Reflections on Day 1 of FORM’s #PUBLICsymposium

Rather than tackled the impossible task to personally condense the first day’s messages and ideas from dozen civic leaders’ life’s work from Day 1 (and which the ‘crowd’ has done well through the event’s hashtag #publicsymposium ), this post is to articulate a few personal observations and ideas-in-formation.

A brief disclosure, first, because I didn’t just attend this to learn about public art or creative interventions that could be replicated, adopted or adapted in Geraldton. My intention in attending (thanks to FORM’s sponsorship as a community champion) was to be at perhaps the first place or time (ever, yet) in WA that questions of how we (humanity) can sustain, grow and share learning across each others’ city-scale innovations and transformational initiatives. It’s that line of inquiry that guides my own work.

  1. Humanity-scale care expressed in a specific location, as the foundation. Every speaker on the stage had this rare and remarkable shared quality: their contributions were born out of BOTH a deep connection and commitment to ‘local’ (Washington DC, Bogota, Mumbai, Helsinki) AND an ethic that was primarily ‘global’. Local grounding enables contributions that are appropriate, and humanity-care-ethic enables a sort of detached playfulness that enables navigation of local politics and social dynamics. This also enables the necessary real feedback and granularity (’How does a Social Capital Market work in an illiterate Indian community’) and enabling global connections (’The international fame meant the local newspaper helped us promote the local festival when our website broke’).
  2. In > For > With > By > As. A common-thread across discussions of events, infrastructure, engagement and public sector reform seems to be a sort of developmental trajectory in the relationship between the individual / organisation and the community or locality in question. i.e. In (we do it there), For (we do it for them), With (we engage and collaborate with them), By (we enable them to do it), As (we are us, acting together).
  3. Focus on “form” and you could miss most of the magic. Forgive the pun (sorry FORM!), but if you just heard ‘buses’ ‘affordable social housing’ ‘restaurant day’, ‘water pistol fights’, ‘social capital markets’ and try to copy, all the best. What I learned from various speakers was about the ‘how’ (not ‘what’) of their brilliant contributions. For example: Enrique’s long-term commitment to equity and democracy that saw his initiatives survive majority opposition from voters and development agencies, and just happens to take the form look like new bus lanes. Timo’s very modern (’Gen Y’) interpretation of how individual passion and fun with friends becomes a global movement and foundation for new values and relationships in our cities, and happens to take the form like a bunch of people serving homemade food to neighbours 4 times a year, Thom’s brilliant back-end financial and political strategies that result in forms like hipster design parties in abandoned factories.
  4. Perspective, purpose and passion. Erma took a job she knew could ruin her career, Peter stopped his festival when it was at its peak, and Geeta’s alternative currency has a built-in 20% ‘tax’ for the collective. I reckon that each of those decisions could have only been made because that person AND their team, sponsors, funders and supporters were super-clear on their perspective (e.g. Enrique’s ‘lens’ that precedes any act of change in a city), purpose (e.g. Peter’s mission to make DC one of the most innovative and creative cities on earth) and passion (e.g. Timo’s ability to turn around massive successful events within a month, by volunteers, with no funding, and breaking the law along the way ).
  5. Simultaneous creation of social and economic value. I loved Carol’s ‘complement’ to Enrique’s ‘it’s all about happiness’ to include an American emphasis of ‘it’s all about GDP’. In none of the presentations was there mention of ‘giving back’, ‘trade-offs’ or ‘percentage for art’. While I’m sure some of those dynamics are at play, the primary integrating ‘business model’ was alignment and simultaneous creation of social and economic value. Traditional business-government-NGO roles and models are transcended or evolved with a common sort of social enterprise, social innovation, self-funded (and self-generating), profit-for-purpose model. The sort of independence (of the initiative) founded on inter-dependence (within the initiative) is also what probably underpins their ability to spread ‘wide’, replicate and scale.
  6. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. You are. The talent in the audience is approaching that on stage.
  7. Charles Landry is a mad genius artist. The only way I can really hear what Charles Landry is saying is to let go into non-linearity and experience his words and images as brushstrokes continuously composing, alluding, illustrating and then repainting conceptions of cities on a cultural canvas. That, and the fact that he makes a living touring and talking to great cities about creativity in this way elevates him to ‘genius’ level in my eyes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *