I spent the past year living abroad as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, which meant, for me, that my primary occupation was to think about urban space and its uses, as I worked on a project entitled: Cities in Transition: Identity, Narrative and the Changing Urban Landscape. I spent the fall of 2011 in Toronto, Canada observing the magnetism of Harbourfront Centre, which draws in thousands every weekend from the possible reaches of the Greater Toronto Area. I spent the winter standing on the streets of Quito, Ecuador’s old city, the first to be designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, considering how the legacy of a space makes itself present as that space extends into the future. I spent the spring exploring Sydney, Australia’s infinite network of suburbs and their distinct sensibilities, and the City of Sydney’s curious and often brilliant unification of art objects and the public sphere.
In the course of my Watson year, I’ve interviewed planners, artists, cycling advocates, designers, social innovators and many others who spend their lives thinking about one or a number of facets of the relationship between how a city is designed and how it’s inhabited. What I’ve tried to do as a Watson Fellow is to listen both to how residents talk about their cities and how individuals involved in a city’s design and operation talk about their work, in order to see what it would look like to build a bridge between how cities are lived in and how planners and designers prepare for their future.
In thinking about that relationship – between urban identity and urban design – I’ve been particularly interested in the role artists play, especially artists who work and show their work in public and publically-accessible spaces. I’ve come to believe that the role of the artist is singular in this process of creating channels for interplay between the lived city and the realm of design, as the strongest art objects engage with their viewers to generate new ways of looking, a skill residents need to learn in order to see their city in new ways. In this way, public and publically-accessible art becomes a crucial feature in creating the kind of structural change necessary to make the work of urban advocates both relevant and useful to residents and to continue the conversations that push the innovation of urban systems forward. To this end, I see the work of chashama as central to the development of the ideas and practices that will be core features of the conversations about New York City’s future.
As I bring the implicit questions of my Watson year home, I’d like to continue to explore the role of artists as crucial public actors, a feature of artists’ work that chashama both heightens and extends. With this in mind, I’d love to work with you to profile a series of artists working with chashama who are furthering the project of how we as New Yorkers look and learn to look at our city and how that looking is embedded in our design of the city’s future. It is my intention that such a profile series will bring into the foreground both all of the ways we see our city and how the evolution of those ways of seeing is itself crucial to how we direct, explore and envision the city’s future.
This is a project that could extend in many directions, but it feels like a good place to start.
Let me know your thoughts.
All the best,