TEDxScottsdale - Yuri Artibise: Finding My Way Though the Urban Desert


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On April 21st, I had the honor of speaking at TEDxScottsdale. the evenings theme was urban sustainability. I talked about my experience in the urban desert better known as Phoenix, what i learned and how i created a sustainable urbanism here.

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  • I'm not an architect or an urban planner. Indeed I wasn't even an urbanist until a few years ago—I didn’t even know there was such a thing. \nUntil moving to Phoenix, I thought that urbanism was the status quo. Sure I knew that suburbs existed—I even grew up in one—but there had always been a central core to escape to.\n\n
  • Upon arriving here, I didn't have a car; I didn’t even have a driver’s license. \nI spent my first months here doing a lot of walking, a lot of transit, and a lot of cycling. \nIn doing so I got a crash course in how cities worked, or rather didn't work. \nI also began to discover oases in this urban desert. Isolated and small to be sure, but it was a start. \n•There were places like the Downtown Phoenix farmers market and local coffee shops;\n•There were events like First Friday Art Walks and networking groups like Radiate Phoenix;\n•There were advocacy organizations like Downtown Voices Coalition and Local First Arizona;\n•There is an extensive network of over 200 neighborhood organizations in Phoenix alone.\nEncouraged by these discoveries:\n•I began attending meetings and events. \n•I started volunteering my time and energy with a few groups. \n•I started attending City Hall Hearings \nBefore I knew it, I was finding my way through the urban desert. \nBut something was still missing.\n\n
  • About this time, social media was really taking off. Blogging had gained critical mass, Facebook was gaining steam and Twitter had just been launched.\nI began poking around these sites and finding like minds both in Phoenix and around the world.\nI started visited blogs to see how urbanists in other cities were using the power of social media to build community in their own neighborhoods.\nThrough Twitter and Facebook I learned of even more community events and groups in Phoenix.\n\nEncouraged by these further discoveries, I decided it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself.\nIt was time to start creating the type of community I wanted to be part of.\n\n
  • My first step was my blog, which started as a way to curate and discuss what I was finding through my research as well as what I was observing online.\nI also started writing for other online magazines and websites. This allowed me to meet even more people doing cool and interesting things around town.\nAs a result, I started getting asked to attend and organize with other events. I even was asked to speak at a few of them!\nThe urban oases were multiplying.\nSoon, attending events and writing about what was going on wasn’t enough. Something was still missing.\nI wanted to give back in a tangible way. \nI wanted to create my own community in the urban desert.\n
  • As part of my research for my blog, I came across an event called Jane’s Walk. \nThe walks are held in memory of Jane Jacobs.\nJane was an activist and author who championed the interests and knowledge of local residents over a centralized approach to city building. \nShe passed away in 2006, but her legacy lives on. \nI had long been a fan of her writing, and her book, the Death and Life of Great American Cities, was one of the books I turned to when trying to find my way. \nI also had the privilege of meeting Jane during a couple of her book tours before she passed away.\n
  • Jane’s Walks are a series of free walking tours held on the first weekend of May each year. \nThey celebrates the ideas and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs by getting people out exploring their neighbourhoods and meeting their neighbours. \nJane’s Walks are led by local residents—people like you and me—who want to celebrate their neighborhoods and talk about what matters to them in the places they live and work. \nThese neighborhood-walking tours started in Toronto in 2007 and quickly expanded to cities around the world; but it hadn’t reached Phoenix yet.\nI decided that bringing a Jane’s Walk to Phoenix would be a perfect opportunity to not only honor one of my heroes, but also to begin creating a community in Phoenix.\n\n
