Adding Love and Forgiveness to the Placemaking Toolkit – Next City

Adding Love and Forgiveness to the Placemaking Toolkit

Nathan Poel, an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow based at the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing in Yakima, WA noticed a glaring irony in his town. Outdoor recreation opportunities such as river rafting, fishing, biking, hiking trails, camp areas, rock climbing, skiing, and all the mountaineering of the Cascade Range surround his city and the Yakima valley also boasts an abundant yearly harvest of apples, cherries, asparagus, peaches, nectarines, plums, grapes and more. Yet surveys have named Yakima one of the most overweight cities in the country and according to a Yakima Herald article, 1 in 3 adults in the city is obese.

In 2013, the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship, which places architectural fellows for three year terms in community development organizations around the country, partnered with the Fetzer Institute to incorporate a focus on love and forgiveness into design and community development. This approach was not intended to be the sole solution to tough community issues, but rather a conversation starter to address these issues through concrete actions from within the community.

In the Spring of 2013, Poel brought this concept to Yakima’s Idea Jam—a city-wide brainstorm for anyone who wants to “make things happen” and participants identified a need to strengthen connections between the north and the south of the city and to take on the pressing issue of city health disparities and infrastructure for active living.

And thus the idea of the Tour De Farce, a fake bike race highlighting “everything that Yakima is not yet but could be” was born. With a tagline of “fake it ‘til you make it” and $5000 grant, Poel and his collaborators planned an event that paired playfulness and political savvy. With the help of a baseball diamond line chalker, they marked out their route for the “race” participants (who arrived dressed up as their favorite place in Yakima.) The event was also paired with a design competition, which resulted in six bike racks to be fabricated and installed downtown. A letter to city council demonstrated interest in more bike and pedestrian infrastructure throughout the city.

“The ride deliberately showcased neighborhoods and how they could easily be connected to the greater economic development of the area,” says Poel. Yet there were some missed opportunities to the day, he notes. “I think we could have worked harder to find and keep stakeholders from the Hispanic community involved. We had some representation early on but that fell off as we moved ahead” He says that efforts like these should “represent the full demographic of the community they are serving.”

“The Tour De Farce was designed to be a starting point,” emphasizes Poel. Passionate attendees founded an advocacy group, and eleven group bike rides have been hosted since the event, including the second annual Tour De Farce. The grassroots advocacy has catalyzed the city into establishing a pedestrian and bicycle advisory committee and preparing a new bicycle master plan.

While the Tour De Farce may look like yet another tactical urbanism project, the frame of love and forgiveness gives community projects like it a different starting point than many other placemaking projects.

Centering a discussion on community development around love and forgiveness gives communities permission to talk about tough issues. Poel brought this focus to Yakima, but he wasn’t alone. Seven other fellows conducted similar projects in communities across the country, piloting this approach that they call “collaborative actions.” One fellow in Seattle, Joanne Ware developed an installation to raise awareness of the activism against Japanese incarceration during the second world war through a public installation that spelled out ‘Stand up for Social Justice’ composed of 3000 community-folded paper cranes. Another fellow, Joseph Kunkel, working in the American Indian community of Santo Domingo, NM collaborated on a walk called “Gathering of the Memories” in which community members walked from the pueblo to the historic trading post, stopping to reflect on the journey and share memories and histories of the community that informed a new city plan and arts trail.

Poel says about his experience, “the dialogue we had around the Tour De Farce was that forgiveness is an act of collectively acknowledging the things that are wrong about our community, and then choosing to live into a new reality.” Fellow Geoffrey Barton, based in Asheville NC sums up the unique potential of this approach: “Freed from the imperative for direct quantitative impact and motivated by a sense of possibility, the collaborative actions present a model for scalable community design work that bridges between great ambitions and the here and now.”

To read about more Collaborative Actions, and for resources on creating your own visit enterprisecommunity.com/madewithlove.

To learn more about the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship and apply for the upcoming cohort, visit: enterprisecommunity.com/solutions-and-innovation/design-leadership/rose-architectural-fellowship.

Mia Scharphie is a designer, researcher and community advocate who works at the intersection of design, entrepreneurship and issues of social equity. Mia designed and produced Made with Love, Enterprise Community Partner’s ‘cookbook’ of collaborative actions strategies.