Lab | Log

A Week of Design, a Mark of a Movement

Every so often I’m struck by the fact that I’m living through a movement.

It might sound strange, but it’s something I’ve always wanted. Even as a child I was obsessed with revolutions.

When I was in the second grade my mom was completing a degree in American history. I remember cozying up next to her on the couch while she highlighted passages in her textbooks with my Crayola markers, and begging her to tell me stories of the Boston Tea Party, the Underground Railroad, and the suffragettes.

Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. were regular figures in the bedtime stories I would demand.

I’d even rewind and replay the Vietnam War protest scene at the Lincoln Memorial in Forrest Gump over and over, so enchanted with the peace movement that I would tell my mom that I wished I’d been alive in the 1960s so that I, too, could have been a hippie with something to fight for.

She’d shake her head and tell me I should consider myself lucky that I didn’t have to be.

Now that I look back on it, of course, I understand what she meant. Being conscious of a world plagued by crises, it turns out, is not as glamorous as my naïve eight-year-old self thought it was. Especially not when those crises are converging to the breaking point necessary to tip frustration into revolution.

Yet there is something undeniably exhilarating about a moment where you suddenly realize that you are witnessing a shift in consciousness as it sweeps a generation off its feet—one that will shape the future and the perception of the past.

The most obvious of these in my time has been the environmental movement. You only need to watch Danish police beating the crud out of 30,000 climate change activists on television once to know that we’re entering into a new era of civic discontent.

But sometimes the realization comes more subtly, and yesterday this happened to me.

It happened as I was perusing the online program for Urban Design Week—the first annual public festival “created to engage New Yorkers in the fascinating and complex issues of the public realm, and to celebrate the streetscapes, sidewalks, and public spaces at the heart of city life.”

The schedule is packed, the sponsors are big, but most of all, as I discovered to my dismay, the events are chockablock sold out. And as I scrolled through fascinating event after fascinating event, each one as sold out as the last, it struck me suddenly just how many people today care about our cities, and are hoping and fighting for a better urban future.

It struck me that I am witnessing the urban movement.

Of course, this has been staring me in the face for the past month. Since the Lab opened on August 3, well over 20,000 people have made their way through its gates with the express purpose of engaging in dialogue to help find and create a better future for our cities.

So when I learned that the first ever Urban Design Week will kick off at none other than the Lab itself tonight, I nearly leapt out of my seat with joy (a sign, perhaps, that I am the ultimate product of the urban generation). What a perfect partnership for such an exciting event.

As part of the festival, the Lab will also host the launch of an interactive website for the People Make Parks project, which helps New Yorkers participate in the design of their city parks.

Over the next five days, as New York plays host to dozens of brilliant and exciting events—all full of people who believe that forging a path toward a better urban future is something worth fighting for—I hope you’ll be there.

Because finally, I will be too.

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Photo: used by permission under Creative Commons Attribution License from marc falardeau