Great question, T. I think a good principle in LIFE (not just urban revitalization) is to listen & learn before you lead change. Not that you should feel paralyzed to share your talents with the world until you've reached some sort of "expert" status, but a good amount of question-asking, neighbor-meeting and general understanding about the history and culture of a place is important before you dive in to start something new.
In my time in Detroit, I've seen so many great examples of people who have moved here and had the humility (and courage, really) to ask questions. Tunde: You were one of them! We had conversations, lots of them. I learned from you, you learned from me. Sometimes the take-aways from those chats aren't immediately obvious, but they infuse our thinking & dreaming & scheming.
I think there is a tendency in cities to gravitate toward like-minded peers, often in our same age groups, neighborhoods & industries, even. This is natural, this is not inherently a bad thing. If you're a progressive liberal, you seek out with other progressive liberals. If you're a young adult away from your family, you might not naturally encounter a lot of children or elders.
But if you want to get involved in your community, it's important to get outside of your natural social network. Meet new people, visit unfamiliar places, ask difficult questions. Be curious, be open-minded, be a seeker. It will help improve your work, I promise.
This said, I do also agree with a great observation Veronika Scott (The Empowerment Plan) made about the value of naivete. Sometimes, if you over-learn, over-think & over-plan, you can talk yourself out of taking a first step towards doing something great. It's easy to get frozen if you're afraid of offending someone or misstepping somehow. So strive to have respect for your neighbors & environment without getting mired in fear.
If there is one thing I know for sure, it's that we're all imperfect humans. So if you encounter another imperfect human with good intentions but flawed execution, consider cutting him/her some slack. Mistakes & failure are a part of life, that's how we learn. I think most people want our fellow citizens to feel like they belong, to get involved, to take initiative and to feel ownership and pride in our community. As with all things in life, kindness and compassion are essential. Let's be a place that is open & welcoming to people & ideas.
Posted Mar 27, 2012