  • Little did I know that I would get so much more out of it. \nThrough hosting Jane’s Walks in 2009 and 2010 and organizing several more this year, I’ve learned that people want and need opportunities to get to not only know the places they live and work, but also to meet and interact with their fellow residents. \nThrough the simple act of walking together, we begin to learn about each other’s lives and their connections the neighborhood. \nIt is through such conversations that shared understanding and a sense of belonging are nurtured and a sense of places is created.\nUltimately these conversations become the stories that are part of a strong and resourceful community.\n\n
  • Soon after the success of the first Jane’s Walk in 2009, I learned about another annual event—Park(ing) Day.\nPark(ing) Day held in September each year.\nHere, residents pay for a metered parking spot, but instead of parking our car on it, they create a park.\nBy temporarily transforming a parking spot into a PARK(ing) space we are attempting to expand our public space and improving the livability of our cities—at least until the meter runs out.\nIt’s a way to remind ourselves—and our fellow residents who walk by—how important it is to have some space to sit, relax and connect.\nBut most importantly, it is an opportunity to create community, engage the public and begin a dialogue. \nBest yet it is practically free. For the cost of what many of us already have on our patio, we can create community. \n
  • But unlike with Jane’s Walk, I had a lot harder time making it happen. \nPerhaps it was the rogue (although perfectly legal) element of it, but—unlike Jane’s Walk—I couldn’t convince any of my friends to help\nI had all but given up until about two weeks from the event; I received a message from somebody in Phoenix asking if I was still interested in doing something.\nI told her my story and my difficulties.\nHer response was basically So What? Lets just do it, and even if it is just the two of us, it will be something to build on.\nAnd it was!\n
  • While Park(ing) Day hasn’t had the public resonance of Jane’s Walk. It has been on of the most meaningful events I have been involved in here.\nPerhaps it’s the roguish act of playing Frisbee on the side of a street, or sitting in a lounge chair where a SUV usually parks, but Park(ing) Day has created deeper friendships that I could have ever imagined. \nI have met some of my closest and dearest friends though this event. And not only are they great friends, they are also amongst the most active in their neighborhood and in many cases have gone on to hold their own community events. \nTogether, we have helped create a passionate, active urban tribe in downtown Phoenix.\nThis puts the truth to the adage that “the harder the effort, the greater the reward.” \nIt also confirms that even a small handful of people can have a big impact—even if it isn’t that one you had originally envisioned.\nBest yet it is practically free. For the cost of what many of us already have on your patio, you too can help create community. \n\n
  • After holding these two annual events, I knew I was on to something. However, two events a year wasn’t enough for me to build the type of community I was looking for. I needed something more regular.\nHence Places, Spaces and Faces.\n\nWe rarely get this opportunity to get together with people who aren’t on our usual roster of friends and family. \nIt’s rare to share our time, much less our home-cooked food with a stranger we’ve just met\nYet, this is what happens at the Places, Spaces and Faces Community Dinner each month.\nIt started just over a year ago and has been held on the third Saturday of every month.\nSometimes there’s a speaker and a topic of discussion. \nOther times it’s simply an opportunity to get together and share food and stories in a special place.\n\n
  • PSF is not an exclusive club. It’s open to the public. There are no membership or admission fees, other than a potluck dish.\nRather, it’s a way to get together with our fellow residents and share some things with them: our time, our food, our stories, and most importantly, ourselves. \nThere is no ulterior motive to this gathering. They are NOT for business networking, nor fund-raising, nor meeting dates, although any or all of these things happen there on occasion. \nThe purpose of it is purely to come together as a community.\nTo be with—and talk to—one another. \n\n
