Every neighborhood will need to tend its own vineyard, with a better understanding of how this contributes to the urban terroir.—John Parman
In my last post, I explored the concept of urban terroir. at its root, this concept refers to the elements that make up the conditions of our urban spaces. Today, I want to look how to cultivate urban terroir and improve a city’s sense of place.
Cultivating urban terroir requires a conscious relationship. Despite an ever-growing city planning apparatus and an elaborate urban plans, the recent development of most cities in North America (and indeed the world) have largely reflected whims of politicians and developers. Most new projects are not focused on growing a sense of place for residents, but rather maximizing political bragging rights, and private sector profits. The result is a few mega-projects surrounded by large swathes of the city that remain undernourished and ultimately underperforming.
A city’s leadership has a vital role to play in rectifying this pattern and ensuring that ALL of their urban terroir is healthy. Just as a farmer must tend each plant over the course of the growing season, those involved in cultivating a city must tend to the needs of each resident, business owner and visitor if the community is to thrive.
Civic leaders (both politicians, activists alike) have to balance the claims of the developers with the needs of the community. Most of all, they need to avoid the ‘urban branding’ schemes and grand visions that promise solutions for all, but ultimately fail to deliver the desired changes. instead, they have to connect the dots and help the community understand and explore its options, neighborhood by neighborhood.
The community has responsibilities as well. Neighborhoods are alive because the people who live there care about them and take part in their cultivation. Alas, many communities have let their cultivation tools get a tad rusty. In an era where in almost ever other aspect of their lives, people go online to find information and connect with specific communities to cultivate their interests, the current mechanisms for connecting neighborhoods and communities are woefully dated.
While face to face town-hall style meeting will also remain an important part of community cultivation, we need to do a better job of applying the lessons and methods for social media to facilitating dialogue between “interested” communities, augmented by official city channels when necessary. President Obama’s revolutionary 2008 campaign illustrated the potential that such an approach has.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Just as harvesting a consistently high-quality of wine is a difficult challenge, made all the difficult by varieties in climate and other outsides forces, the same is true for cultivation communities. Outside factors will always exist. The trick is to deal with these when they arise, but continue to focus on the urban terroir that you can influence. It isn’t easy, but, like a great bottle of wine, cultivating a great community is worth the effort.