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“Vital cities have marvelous innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving, and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties.”

“Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”

– Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs has been a continuing source of inspiration for me with her prolific contribution to city and civic life, neighbourhoods and urban design.  Her ability mobilize people to action and light their spirits  while being honest of the bleak state of urban centres. While best known for her accessible written works The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States. She is also well known for her activism against anti-human policies and development proposals in cities (such as the Lower Manhattan Expressway, and in Toronto, Canada Spadina Expressway and the network of highways that were related to this.  Without any formal training in urban planning she observed and intuited the backwards policies that were creating degrading and disempowering places for people in communities and cities and illuminated the roots problems and possible solutions.

Project for Public Spaces Summarized some of Jane Jacobs key contributions:

Cities as Ecosystems
Jacobs approached cities as living organisms and ecosystems. She suggested that over time, buildings, streets and neighborhoods function as dynamic organisms, changing in response to how people interact with them. She explained how each element of a city – sidewalks, parks, neighborhoods, government, economy – functions together synergistically, in the same manner as the natural ecosystem. This understanding helps us discern how cities work, how they break down, and how they could be better structured.

Mixed-Use Development
Jacobs advocated for “mixed-use” urban development – the integration of different building types and uses, whether residential or commercial, old or new. According to this idea, cities depend on a diversity of buildings, residences, businesses and other non-residential uses, as well as people of different ages using areas at different times of day, to create community vitality. She saw cities as being “organic, spontaneous, and untidy,” and views the intermingling of city uses and users as crucial to economic and urban development.

Bottom-Up Community Planning
Jacobs contested the traditional planning approach that relies on the judgment of outside experts, proposing that local expertise is better suited to guiding community development. She based her writing on empirical experience and observation, noting how the prescribed government policies for planning and development are usually inconsistent with the real-life functioning of city neighborhoods.

The Case for Higher Density
Although orthodox planning theory had blamed high density for crime, filth, and a host of other problems, Jacobs disproved these assumptions and demonstrated how a high concentration of people is vital for city life, economic growth, and prosperity. While acknowledging that density alone does not produce healthy communities, she illustrated through concrete examples how higher densities yield a critical mass of people that is capable of supporting more vibrant communities. In exposing the difference between high density and overcrowding, Jacobs dispelled many myths about high concentrations of people.

content: Project For Public Spaces

Jane Jacobs continues to mobilize action through the many talks, books, walks, presentations, projects that have been inspired by her. A popular one is the Jane Walks

Walking the Talk

Image by: Dorota Maria

Following content from Jane Walks website:

Jane Jacobs’ eye was always at ground level, and she felt strongly that no grand planning scheme could substitute for an understanding of people’s everyday experience of the city. For her, the best way to get to know parks, sidewalks and streets was to get out and walk around, especially with some local residents. Jane’s Walk invites city-dwellers to get out of their cars and get connected, to strike up a conversation, and keep it going after the walk over a coffee, on the sidewalk, or sharing a seat on transit.

Started up in Janes stomping ground Toronto, Canada the phenomenon has now spread internationally and is thriving in 68 cities from Puerto Rico, India, Ireland, Zambia and Spain.

Karlskrona, Sweden Walking 2009

Questions to Run your own Walk:

Photocopy a map of your proposed neighbourhood. Think through the stories, places and people you want to talk about, then plot it out.  Here’s some questions to brainstorm:

1. What are some important meeting spaces in your neighbourhood?
2. What spaces are you most proud of in your neighbourhood?
3. What are some important green-spaces?
4. What are some interesting short-cuts you take?
5. Are shops and amenities accessible?
6. Is it easy or possible to walk, bike, use transit or drive a car?
7. Do any buildings have unusual marks or features?
8. Are there any old buildings that have been reconfigured into different uses?
9. Where do you feel most comfortable?
10. Are there any important historical spaces in your neighbourhood?
11. Where do you not feel safe? Why?
12. What is a space that you really dislike?
13. Are there any places that mix retail, business and residential? (mixed use)
14. How do the buildings ‘interact’ with pedestrians at the street level?
15. Are there spaces you would like to see change?
16. Is there an important question or issue that people should talk about?

