Last night, I dreamt I was in a kind of convention center at a big family reunion and I realized around 5 o clock that it was today, the day of the pizza party. I was supposed to start the fire in the oven hours ago and I hadn’t even picked up the pizza dough yet. I was planning on biking to the pizza shop, but in the dream, I was in a large unfamiliar city, and already being late, so I asked one of my cousins to borrow a car. When they gave me the keys which I could visualize the car out in the parking garage even though I’d never seen it before. The pizza party itself was happening on the level right below us, so I walked downstairs and saw that everyone was already making a fire in the big pit we were going to use to cook. I saw someone throwing a big chunk of wood in the pit, and the fire grow, and people were a bit agitated the facilitator wasn’t there. I said I would be back quickly with the dough and left, feeling like I had disappointed everyone by not fulfilling the responsibility I took on, everyone begrudgingly was carrying on even though I wasn’t there.
In the dream I never did use the car, or return to the party.
But I woke up feeling glad that at least the fire was going, and I got to thinking about it more and realized that… everyone else making the fire is the point of all of this.
There will be magic that happens here tonight that will go on uncoordinated. Connections will be made by casual conversation, whether we realize the significane in 6 minutes or 6 years it doesn’t matter. Right now, because I have your attention, I have a certain amount of borrowed power from the group, and it’s my responsibility to use that power to amplify it and give it back to you.
I want to present a scenario to you: If I had not shown up tonight, would you have stayed? I think you would. Even if you still wanted to know about VBC, other site hosts are here. I saw three people yesterday and told them about my 1.5 meeting with the city. We are embedded enough in each other’s lives that we know how to work together, here, in Port Townsend.
A wonderful woman with a heavy British accent arrived around 3 PM as I was watching the fire, saying she was just dropping by because she thought there may be a lot of people tonight, she herself was bringing 5 others, and something told her she should come and "have a look" at the place. She helped me think about flow, where tables would go, where knives should and shouldn't be... and after a few minutes she introduced herself, "Oh, and Hi, my name is Janice."
I was grinning, "Hi, I'm Hannah."
What is most polite is our genuine love, care, and attention. And the only thing that had to happen for us to come together, is someone had to say it was happening. In this case, Mike and Karolina picked a date, and I made a poster, and many of you shared the event on Facebook. But it was just an idea, and it didn’t really exist until we were here, eating pizza, doing it.
Our landscape is just the same. A long time ago, but not so long compared to the history of Earth, people decided to make rules about how we would develop land, and the ways that we would travel based on that land’s development. We all know it had little to do with native patterns here. In most cases the results were tragic.
In the case of Port Townsend, like much of the western united states, the lines were drawn far away on the east coast, with no consideration to the topography or culture of this place, and in reality straight-lined streets had to dead end when they met steep hillsides. Even our meandering Cappy’s Trails are a perfect grid of easement right-of-ways on paper. And it’s just paper that has delineated all of it, and our willingness as people to agree that the paper meant any good for us. We weren't really given an opportunity to agree or disagree, frankly, but we also never took on the responsibility to think about it for ourselves once we were meeting our basic needs.
As a consequence, we often live in what the lines have called the “residential zone” and are not able to enjoy the short walk thru our “agriculture zone” pathways, communing with the food that has seen us walk by every day and knows how to nourish us, to our “business zone” where we may sit with friends or alone to do our work for the day… because all of these things have been designed to be miles and miles apart from each other.
But all those lines are changeable.
Imagine for a moment if in every new development, the houses are arranged close together in the center, with one primary access road, and property lines – if we really needed them – radiating outward from the center to wilder areas.
Imagine for a moment in a standard grid neighborhood that even just one of the streets was ripped up, and in its place was a garden, and a protected seating area for a picnic or party. This sort of thing has been done by many now in cities like Detroit without permitting, and in Portland using a process called “Street Vacation”. Without involvment from the city at all, neighbors take down fences and agree to consider the landscape in a way that makes sense to them. After all, they live there. And the property lines were drawn by people who haven’t spent a minute in the place your life ensues every day.
In hundreds of cities all over the world, people have installed intersection paintings as a symbol of reclaiming the crossroads, or they have built benches in places that are needed because they realized they wanted them. They have made the benches beautiful because they realized the physical world should be beautiful, and because we are physical, and we are beautiful, and we have the capacity to making every thing we ever think of, beautifully. Slowly. As if we cared.
Not only the physical projects themselves, but the relationships of people who made them possible, they too are beautiful and strong. There’s an undercurrent of some kind of old truth when people find the right people to work with on these things.
I want to set these imagines in your mind because I know you have thought of them before. Because in your own body you know what it is like to see alters dotting the landscape every few hundred feet, as they do in India even today, honoring all the unkown forces in our lives. Because you long for a safe place to grieve, where you can cry for all that has been lost, from pets to culture. Because you know kids should be free to play here, and learn from the simple interactions of daily life among people.
