From the COMMUNITYMATTERS 10 Conference in Denver
My ears always pop on those super fast elevators. This time I’m rocketing up to the 37th floor where floor to ceiling glass reveals the flat expanse of Denver bathed in a golden sunrise. I notice a huge white timber rollercoaster in the distance and then the rocky mountains rise up to meet the clouds.
Barbara lead us through a wave of thought provoking exercises – describing ourselves in 5 keywords for a wordle visualization, taking a meaningful story and breaking it down into its component parts – names of characters, key location, the emotion felt, the time of day, then we interpreted photographs taken by other people, trying to decipher the story captured on the page in a single image. The theme was “Community”.
I showed a picture taken recently at my wedding back in Melbourne, Australia. It’s a closely cropped shot of me and my new husband, surrounded by the 150 people who attended our wedding – friends and family from all over the world. Never before, and probably never again, will this group of people be together in one place. I explained that after moving around so much in the last few years, from Brisbane to Melbourne, to London, then to Boston, and now Washington DC, that my community has become scattered across the world. Captured in this photograph is a beloved group of people, representing all the places my husband and I have called home, united by the fragile strings of internets and telephones and long plane rides that allow us to stay connected.
Even though I only get to see a tiny fraction of these people face to face on a regular basis, I have more contact with many of them than I do with people that live down the hall in my apartment building. But I’ve just moved to DC, and as I spend more time getting to know people in the city, I will probably spend less time with my community online. As always, my connection with my communities – both online and off – will ebb and flow.
After two years working out on the cutting edge of the internets, this was a fascinating re-entry back into the world of urban planning, and place specific community engagement. The focus on story, on making an emotional connection, on understanding how place is important, was quite a dramatic return to place based community thinking.
I have always considered myself something of a nomad – in my lifestyle and my career choices. I believe that’s why I am so interested in how people make meaningful connections with where they live, and with each other. Having made and left memories in cities all over the world, and forged a career across disciplines, it was a heart warming experience to find myself embedded in the welcoming community of people that I found at the COMMUNITYMATTERS Conference. Surrounded by new friends, looking out over a dynamic landscape, with the morning sun shining through the windows, I felt like I’d come home.