Market in Tel Aviv

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Social technology for Community Ignition

“To awaken and give impulse to communities through fast actions with high impact”

The Oasis model was founded on and put into action in many Brazilian communities by the Elos Institute.

ELOS’ PURPOSE: To give impulse to a movement that makes the world we all dream come true right now.

This self-organized movement is a social technology which generates affordable and innovative local solutions to adapt to a changing world.  Oasis was first established to target regions or communities where revitalization was needed. It is well-adapted to various local communities where there is a desire to engage community individuals and groups.  The Oasis model lets people engage playfully and works at awakening and cultivating a spirit of social and cooperative entrepreneurship in the members of the community.

The name of the Game
The name Oasis was inspired in the History books. A Oasis offer hope, refuge and stability to the tired traveler in the desert.

The main idea is that our world is full of vast “deserts”: regions and communities where social and environmental vitality has been destroyed. Nevertheless these places still hold points of light full of hope, beauty and joy.

The Oasis Game had the intention to reveal these points of light around the world, and to stimulate the culture of daily care with one another and with the place where one lives. A community can work together in a cooperative, imaginative and rapid way to build in one day a modern oasis: a physical space that promotes life, joy and restoration.

The methodology is based on the following characteristics:
•    Hands-on work with communities (often building playground, community centres, hubs, stages, developing public services, etc).
•    Dream together – plan collectively; (cooperative games and storytelling allows for the exploration of ideas and passions)
•    Do it together – build collectively; (essential that many people are involved in the physical building – together through sweat, tears, and laughter communities are bonded
•   Abundance theory – resources are available, it takes the right set of eyes to see it; (illuminating the beauty all around places)
•   Playfulness– use of games as a form of application of methodologies;
•    Starting right now – the time to transform the world is now;
•    Learn by doing – confidence in the learning that is born out of action

5 Stages in Oasis Model
1.    Appreciative Gaze – The exercise cultivates an appreciative view of the community (group) and its environment, in order to create a scenario of abundant resources and opportunities. As well as identifying and appreciating the presence and potential of each person.

2.    Affection – To motivate the establishment of relationships between people creates trust and mutual care, which are elements that support and strengthen the collective work. The exercise of listening is an essential skill for this discipline.seeing the beauty in relationships, taking care of others, and holding intention and values.

3.    Dreaming – The exercise cultivates an appreciative view of the community (group) and its environment, in order to create a scenario of abundant resources and opportunities. As well as identifying and appreciating the presence and potential of each person.

4.    Care – Make a careful planning of strategies and projects that fully attempt the expectations of a set of collective dreams. Bring answers to questions like how to walk together, take care of yourself, the other person and of a common dream all at the same time.

Nurturing this dream and engaging children to design spaces

5.    The Miracle – hands-on building to make the dream a reality.
The collective action is strengthened by your best qualities and abilities, equipped with plenty of resources existing in the community, it is relies on emotional connection between people, and it is motivated by your best common dream. It is a very special gift that you give to yourself and to the other person.

6.    Celebration – connecting all these processes with the celebration of life and what the community creates together.

A meeting after the day  hands on work in order to share the joy of the common realization, to value and celebrate the contribution of each and everyone  in this collective achievement. The physical realization and experience lived  makes more sense because it’s nourishing the celebration of life.

Below are 2 Videos that are helpful to get an idea of what this look like in communities:

The first one is an overview of the process and structure of the Oasis game taking place in Brazil. For more information, visit the founders website Be sure to watch both part as it is split into two.

The other video I would recommend is focused on Warriors without Weapons which is the ethics, process, and cooperative games which Oasis methodology developed out of and thus is helpful to explain more of the philosophy and impressive community support, appreciation, and empowerment:

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