Cardboard Castles and Other Amenities...

I am really interested in using different forms of cultural action to help build better communities. Communities are a vital social model, allowing us to tackle problems beyond the ability of individuals with the focus of a defined (usually relatively small) group of people. How do the arts and cultural work in general help communities grow more sustainable futures? If you have a cool website or project or your own ideas on these subjects please let me know.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Since I haven’t blogged in awhile, here are two posts for your viewing pleasure.

Green Building 101

I saw this neat series on, called “Green Building 101: Materials & Resources, Part I & II.” It is a very informative and concise summary of how to build more environmental buildings. It is very easy and clear to read, obviously written for people who are actually doing construction who need some help being green.

One of the things I have not seen a lot of consciousness about in the art projects I have been apart of is the environmental impact of the materials used. This was certainly not one of my top priorities when I was directing The Laramie Project. However, as we move into a time when artists are going to be forced to respond to the impacts of the environmental degradation humans have caused, it would seem only logical to practice what we will have to preach.

I will let you know when the next segment of the series is posted.


UrbanTapestries / Social Tapestries.

Here is a project using technology to help communities learn about their environment they live in. Urban Tapestries/Social Tapestries is a group:

Experimental software platform for knowledge mapping and sharing “public authoring.” It combines mobile and internet technologies with geographic information systems to allow people to build relationships between places and to associate stories, information, pictures, sounds and videos with them.

What they hoped to do is:

· create and support relationships that transcend existing social and cultural boundaries;

· enable the development of new social and creative practices based around place, identity and community;

· reveal the potential costs as well as benefits to communities and individuals.

There are two interesting things about this group. First off, the more we know about our environments, the quicker and easier we will be able to build socially and environmentally sustainable communities.

It also brought up for me a really interesting problem for community conscious artists. What would an art piece look like that allowed community members actively and meaningfully commentate and express themselves publicly (and I am not talk motion sensitive imaging software) to and about their environments (both social and physical)? If you all know any projects that address this question I would love to hear about them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Peoples' stories = communities' stories.

The Autobiography Project is an interesting community expression project taking place in Philadelphia right now. Over six weeks this spring the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary and One Book, One Philadelphia sought out 300 word autobiographies from the city’s residents. They received over 340 entries. From these admissions, 20 were selected by a panel of local writers to be published on posters and put up in bus stops.

There are several aspects of this project with exciting implications. First off, any effective community envisioning project must contain an understanding of the communities past. Not only are important lessons to be learned from one’s history, but also most communities have a desire to retain something of their “historic” selves. Now, 20 autobiographies hardly constitute a complete history, but they do point out that personal stories in combination with avenues for public expression (in this case public space) can be used to tell a communities story.

The second interesting aspect of the Autobiography Project as Geoff Manaugh of points out how it has briefly reclaimed a handful of Philadelphia's bus shelters and transport routes in the name of public life and personal narrative. De-commercializing each bus stop, in other words, the Project has replaced ads for new films, hair products, and athletic gear, turning Philadelphia's bus routes into a narrative experience.

As our public spaces become more and more privatized and commercialized, cultural actions that work against this trend take on greater importance as means of securing spaces for public expression.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Service Branding: It is About the Hole Not the Drill

One the keys to building sustainable communities is redefining the unsustainable social norms. The emphasis on personal ownership is one such problem. Instead, many people have talked about product-service-systems, which are models for sharing different kinds of equipment. So instead of every house hold owning their own power drill (which on average are only used 20 minutes in their life time) a community will own a power drill, allowing members access on an as-needed bases. One of the problems to this is the connection of ownership and status (you haven’t really made it till you own the drill.) Alex Steffen (yes my brother) wrote a really interesting post for on the branding of services (convincing the public they only need to drill a hole, they do not need to own the drill). It is worth checking out.


Monday, July 10, 2006

A Knight's Tale: Creativity as the Solution

I listened to another TED speech today. This time it was Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on creativity.

The highlight of the speech was Robinson’s insight that in an ever changing world creativity is one of the most valuable assets. This makes complete sense, for as things change with increasing speed ingenuity is what allows people to adapt; to solve problems and take advantage of new technologies and ideas. Robinson defined creativity as original ideas that have value. He pointed out that it comes from a multi-disciplinary approach to problems. In other words, creativity comes from seeing things from different perspectives.

Thus we see the value of diversifying communities and including all members of a community in development efforts. For with more diversity comes more creativity.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

TED Talks

I finally checked out some of the speeches from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference that are online. If you have not heard of TED, it is a four day conference of innovative thinkers.

The first person I watched was Majora Carter Founder and Executive Director for the Sustainable South Bronx. A grass roots non-profit dedicated to sustanable and environmentally just urban development in the South Bronx.

Much of the speech was pretty basic ideas. Carter made the connection between economic, environmental, and social degradation. She also talked about nurturing nature as an effective way of developing valuable community resources.

Drawing on the example of Enrique Peñalosa’s (Mayor of Bogota, Columbia 1995-1998) “people first” urban planning (worth checking out), Carter proposed a triple bottom line of sustainable development. In short, this is an understanding that sustainable development can (and must) be “profitable” (of value) to the developers, the community, and the government. What I like about this approach is that it is not predicated on a notion of “sacrifice” (that healthy community development can only happen when people forfeit personal gain.) Instead, what Carter suggests is that developers can (and should) profit from sustainable development, and that they can benefit local communities and larger municipal governments while doing it.

She also talked about making sustainability sexy. To use SSB’s slogan making “Green the new black.” This would seem to me to be a place where the arts can really be of value. Not only as a means of public education (some call it propaganda) about how sustainability is not only possibly, but has meaningful benefits; but also as a means of aestheticizing sustainable community development. Not only should low income housing projects (and all housing projects for that matter) be built green, but they should also be built beautiful (to those who will inhabit them) and supportive of the positive cultural practices of their inhabitants and the community around them.

The last and best point about the speech Carter conveyed through an experience she had just had. She was talking to Al Gore (go see An Incontinent Truth why?) and she asked him what he was going to do to include more environmental justice activists. Gore informed her of a grant opportunity. However, Carter pointed out that she was not fishing for funding. She was not asking him for his help, but was offering him hers. This is one of the keys ideas us grassroots community developers must come to understand. We are not meant to bestow help, but are in constant need of it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Eli Photo

Starting Off

Hey all!

I started this blogg to explore and share what there is out their on the subject of community development through cultural action (art). Some of the questions I will explore are what is community? What do communities provide for their members? What resources are necessary for a functioning community? What are the different kinds of community (geographic, identity, politics, web, etc.)? How does the different ways of defining community affect their ability to help their members? And in what ways can art and culture be used to develop better communities? I hope this becomes a valuable resource for other people interested in community development through art.