Cities, Communities and Democracy is Wendy Brawer’s response to Open Letter to the Design Community, March 2017.
As an eco designer and non-profit director, my long-term project, Green Map, links sustainability and location. It has locally interpreted democracy baked into its ethic, generally with great attention to fairness by the map maker, who may represent the grassroots, student, NGO or governmental sector. Although I’m currently a TED Resident, neither Green Map nor I am attached to an institution, but rather to a city, New York. We live side by side with all kinds of people and share the joy and struggle on a daily basis, helping me become and act more ‘woke’ — aware, empathic and active.
Interwoven with this work, I’ve been acting as if my community is a “legacy lab” and have been contributing my skills freely and openly to the commons. As a designer, I can see possibilities and frame the outcomes of dialogue with disparate stakeholders in a solutionary manner. I see this as my responsibility to my major client, our common future. Over the last few years, this has drawn me from mapmaking into land use, renewable energy, community green infrastructure, cycling and resiliency projects. By ‘going local’ and practicing municipalism, I can contribute to initiatives with daily impacts.
I treasure the right to get involved. The privileged world I was born into needs constant consideration if the sense of wellbeing I enjoy(ed) can be lived by all. Democracy is the same, a bright light, now wavering in the howling winds of raw greed and corrupted power.
Urgency has been my driver since that day in 1989 when a captive orangutan threw me a stone and told me to focus my creative energy on saving her world. In November 2016, we were all thrown a new job, defending the right to dissent, to speak the truth, to stand together and resist the destructive agenda, and ideally, to build a durable silver lining.
At first, I resented the unwanted call to action. I already ‘showed up’ for climate and environment, even getting arrested over the Keystone XL pipeline. Knowing that nonviolent direct action takes time, I am prepared to march again and again. In November, I was buoyed by my belief that the con-man couldn’t be inaugurated, but jumped into the resistance to make sure. The exciting part was who jumped in with me, all races, ages and colors! Marching is not enough, so a few friends co-created the Bank Action Network to Kickstart Economic Resilience Strategies and hosted our first Hacking Capitalism – Move Your Money workshop in March; I also took part in the first reused infrastructure convening hosted by the High Line; the Intermapping of the solidarity economy; and the first bit of spring community gardening.
Community gardens are the bedrock of democracy in our city and it’s likely my Design and Democracy event will be in one. I’m inspired by these examples of design of/for/in/as democracy:
• Why are we marching? (http://overpasslightbrigade.org/) Light Brigade’s reusable message boards, a viral manifestation that illuminates the answer. How can designers make protest more effective?
• Public Space Rights co-statement (http://bit.ly/2pOqV6w) comes from non-radical organizations, made days after the election.
• Prison design boycott – ADPSR-led multi-year effort has gained nearly 50K endorsements, current effort is #WeWontBuildYourWall
• AIGA’s too absurd to parody (http://bit.ly/2p4Kb0B)
Green Map System
New York City, US