It's been six months since my partner and co-organizer of CITY OPEN Workshop, Elle Ramel and I started organizing these workshops. We are both very enthusiastic about social impact and civic projects through the lens of urban planning and urban design. Without much experience or resources to run a platform, we just started one. We wanted to bring our colleagues from architectural/urban design and urban planning together to help others and (on the way) learn from each other–I guess in a way sharing with others what a great experience our interactions and exchanges had represented for us.
From our perspective of young professionals, we couldn't identify with a platform or organization that could help us to contribute with our skills to social impact projects, other of course, than volunteering as an individual with non-profits. I contribute with a significant amount (maybe to much sometimes) pro-bono work to a diversity of projects; Elle is also a generous volunteer. We are both passionate about mentoring, and just believe in helping other people to learn something new or use our skills and education for the greater good.
During our very first conversations, we discuss how inspiring were all these emerging platforms organized by young professionals in Chicago and U.S. testing models for supporting public interest projects and civic initiatives through volunteering work: The One Plus (Architecture and Planning), Chi Hack Nights (Technology). Equally important, they were also creating space for civic-minded and passionate people supporting their communities to come together and aggregate their efforts. We are very interested in enabling a local space where young designers and planners can do the same.
So, writing it up was our first task—the rest got done along the way:
CITY OPEN Workshop is hands-on bi-weekly meet up to share, learn and contribute to projects connecting city design and public policy.
During Fall season, as we now refer to it, we were testing the gathering part of it: Would people come? Why they would be interested? How can we convey the importance of challenging the "siloed" approach that our professional development and resources encourage? Architects hang out with architects; planners hang out with planners; engineers only meet up with other engineers. Our cities are in much more need of interdisciplinary thinking; moreover, of skills and knowledge that aggregate and complement. We learned tremendously from each other, from our process, and from those who where generous to join us and share their stories of civic projects at different scales: Activate ChicagoUrban RiversCenter for Neighborhood TechnologyFuture FirmOTIS Fresh FarmPublic DecibelWe All Live HereCityScape These eight workshops over the span of four months were what we called the "pilots".
The Spring Season has been interesting in a different way: we are hosting the workshops in the communities that we are contributing to—we are learning from their work and how to support it by being in the field. We have workshopped both in the awesome, state-of-the-art, beautiful office space of Cannon Design in the Chicago Loop and K Berry Cafe, the kitty-corner recently opened business in the middle of Bronzeville (a historically rich Southside Chicago neighborhood). It takes a lot of energy, effort and commitment to keep the workshops running in a consistent manner. Elle and I are always exhausted after every workshop–we are usually running from our daytime full-time jobs to do a little catch-up and set up, but also super energized with the conversations and supporting work to help community organizations grow and achieve their visions. We haven't talked about the next season yet, but many ideas to make a better platform is for sure part of this discussion. The most rewarding part of this work is bringing people together. Elle and I are strong believers of the power collectiveness. Stay tuned.