by Nico Chiodi
“How do we build the city of the future?” This was the question that six of the delegates at the Remaking Cities Congress were tasked to answer. The delegates at the round discussion table were:
Mr. Wyman Walter
Mr. Jeff Foster
Ms. Marimba Milliones
Ms. Margaret Cowell
Mr. John Thompson
Mr. Dennis Keating
Overseeing the group was Mr. Jim Segedy.
The six delegates had been debating a little bit before I got there, and so I’m not exactly sure how it started but by the time I was sitting down, listening, several ideas had already been put down on the table in the form of large post-it notes.
“It’s like herding cats,” Mr. Segedy explains. “Everyone’s got their pet theories but they’re like belly buttons: we all have them but they aren’t all that important.”
Even now, from where I’m sitting, I can see a ton of red post-its covering the table and several people are writing more down as others speak.
As I’m sitting there, listening to the urbanists speak, I’m struck by the fact that all six of them were not only handpicked to come to this convention, but also to sit at this table. Out of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people they could have chosen, these seven were.
The biggest problem that they are worried about is racial and economic equality, much like all the other groups at the Remaking Cities Congress. Their questions about it mainly are: “How do we build the city so that inequality isn’t an option?”
It’s a bit hard to make sense of it all: a lot is above my head and everyone is talking at once, but I can sense the importance of what is being said here. They are trying to solve a real problem.
After several short time warnings, the group managed to get an idea down on paper. Their plan consisted of this:
First you need to identify the leadership who are going to shepherd the project.
You need to develop a long-term strategy and vision and come up with a finite process of participation.
There should be a steering group created that is allied with philanthropic organizations to fund the effort, invite cities to join the plan.
The second thing they thought they needed to do was identify the leadership that would be necessary: regional or city government was whom they picked. Federal government is too slow and wasn’t a popular choice.
They also thought they needed to figure out what history and groups made a particular place special. Once they found that, they could play off it and bring people back into being proud of their town. Pittsburgh and the way we use our rivers is a prime example of this. Michael Sobkowiak, a Pittsburgher for twenty years and an employee of the Green Building Alliance, explained that when he first came to Pittsburgh he saw so many great river trails and outdoor parks and barely anyone was using them. Nowadays, though, they’re packed with people. The giant duck we had recently was a prime example of that. I doubt that Pittsburgh would have been chosen for this twenty years ago: no one would really have thought of us as a water recreation town.
It was an amazing experience, sitting not five feet from people who might actually be the ones to fix some of our country’s problems, and one that I will never forget.