How Can You Change Your City? How can you Make Austin Weirder? What types of new tools exist or need to be created to better enable people to participate in the making of a city’s future?
Sixty-five Austinites- students, designers, educators, policy makers, gardeners and activists- lingered for more than three hours at Space 12 last Thursday night to watch two excellent films by the Center of Urban Pedagogy and to collectively begin to imagine ways that they can positively impact the future of Austin.
How’d it go?
Well, we (Public Workshop plus the KIPP Austin Alumni crew) couldn’t be more pleased with the attendance, the critical conversation, the group’s endurance (3 plus hours) and the apparently deep desire to brainstorm creative solutions for addressing important, everyday issues in Austin.
To properly set the scene:
It was 10.00 (we started at 7.15), it was sleepily warm in the room given the large turn-out, everyone paired up into small groups based on topical interests and it took me over ten minutes to get everyone to stop brainstorming so that we could share ideas as a group, and head home. Bravo everyone, I was really floored by your resistance. Why?
-Because it’s clear that the group was a collection of extremely dedicated people who are itching to be engaged, make wonderful things happen and be connected with other like-minded people. This is really exciting.
-It further confirms that people are looking for ways/tools with which they can directly impact the world around them.
Things they can do tomorrow requiring little money or significant organizational support.
Actions that are fun and engaging, perhaps even a little ridiculous but are stronger as a result.
Small endeavors that eschew the notion that you can only affect change if you’re big (organizationally), rich and/or unceasingly devote your life to a cause.
And this brief, fifteen minute brainstorm was just intended to be a warm-up, to get people thinking about possibilities and lay the ground work for future activities.
What ideas did the groups come up with in fifteen minutes to Make Austin Weirder?
Build routes of communication in neighborhoods and amongst organizations.
-Snow cone plus bouncy castle block parties.
-Random social events that encourage people/ groups to come together that otherwise might not do so and make them fun or absurd enough that it makes it easier for people to interact/ connect.
The Planning Bus
-Build off of the mobile medical bus or the bookmobile idea to bring the ideas to the people.
Rebuild You Bus Stop
-Identify opportunities like un-shaded bus stops to begin to do simple improvements.
-Start with small, do-able improvements like hanging an umbrella before attempting the big stuff.
Build Full Scale Cardboard Cars
-Problem? Between not having enough buses, minimal affordable parking, and overly large spaces that are given over to big vehicles people are resistant to come Downtown .
-Solution? Make full scale cardboard cars and place them in the oversized parking spaces to draw attention to the problem. The absurdity helps diffuse the situation.
Play tic-tac-toe on the bus
-Problem? Public transportation is slow, boring and we need activities that encourage interaction, and having fun on the bus ride.
-Solution? Place dry-erase markers on buses so that people can play games like hang-man, tic tac toe or testris on the windows to pass the time.
Build A Mobile Breakfast Mystery Machine (based off of Scooby Doo)
-What? Use a mobile kitchen-bus to expose groups, organizations and neighborhoods to people they would not meet, and places they would not go. Use food as the tool for bringing people together.
Throw A Birthday Party For Your Neighborhood
-Why? It brings people together. You have to learn about the history of your neighborhood to create a proper birthday party. The celebration becomes a presentation of who/what the neighborhood is at that point in time.
Have An Art Show In A Vacant Lot
Create A Campaign And A Portal For People Submitting Short Video Clips About City Issues That Matter To Them
-Use this as a tool for building awareness of the Comprehensive Plan but also a means for people being able to participate in the process no matter where they are and on their own schedule.
-Video, personal stories are much more powerful than surveys or discussions.
Plant Vegetables Where You’re Not Supposed To And Build A Windmill Too
-Plant corn in medians and other unused plots of land to raise awareness about the idea of local food economies as well as to challenge how we use certain spaces.
-Build a windmill that grinds corn to raise awareness of issues of energy and food production.
Play In The Hay
-Have hay at an event: Use as building block s for people to experiment with, to make things.
Find Empty Spaces, Build Gardens
Involve Kids In The Design Of Park Spaces
-Create games that both draw awareness to how park spaces can be used and can also act as design tools.
Work With Children To Start Food Co-ops
-Educational but also provides access to better foods in neighborhoods where availability is lacking.
Turn An Empty Lot Into An Art Project
-Invite people to come and add their own designs/creations in chalk and other mediums.
-Very shortly I will be starting a Facebook group, entitled Make Austin Weirder to help people connect, innovate and share.
-Come have brunch in Waller Creek! The proverbial cat got entirely out of the bag in regards to The Waller Creek Is For Lovers Action And Adventure Society. What is WCIFL? More information will be forthcoming in the near future but in short it is a group of people dedicated to challenging how we (the people of Austin) use, perceive and thereby re-design Waller Creek.
Start doing things to Make Austin Weirder, document them and I will post them on my blog. I couldn’t be more excited by a conversation I had with one of the students, Rene, after the event. I found out that he’s a tremendous illustrator and really likes to draw graphic novels. Based on our conversation and some of the work I’ve done with previous students, he’s going to start doing graphic novel-esque postcards about issues in his neighborhood and I am going to gladly post them here to give him and his observations visibility. I can’t wait. Rene’s ‘getting it done’, what are you going to do?
There’s going to be a Make Austin Weirder Competition?
I am also considering starting a Make Austin Weirder Competition. Who can come up with the most innovative, yet effective tool for simply and positively impacting an issue in your neighborhood or the City. What do you think?