Because you come from a village.
And even now it has been simple for us to announce we were “having” a pizza party – and for you to come.
Imagine that 5 years from now, your neighbors had even one small amenity that was representation of what you know the landscape longs for, what you long for. Imagine yourself 5 years ago, how much you have changed. A lot has happened. 5 years is a relatively short amount of time, and yet, it is enough time to do something.
Last month, I was asking for help from my descendants. I asked, “What is the best way to redesign our neighborhoods?” I was seeing the quimper peninsula in the far distant future, with thick healthy forests and a sense of vibrancy in the landscape. It was quieter in the sense of no machinery or cars, but louder in the sense of birdsong and the movement of other animals, and people going about their pathways singing or silently. The children answered me. Kids. Kids bring a natural vibrancy to the landscape. Let them play in it, change it. Bring out its magic. Make decisions. I had a simple vision of chalk stations as mini-focal points. I ordered - in the biggest bulk package I could find - 252 sticks of chalk. Take some home and use it or put it out!!! It can be very simple - it's only chalk. But what it is is magic.
My teacher Terry O’Day wrote to me the same week, “Organizing seems to be easy when you are part of a dream team that shares values and vision but, as my experience at Pacific shows, it doesn’t matter how well you can organize if people don’t want to play with you. It really does seem to come down to luck sometimes – if you are lucky enough to join up with the right people at the right time, there is no stopping things. But if you don’t have that, you end up going nowhere fast. I haven’t figured out how to engineer a working group when it doesn’t want to exist. I just remain ready to spring into action whenever conditions seem right.”
The way our neighborhoods are oriented touches every aspect of our lives. It concerns me because it’s like a “tipping point”. It’s an issue of leverage. It’s a place where we can put small amounts of effort and see enormous cultural consequences. Staying interested in the most immediate place where we live cultivates a society whose actions are continuously healing. The impact is direct, and you get to watch your work over time, because there it is in the place where you are, every day. It is the most local thing in the world, and yet you have to work with other people in order to accomplish it – and therefore it is global because you have just entered into the story of another person, whose story is also entwined with many. A memory of what had to be done working together to make something that belongs to everyone, and belongs to no one. As if the landscape itself brought it forth, just as it brought you forth to live in it, conscious of its evolution. As the intelligence of mycelial and root networks in forests intelligently move nutrients to correct places throughout the forest, so too does the Earth move us to places it knows our presence is needed. You're in your neighborhood for a reason.
And maybe the reason is small, or unknown. But I will straightforward: it is the goal of Village Building Convergence, ultimately, to disappear. Maybe it will be 100 years from now, but we hope to dissolve and not be needed anymore. For now, we provide a bridge with the city. A place to focus our collective energies. An instigator of pizza parties. But if I didn’t come today, you still would have been here, and it is the fact that everyone comes that makes this work. So thank you very much for being here.
When Francesco arrived, he asked if there was anything he could do to help, and I said, "Well, we could start making pizzas, everything's ready."
He paused and said, "How did you know I love to make pizzas?" and lead the way in rolling out pizza crusts.
At first, the youngest pizza making enthusiast present thought it was more important that she make her own pizza rather than share the creation with anyone else, but after making one, she stuck around the full hour and a half wanting to help with nearly all of them, she was having so much fun.
My favourite memory was - as I was tending the oven - looking over at the prep table to see if the next pizza was ready and having two women smile widely. "You have soot all over your face!"
"Yes, one mark makes it look like you have very thick eyebrows, like Charlie Chaplin. Now all you need is the little goatee." I took a small piece of charcoal from the oven and rubbed it on my chin. "Thicker. You know, not like Hitler, but still more." I finished my adornment with the fire stick, leaving my accoutrements proudly on my face for the duration of the evening.
After we'd collectively made and ate 18 pizzas, we circled gave updates about Village Building Convergence. Because it's not 18 pizzas all at once, and people are eating one slice at a time of a variety... everyone has a lot of time to mill around, meet people, greet people they know already, and informally keep tying the knots of community while we eat together, slowly. So in this case, we don't do extensive checkins for the meeting. PTVBC shares its news, and gathers ideas and feedback from folks who aren't directly involved in the organization. Gretchen Sleicher lead us in a closing song and we said goodnight. 125 sticks of chalk left the room.
Kristin, Dylan, and Aric even came after everyone else was gone to help clean up, even though they hadn't been there to enjoy the party.
Approximately 50 people came and went, 25 for the update circle.
The point of doing any of these Placemaking Projects is to increase interaction among people, among near neighbors specifically... and out of that increased interaction, find ways to change the landscape that make sense for them. All opportunities for sharing and participating in each others' stories is the purpose of community projects. To build culture. To re-knit the fabric of relationships. To support and encourage ourselves and others to be powerful. And that power is changing the landscape, and it's changing the world.