  • I can’t take credit for creating this event—that goes to my friend and fellow urbanist, Taz Loomans.\nBut PSF is something that I’ve felt was special since the beginning. It highlights another aspect of creating community in the urban desert.\nThis simple premise of getting together with interesting people in interesting places has proven to be a powerful formula for all sorts of friendships, ideas, and connections.\nThere’s something meaningful about sitting down over a meal. It forms a unique bond between people. \nPerhaps more importantly it forms these bonds in special places, tying us no only closer to each other, but the neighborhoods in which we live, furthering our sense of place.\n
  • Through these events, and numerous others that I’ve created, assisted or simply attended in Phoenix, I’ve not only been able to find my way through this urban desert we call home.\nIn the process, I’ve learned a lot about urbanism, sustainability—and most importantly—community.\n•I’ve learned that we are all responsible for the success of the places we live. \n•I’ve learned that we can’t have a good city, sustainable neighborhoods, vibrant places to live, play and work if we don’t have a strong sense of community. \n•But most importantly—in the spirit of TED—I’ve learned my ‘Idea Worth Spreading.’\n\n
  • That idea is “Cities ARE people.”\nCommunity events like the ones I’ve mentioned help forge people together and instill in them the idea that WE are the city. \nIf we feel that we are separate from our city, we will continue to be ‘victims’ of all the things that aren’t working, instead of becoming a part of the solution. \nWe need to stop waiting for someone else start the initiatives that we want to see. \nIf we truly desire urban sustainability, we need to become “co-creators” of the type of cities we want to live in.\nBy retaking control of our communities and making our own changes—no matter how small—we can be the leading edge of a sustainable urbanism.\nSoon, the few oases we have in this urban desert, will not only multiply, but also begin to weave with each other into a vibrant city.\n\nMany of the things I’ve talked about are a mindset change, and cost nothing other than time. \nThe major investment is a shift in thinking from the prevailing YO-YO ethic (“you’re on your own”) to a WITT mindset (“we’re in this together”). \nOnce we consider ourselves a community, and stewards of not only one another’s well being, but also the well being of our city, anything is possible.\n\n
  • Alas, like all good things in life, they come to an end. I will be leaving Phoenix next week to return to Canada – Vancouver to be exact. \nSince I’ve announced that I’d be leaving Phoenix, I’ve had several people tell me that there will be a big hole in the community without me. \nWhile I an honored—and humbled‑ by this, I’m also a little bit frustrated. One of my main goals in Phoenix has been to empower others to act.\nIf TED is about Ideas it is also about Wishes. It is my TED wish, or more accurately my TEDx wish that each one of you take a small step to build your community.\nRemember, it doesn’t need to take much money, or even time to create community, even in the urban desert.\nIt can be as small as simply getting to know the person sitting beside you tonight, attending a neighborhood meeting, or participating in this year’s Jane’s Walk, Park(ing) Day or the next Place’s Spaces and Faces. \nMany of you will find that this first step will encourage participation in others and, perhaps even starting your own.\nIf you all take this small step, soon any hole that may be felt by my departure will turn in to a mountain of community. \nThis will make Phoenix a better place and my time here will have been worth it.\n\nTHANK YOU\n\n
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  • TEDxScottsdale - Yuri Artibise: Finding My Way Though the Urban Desert

    1. 1. April 21, 2011, ASU SkySongUrban Sustainability: this desert, these cities, we people Yuri Artibise Finding My Way Through the Urban Desert
    2. 2. Lost in the Urban Desert Flickr | plasticdollhouse
    3. 3. Downtown Phoenix Lost in the Urban Desert Flickr | plasticdollhouse
    4. 4. Finding My Way Flickr | cloneofsnake
    5. 5. Yurbanism Flickr | RaulP
    6. 6. Janeʼs Walk http:// torontosavvy.files.wordpress.com
    7. 7. Jane’s Walk Yuri Artibise
    8. 8. Jane’s Walk Flickr | Light.Rail.Blogger
    9. 9. Park(ing) Day
    10. 10. Park(ing) DayYuri Artibise
    11. 11. Park(ing) DayRhonda Bannard
    12. 12. Places, Spaces & Faces Taz Loomans
    13. 13. Places, Spaces & Faces Taz Loomans
    14. 14. Places, Spaces & Faces Taz Loomans
    15. 15. What I’ve Learned Flickr | ChrisM70
    16. 16. Cities are People Jasper James
    17. 17. My WishFlickr | Sayeg, Catie 3
    18. 18. yuri.artibise@gmail.com yuriaritibiseyuriartibise.com yuriaritibise@yuraritibise yuriaritibiseyuriaritibise