Last Saturday, I assisted in the Greenbelt Alliance’s walking tour as part of my Complete Streets Audit studio course. We had over 25 people from the community of all backgrounds, demographics, and mobility degrees. It was great hearing everyone’s input and commentary of how they see their streets and their neighborhoods. Community engagement is fascinating, as the ideas and values are just as varied as the people, and though some opinions expressed didn’t align with what I believe in, it is nonetheless fascinating to have that sort of discussion and questioning of my own perspectives: to look at issues from other people’s shoes.
As we were walking through the corridor, I was conversing with a neighborhood advocate about how the community has changed through time. The conversation slowly moved to the circumstances of my generation, being the first one to potentially be worse off than our parents. It’s hard to hear that, though I know it has truth to it. My generation graduated college into the worst recession since the Great Depression with record amounts of student loans, lack of economic opportunities, and a dangerous environmental situation in global warming. It i’s an uphill battle for my generation to find its stride. It’s seems hopeless at times; however, it’s comforting to know that this environment of change is not unique, and that though this current generation has particular sets of challenges, the human race has been very resilient to turmoil.
Taking a look back through urban history, we can see in the Renaissance drastic changes in perceptions of destiny, life, and ways of subsistence. That was the period were class lines began to blur, where you were born into does not necessarily determine where you will end up. This cascades through to connected parts of history – the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Romanticism, and Modernism. These periods are important in leading to urban planning in the present, and each period was categorized by fear, change, upheaval, and progress. Yet from what I learned about urban history and comparing it to the literature of the present 3.0, I can’t help but feel that though our current period has aspects of economic, political, and social change, it is addressed with the greatest amount of pessimism and worry. It makes me wonder if generations from now this literature and mindset will be reflected. According to the Economist, we are in the midst of a third industrial revolution. Will our turn and enacting global change be the pessimism that surrounds our situation?
As far as I am concerned, the game is still going. The show is not over, and this period in history still has all the capacity to drive it to the direction it needs to be. Maybe it is unique in the present culture of instant information, that society follows social science trends. People react to changes in the stock market, and even speculation of market changes prompt behavior. What if it becomes the other way around, and everyone understands that social sciences and forecasted predictions don’t rule our future, they are just ways of helping us think critically of our behavior.
Our history provides us patterns, of economic rises and falls, political shifts in power, social and military warfare. However, history also provides us with lessons – that the worst circumstances can bring the best out of people and that nothing is out of the capacity of humanity as long as it is not complacant – that being creative, innovative, tolerant, and kind has always won out.
I have more faith in my generation and the present situation than maybe a lot of people, but I know I will at least do all I can to make this point, and every point in the future, the best it can be.