Building the World We Want: City Repair and Mark Lakeman

After hearing a talk by Mark Lakeman of City Repair, I feel completely inspired and hopeful that we can start a community and take hold of the place we live.  It’s the perfect time to get this project started. This talk helped me see that many of the obstacles are not what they seem, and realize that we do have the capacity to make these ideas happen.  The examples of what is possible broke down my assumptions what is needed to do the things I want to do.

Grab the taproot, stand your ground, and commit to place!

The examples of what has happened in Portland are much more than changing physical spaces, which I had thought.  The projects, such as tea houses and murals, are the result of neighborhoods coming together, not the other way around.  It started with small ideas, and people helping support each other.  It gained momentum and led to community potlucks, and everyone getting to know one another.  This was the key – once you have the awareness of so many different people, you have ways to advocate for projects in ways that one person would not be able to do alone.  If a whole block wants to mulch its leaves or paint an intersection, the city starts to listen and the rules start to change.  It was amazing to see the pictures of neighborhoods transforming how people, plants, water, and structures move, changing a block into a sustainable, friendly, safe place to be.

Placemaking Guidebook
Articles about City Repair

Mark started by putting our Western cities into context: when we moved through the Americas to colonize and settle, our city plans lacked city centers, the heart of most cities and towns around the world.  Without such spaces, we live separate lives, and this really rings true in Los Angeles.  I am identified as a consumer, moving through the world through products and services I purchase, and small spaces I rent.  The spaces welcome shoppers, and people who don’t have this purpose or spaces are made to feel unwelcome.  Many of our designs are built on what we don’t want, keeping people out, rather than thinking of better solutions for our shared problems.  We need common spaces to help us feel a sense of connection to our city.

Now is the time to change our cities into what we want.


What’s your story?

During a meeting of the Moving Forward Network last week, the group spent an entire morning talking about storytelling. The leaders felt it was so important because facts and data do not change people’s minds, but stories do. I was fortunate to attend this meeting of environmental justice advocates through my work at the USC environmental health outreach program, helping support this work since 2005.

We were all asked to share our stories. Often I shy away from this question, because I worry my story sounds bland and cannot relate to others’ stories, with their firm sense of place and purpose. But the workshop convinced me of the power of sharing our stories to bond together and making our voices heard.  Let’s continue sharing our stories at our meetings. 
I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, and early on the leaders of my Girl Scout troop exposed me to the values of protecting the environment and reducing our impacts.  Even as kids, we talked about what it meant that we consumed more resources than other parts of the world.  Coupled with watching Captain Planet, it just seemed like the right thing to do. In college at Hamline University was the first time I heard the phrase “creating community ” in the programs in the dorms. As a student and resident assistant, I went through trainings, discussions, and experiences that led me to work to create a community where we talked about everything. The programs and current events on campus also taught me about social constructs and the privilege I had, and the realities faced by students of color. There were many ways to get involved in activism because we were centered around this campus base in close proximity, had time between classes, and because this was in the spirit and atmosphere of the university. These are things I wish to re-create. The shared learning, cooperation, and action that is inherently part of a space. 

In environmental classes, I kept reading about the glittering places in Davis and other parts of California, the places that were the leaders in sustainable living. It was the place to be. After college I moved to Long Beach with my husband, and quickly fell in love with the landscapes, the problems, and the people who were dedicating their lives to solving those problems. I met many inspiring leaders of nonprofits and felt lucky to work among them. After time that word “community” kept coming back to me, and by searching online I found Our Time Bank and others interested in living cooperatively as a means to help one another and change the place we live. 

Regen co-op

We had another opportunity to visit the Regen Co-op in Pomona and talk to some members. They made space for some great conversations about group dinners, diversity in members, house meetings, communication styles, what makes someone well suited for living in a community, and getting involved in the neighborhood in a way that really creates positive change that goes beyond the homes themselves. 

It also made me think of the need for mentorship of forming communities by the more experienced residents. An idea is simmering for a summit of LA communities to get together, find out the status and ideas of all the forming groups, as well as hear from existing community leaders. 

Being able to see their co-op and all the home projects they have worked on through years, it always makes me believe that creating a community is possible. Thanks again to the residents who spent their Saturday afternoon with us sharing their experiences.  

Planning process

At this point in the process, we’ve identified some interesting questions about planning a community:
Urban vs rural, how much people want to share meals and other parts of their day, and whether the space also serves the broader community.  The group wrote a survey to note the thoughts on these issues. It includes a good question that a group member wrote:  “What’s a deal-breaker?”

It is important to learn what everyone’s visions are, for what they picture doing in the community.  Some people are most interested in having a bit more open land for gardening, and some wouldn’t mind having a smaller private living space if there are nice common areas.

I have all kinds of questions about how the beginning of this process goes.  Do we get ideas of property values so that we know what we’re in for?  Do we all start learning group communication skills so that we stick together for the long run?  If we go too long with the research process, will we lose people who are looking to move in a faster time frame?

What I’ve learned so far is that our group wants a community that supports each of us in our individual goals, rather than trying to make us all fit into one mold in terms of philosophy or daily routine.