically out of the community, that have grown roots and are weaving themselves into the evolving fabric of the neighbourhood. That give me some hope …
The York, and many other buildings that made up the original streetscape in Boyle Street are long gone; spaces like The Artery and Local Gifts have been caught up in the push for (some good) changes in the city for various reasons, not the least of which has been taking the simplest approach – if it’s in the way, get rid of it – regardless of the value beyond dollars and cents.
Many other buildings throughout the city have suffered, or will suffer, the same fate.
Many stand empty, and run the risk of being lost through inaction and neglect – and those empty and disused space are absences – they embody loss and are wounds in what could otherwise be community-occupied, living space.
Are these spaces and places worth losing, when with them we lose entire chunks of Edmonton’s history? We’re a young city in a young province – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a built heritage worth saving.
Not a cost-effective way for developers to work. Too much trouble, takes too much time, too complicated to perform remediation on old buildings.
Not the most profitable way to go.
Doesn’t create a unified (homogeneous, modern, new, faceless, characterless, alienating) streetscape.