Going out to Metacom’s Chair, which sits overlooking Mouth Hope Bay, the City of Fall River, Massachusetts, and what was once all land that my Pokanoket and Pocasset Wampanoag ancestors inhabited, was a frequent occurrence throughout my childhood. It’s been over 400 years since Metacom, the Sachem of the Pokanoket tribe and also known as King Phillip, sat in that chair to see the land and bay. Over the past 400 years the landscape has shifted drastically, much of it due to the colonization that has taken place, which also impacts the increased shifts in climate change. If one is to sit in that chair today the current view is something like this.
People from across North Carolina are headed to Greensboro this weekend for the ReWeaving NC conference. This event brings together people interested in building a new economy based on solidarity, cooperation, and sustainability.
Several staff of the Fund for Democratic Communities are presenting, along with our friends from PB Greensboro and the Renaissance Community Coop. It will be a great space to think and dream and plan together about the North Carolina we want, and have already begun, to build.
One thing I do a lot is think about urban planning, place-making, and public space. Something I do just as much is ask questions. So the question I’ve got on my mind as of late is:
“Who is a city for?”
Are cities meant for people? Are they meant for businesses? Are they meant for young people, or old people, or the wealthy, for houseless people, renters, recent immigrants, generational residents, artists, people of specific or varied racial identities, or any of the many different kinds of people?
Here in Greensboro we must ask ourselves this very question. Who is Greensboro made for? Who is it currently being made and envisioned for? Who is Greensboro? Part of the answer is connected to whom we ask this question, and who is allowed to answer.
We are in a critical place in the development of Greensboro’s identity, which will be formed and reformed whether intentionally, haphazardly, or with little consideration for all those it will affect.
Recently in Greensboro the city council voted to impose a curfew on people under the age of 18 when they are in the downtown of the city. This is an example of several things; the shaping of Greensboro’s identity without everyone’s input; of closing off the commons, an already scarce resource in Greensboro; and the permission for police profiling. This curfew answers the question of who this city is for, as it seems to indicate a lack of trust in young people. This is occurring at the same time that young people are championed as the “future”. The curfew is a tool to perpetuate the villainization of and in turn criminalization of youth, specifically black youth, brown youth and working class youth. Holding onto young people in this city is something that Greensboro claims it wants to do. But which young people do we want? Is it only young professionals, middle class folks, and mostly white folks that are valued and invested in, that the city is conceived for?
This curfew also runs the risk of creating a Greensboro brain drain. If young people aren’t allowed to participate in the use of a city, in the creation of a city, then it only makes sense that we’ll feel unwelcome and policed, and keep to certain parts of the city; parts of the city that aren’t being invested in the same way as downtown, lest we forget that the city is not confined to just the downtown. Or we leave the city all together and contribute our creativity, energy, and passion in other places where there is opportunity and where we are welcome and encouraged to create. This will inevitably affect the face of our city.
When thinking about who a city is for, it is critical that we understand that we all have a right to the city, both in its physical space, but also in its creation. So I challenge each of us to go further, to demand of the city, and enact in our daily lives what it would look like to draw young people in, to draw all sorts of people in to the conversation and creation of what we each want the city to look like. We’re all responsible, but as I said everyone has to be allowed to answer these questions, to have their voice heard, instead of being pushed out by such exclusive practices like the curfew. Greensboro, what will we do?
As I find myself thinking about community, the power of community, and much of the social change that has occurred and grown out of communities, I am in absolute amazement. Community success, and the community’s ability to do for ourselves, I believe comes from the notion that we are all interconnected and interdependent.
This interconnectivity, these communities, ties, and links that we have with every other being is awe inspiring to me. In communities we can find true power. The power of community is what will save us, we will save each other. The Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes the power of community by drawing on the power of the Sangha, and Buddhist worldviews below:
Two thousand, five hundred years ago the Buddha Shakyamuni predicted that the next Buddha will be named Maitreya, the “Buddha of Love.” I think the Buddha of Love may be born as a community and not just as an individual. Communities of mindful living are crucial for the survival of our planet. A good Sangha can help us resist the speed, violence, and unwholesome ways of our time. Mindfulness protects us and keeps us going in the direction of harmony and awareness. We need the support of friends in the practice. You are my Sangha. Let us take good care of each other.
The strength and power in community is so vast, and even overwhelming. The strength a community holds is like that of an ocean. Oceans are made up of many drops of water, many waves, which when put together make up the oceans that connect and sustain us all on so many levels. Without the ocean the individual drops of water would evaporate, and might even find it very difficult to regenerate in another location. Without the opportunity for regeneration it would become incredibly difficult for all forms of life as we know them to survive, since evaporation, and in turn precipitation would not be able to take place. Perhaps we would adapt to operate without water, but the thing that scientists look for on other planets is water to indicate if there can be life, or if we can potentially inhabit a planet in the future. Every drop of water makes up the ocean, the ocean makes up the clouds, the clouds make up the rain, the rain makes up soil health, soil health, makes up the plant growth, and the cycle continues. Together all of these components make up our common history and existence.
Like each drop of water that is found in the ocean, each member in a community is significant to the make up of the community itself. Keeping in mind that every member of a given community has a role to play, and is important to the success of the community overall is important. I hear people in Greensboro talk about trying to attract people who can help make the community better, but we must not overlook the ocean of knowledge, skill, and possibility in our own sea of Greensboro. Greensboro holds the answers, but do we know which questions to ask, do we know how to recognize how interconnected we are in Greensboro? As Thich Nhat Hanh says the Buddha of Love will be born as a community, not just an individual, and as the residents of Greensboro we must remember that. No one of us alone, and no one who is brought in will save us alone, we will only succeed as a healthy and heart filled community when we join forces, work with each other, and do for ourselves. That is how we will be the Greensboro of which we dream.
