Briefly, tell me the aim of What Do You See? To get new visions for what communities want?
Really our aim was more generally to help people look at the spaces around them differently and start to see possibilities not just problems. We really wanted to start a larger conversation with the public at large about the importance of design and planning—and place—in bringing people together.
You talked about seeing place—places affected by disaster, poverty—positively instead of negatively. How do we reframe the way we see to do this?
I think that architects, designers, and others really can help us reimagine places in ways we may not have called on them to do in the past. Communications, software, and social planning sites offer us ways to develop places that are much more responsive and open to iterative planning and ingenuity. Often people look at places and they just see problems. However, as populations become ever more mobile, we can also see opportunities—economic, social and environmental. Places are going to have to be much more competitive to keep pace with globalization. Urban planners and architects will find themselves increasingly becoming urban managers, working with professionals and community members to steward changes to their surroundings in a much more adaptive and responsive way.
You also mentioned that in the past we might have looked to government to rebuild communities. But maybe that's not as applicable as it used to be. Who should we look to now?
Government is being tasked in so many ways to adapt to the changes around us. What we're finding is that community members themselves are far more likely to be able to identify and creatively address issues they see in their communities. The question than becomes how do we open source problem solving? How do we take advantage of private-public partnerships while making them more effective and accountable? To do this would require training a generation of people to learn the tools and best practices of community design and development. I don't think the answer is outsourcing government, I think the approach should be to in-source community members and re-energize them to play a role in shaping their surroundings. To renew the social compact that we made when we began building communities and laying the roads and bridges that connected us together in the first place. Are you targeting specific communities with What Do You See? We have chapters throughout America and around the world. So, we're really engaged locally in those communities.
This article was originally published on June 14, 2013 on our sister site, Dwell on Design.
Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.