All posts filed under: social capital

What is the story of a place? Thoughts on field research.

A lecture I gave to the Qualitative Research for Urban Planners course at Harvard’s GSD.  The talk was based on my Master’s thesis, which I have just now (finally) published online. * I came across this headline in the Onion yesterday – about a planner who got through his whole urban design before all of a sudden he realized, oh my god, he was recreating a city that already exists, in a totally different place.  This is funny of course because this is what people imagine planners kinda actually do.  So today, I want to talk about how not to be that guy.  How to ensure with your research process that you are intervening in a place on its own terms, based on a good understanding of what is already there,­ and not imagining that DesMoines is Philadelphia. Here’s the guiding question of what I’m going to be talking about: “What is a place’s story?” Questions are important because they’re the basis for entering a research problem with an open mind, and also to focus …

The case for fourth places.

When I was two or three, my grandparents took me to a performance of Sleeping Beauty, a sprawling, three hour long, 19th century masterpiece, at the San Francisco Ballet (SFB).  To the surprise of everyone nearby, I sat, rapt, through the entire performance. From that first trip to the ballet, I felt like I belonged there.  The War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco is a gorgeous, late Beaux-Arts grandiosity, all marble and grand staircases, but even as a child, every time I went there I had this feeling of calm.  Of being part of something.  At the Opera House I would grow quiet, still, watching the adult visitors swishing and clattering across the long echoing hallways and staircases, in their coats, suits, and dresses. My grandfather was a trumpet player in the SFB’s orchestra, so my childhood was filled with last minute balcony tickets to weeknight ballets and trumpet solo rehearsals in the living room.  I knew every score by heart, and when I grew older, the name of every dancer and his/her trajectory …

The Working Waterfront Festival’s 10th Anniversary

Over the summer I interviewed some of the participants in New Bedford’s Working Waterfront Festival. I wanted to know what this festival, which was celebrating its 10th year, has meant to them. Here’s the product of that project — a retrospective video that was shown at the festival and has given the festival production team a reminder about why they do what they do, and why it’s important. We all need those reminders sometimes. I am excited by this because it’s an example of how evaluation can be built into the work of a project, organically. The festival produces lots of oral histories from members of the commercial fishing community; producing an oral history of the festival, of sorts, just makes sense. This project will continue to grow, as more visitors and participants in the festival get excited about sharing their memories and reflections. I can’t wait to see where it — and the festival — goes.

Neighborday

This spring I did some thinking and writing for GOOD.is, as they launched their first new holiday, Neighborday.  It was a day for celebrating neighbors, and neighboring, for getting to know where you live and the folks that you live around just a little better.  I was part of a team led by Kyla Fullenwider, of Imperative, a social design firm doing really interesting work around engagement, evaluation, and impact. We’ve shared some of our initial findings about how Neighborday here.

Adventures in neighborhood podcasting

This week I’ve been participating in MIT CoLab’s Storytelling for Planners course. I must admit that it’s felt since the first moment like it was where I’ve always belonged.  As you know, I’m committed to helping planners, neighbors, kids and grownups learn and get excited about the world in their own backyards, whether it’s history, personal relationships, architecture, or…local wildlife.  So when I started thinking about what the perfect story would be to embody that sense of noticing, of wonder, of finding mystery in the everyday, I naturally thought about my neighborhood turkeys. I’ve written before about these charismatic urbanfauna and how they can be understood by planners as an example of how surprising interventions can facilitate building social capital.  But here, I was thinking about them differently, as local “characters of interest,” subjects of community mythmaking. That’s all I’ll say.  Except: this is my first podcast.  And, I hope, it’s a preview of coming attractions.  Since so much of this blog is about walking, and pretty much all I do as I’m walking around …

civic culture begins at dinnertime.

I want to tell you today about my favorite holiday. It’s Passover, and while I’m no longer a practicing Jew (in fact I consider myself a Humanist) I’ve found that having a Seder is still extremely important to me. As an adult living away from my family, and just beginning to build my own, I’ve found that the Seder is a ritual that invites me to think, and rethink, my commitments to friends, to tradition, to food and to meaning.  Every year, it means something different. This year, it’s meant thinking about what it takes to produce meaningful conversations about identity and history.  In part, that’s because I’m working on some non-Passover projects about this myself: I’m finally launching Terroir Studio, a kind of roving collaborative initiative for exploring how we can use food and meals to help us create a sense of community and learn about the places we call home. Another reason why Passover has resonated so much with me this year is that  Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander have released their …

what turkeys can tell us (about social capital)

I’ve been wanting to write for a long time about the turkeys in my neighborhood. Turkeys? In Cambridge, you say? Yes. Here they are, in the front yard of a neighboring apartment building, the first morning I saw them.  In the late morning, on my way to a meeting, about a week before Thanksgiving. Yes, a week before Thanksgiving. Temporal coincidences aside, the first time I noticed them, I snapped this photo, sent it to my husband (who was at work) via iPhone, and continued along my way, chuckling.  I noticed some hours later that the Cambridge Chronicle had shared a tweet with its followers about a resident who had also seen turkeys.  I wasn’t crazy, I now knew, wasn’t fostering some kind of weird pre-holiday illusion about festive charismatic fauna in my neighborhood. I tweeted back. So the next morning, when I saw a couple of people gathered around the front yard of a different neighbor’s house, I knew it had to be the turkeys.  They were talking animatedly to each other, curious about …