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 Nhat Hạnh. A Joyful Path: Community, Transformation, and Peace. Berkeley, Calif.: Parallax, 1994. 22. Print.
My name is Alyzza May and I am a pedestrian.
My main form of transportation is my body. I’ve never had a driver’s license, and get around by walking, taking the bus or train, and catching rides with friends, strangers, and loose affiliates. My great-grandmother’s name was May Walker, I wear the May in my name and the Walker, well as you can imagine, is a bit of a family heirloom, a state of being.
I walk for pleasure, for transportation to work, or to the bus stop when it’s raining or I have to go somewhere farther than I’d like to walk. I’ve walked in cities, towns, and rural landscapes all over this country. But what’s even stranger and more surprising a place that I walk, is Greensboro, where I’ve been walking for nearly seven years.
Walking in Greensboro has exposed me to the multidimensional nature of Greensboro’s character. People that drive register disbelief when they learn I walk around town. I get questioning looks from the drivers of passing cars while I’m walking. Greensboro is decidedly not a walking city, though traveling this city by foot over the past 6 and a half years opened the city to me in ways most people may not imagine. I have come to know the pain in Greensboro, the joy in Greensboro, and the possibility in Greensboro. By walking in Greensboro I have come to see how the city interacts with public space. These experiences contribute to how I have become an advocate for place-making and public art as a tool to reclaiming the commons.
As a pedestrian reclaiming the commons results in not feeling like I have to validate why I’m out in the public, on sidewalks, grass ways, or even the shoulder of the road. Reclaiming the commons is the taking back and re-establishment of commonly shared space, to have access to space, space that is more than just disregarded as in between space. In between in the sense that it is between where I am now, and where I want to be. In between is here, in between is now, in between is honesty, in between is where change happens, in between is often in public space.
As I walk in Greensboro, in this “in between” space, I see many canvases that are waiting to help bring people together, to brighten this fine city. These are the bridges made of walls. Yes, the canvases I speak of are the physical walls of buildings across Greensboro. For me walls are wonderful spaces for murals.The process of creating murals is one way to provide access to fine quality art that anyone can enjoy, critique, or even feel indifferent about, without having to pay an entrance fee or purchase price. By painting walls as a form of public art I believe the internal walls that separate us have the potential to be brought down. So two years ago I started doing just that, here in Greensboro. My friend, Kat, and I started interviewing what ended up being 300 people. We asked so many people the same question, “What would make Greensboro a healthy city?”
As you can imagine I conducted many of my interviews while taking the bus somewhere, or while I was walking down the street. These answers I am honored to have shared with me, and further illustrate the multidimensional nature of Greensboro. They show the beautiful imagination of Greensboro! So with the help of a seasoned muralist we set to work to capture as many of the answers about a healthy Greensboro as we could on a concrete canvas. Now we’re onto our second mural public mural at the Interactive Resource Center, a day shelter in Greensboro. The focus of this mural is home, and what makes home. Like the first mural we asked people about home, and the majority of the answers that we got were based around a sense of home. The emotion, characteristics of home were shared, but not necessarily that it is found in one singular place. Walking, in between, in transit, where the walls are painted, are all home. Creating these murals has begun the rebuilding and reclaiming of the commons with highlighting the presence in the in between. With each wall we are building home in Greensboro, we are making our claim to the city. Greensboro, a city I am glad to walk within, to call home.
For more information on The Greensboro Mural Project check out our website: http://greensboromuralproject.com
And consider supporting the “home” mural through our Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/846823987/home-is-where-the-mural-is
2012 has a lot of meaning to people all over the world, from the end of the Mayan calendar, a US presidential year, economic turmoil, and the year my little sister became a teenager. For the billion people worldwide, who are members of cooperatives, 2012 means something else. 2012 was deemed the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC), by the United Nations. The IYC was created to spread awareness about the cooperative business model, especially as a tool in the realm of poverty reduction, job creation and other components of socio-economic development.
Mid-November brought the official closing ceremonies of the International Year of Cooperatives, to which I was invited to attend. During my time there I was one of a dozen youth delegates selected to meet and craft the International Youth Cooperative Statement (pdf). During the course of October, and early November, the UN solicited opinions on the role of cooperatives in young people’s lives. A majority of respondents were young cooperators, from across the globe. And it was the role of the dozen of us to compile all the feedback into a cohesive youth statement. No small task! So we got to work on the first day of the closing ceremony, and tinkered away until 1am to get the document to as inclusive, assertive, and complete a form as we could before presenting it the next day.
The process of crafting the International Cooperative Youth Statement was amazing. Young people from countries including Ethiopia, China, Ghana, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Argentina, and the United States worked together to draft the document. The statement recognizes that through co-ops youth can overcome many challenges that affect them ranging from unemployment, underemployment, disempowerment and disengagement. The statement is intended to be a document that is acted upon. So in crafting it we included recommendations for governments, policy makers, educational and research institutions, cooperatives, broader society and the international community in working together with us to address youth engagement in the cooperative sector. What is key is that as creators of this document, as young people, and as young cooperators, we also made a set of commitments that we, along with other young people, are going to carry forward. I see this as being crucial for the success of youth engagement in cooperatives, beyond the International Year of Cooperatives.
I urge you to read and sign on with support as either a youth signatory to the statement, or as a supporter and promoter of youth engagement and empowerment through cooperatives. You can do so through this link. And while you do so, jam out to the official anthem of the International Year of the Coop, found at the top of this post.