When we make our places better, we make ourselves better
Excerpt from Love Where You Live:
When we make our places better, we make ourselves better. Our place is the crucible in which we occur. In the past, we have thought that our existence with our cities, while connected at certain points, was largely external to who we were. It is easier and convenient to see separation because we have compartmentalized the relationship into something that is merely functional and transactional. We obey the law, pay our taxes and spend our money. In return, the city provides the necessary infrastructure to support our existence: everything from roads and bridges, to police and fire service, to the regular collection of garbage at our curbside.
In truth, the city provides much more, most of which is taken for granted by both the city and the citizen. In this sense, I liken us to children living in our parents' home. We see them as authority figures, providers of food and shelter and, of course, we appreciated the gifts, vacations and other special things they gave us. But as children we did not fully appreciate the totality of what they provided us. (I know I did not). As children we chafed at the limits they placed on us ("11 p.m. curfew? But Dad..."), we bitched about our allowances and neglected our chores. It is only now, as adults and perhaps parents ourselves, we see all that goes into creating and maintaining that environment. The sacrifices, the hard choices and having to deal with us--they probably deserved a medal for the efforts!
Today, we as citizens in our places need to grow up. We need to move beyond the parent/child relationship we have had with our places, and take our place as adults at the table. We are full, participatory partners in the process of city making. While there is no equality of power in this relationship, there is required an equality of caring. We are capable of doing extraordinary things to make our neighborhoods and even our entire cities better when we care to do so. We can be makers and co-creators of the content that is our community. The first step is the mature realization that we can, and should, play a part in the process.