Does Being a Part of a Group Make Us Meaner?
The Case Against Overtime

Planning How to Nourish Love in Columbia

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I missed the third class in the "Creating Columbia" mini-course offered by the Columbia Archives--I was busy screaming my head off as my son ran the 3200 meter race in the Indoor Track state championships.  Luckily, Barbara Kellner was kind enough to send me the notes from her talk.  The class focused on a piece of the history of Columbia that intrigues me the most: "The Work Group", an advisory board of experts that Jim Rouse convened beginning in November, 1963.

As I understand it, the Work Group was an expression of Rouse's innovative approach to city planning.  He wanted to include a community's social, emotional and aesthetic interests into the planning process.  In his instructions to the Work Group, Rouse wrote:

“For many years, we have noted the wide gap between the people who are planning, designing, and developing our cities and the people with the knowledge about problems and solutions, hopes and opportunities among people in our urban society. Everywhere, plans proceed out of the ideas and images in the minds of the planners and developers. Almost nowhere does planning begin with the needs and yearning of the people.

“It is our purpose to plan out from the real needs of people, as best we can discover them, toward the physical form of the community and the institutions which are established in it. The course is largely uncharted, because there is very little precedent for what we are attempting. We have no illusions about the difficulties of relating such knowledge as does exist about how people live and grow, succeed or fail to the planning and development process. We do not expect to plan the ‘perfect’ community. We simply believe that by starting from people and working out we may get some new shafts of light that can influence the physical plan and development decisions. It is for that purpose that we have solicited your help, and it is to that task that we will bend our efforts with you over the months ahead.” 

Of course, people had thought before about the connection between "the physical form of the community" and the "real needs of people".  But in the 1950's, much of that thinking was focused on how developers could rejuvenate cities by tearing down blighted neighborhood are rebuilding cleaner, newer stuctures instead.  Planners looked at crowded, older neighborhoods full of poor and working-class blacks, Latinos and ethnic whites and decided that everyon's lives would be better if they would move into newly-constructed high-rise public housing--or move out of the city.

I've heard that "Urban Renewal" was successful in some areas of Pittsburgh and elsewhere, but in Boston it was a complete disaster.  The resulting "Government Center" area is without a doubt the ugliest and most awkward public space I have ever expereinced.  Writer Bill Wasik described the area this way: "It is as if the space were calibrated to render futile any gathering, large or small, attempted anywhere on its arid expanse."  Government Center was the end result of an urban renewal process that involved the near-total destruction of a vibrant Italian Catholic and Jewish neighborhood, the West End.  

The West Enders received their eviction notices in 1958, and five years later, when the Work Group convened, their experience was without a doubt part of the conversation.  I'm sure of this because the sociologist Herbert Gans was part of the group from its beginning.  Gans' book on the West End, "The Urban Villagers:  Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans" had just been published.  Gans--and Rouse--knew exactly what they shouldn't do.  The planners should not be over-confident of their ability to improve people's lives simply through building them better homes on nicer streets.  Other factors needed to be in the mix.

But as we all know, it is one thing to recognize mistakes in the past and something else entirely to change your way of thinking in order not to replicate those mistakes.  Rouse called the first meeting of the Work Group, "the worst day I ever spent, [like] walking through mud."  The account of that meeting in "New City Upon a Hill" by Joseph Rocco Mitchell and David L. Stebenne continues:

The group seemed directionless, as each participant sought to establish territoriality and began to express negativity regarding Columbia's future.  The tenor of the meeting changed when Chester Rapkin, a housing expert, brought up the word Rouse had been asked to eschew--love!  "You know we are all missing the point of these discussions," he said.  "We are being asked how in a new community to nourish love."  According to Jim Rouse, "the morale and performance of the group was transformed.  And from then on, for four months, it was a creative, vigorous, sharing experience. (pp. 69-70)

That's the part of the history of Columbia that intrigues me the most.  Love is what brought it together.

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John Chadwick

Planning How to Nourish Love in Columbia
My family arrived in Columbia in 1970 after living for four years in Frankfurt Germany. Both of my parents worked for NSA, and most of their friends I considered family were also NSA. Before we lived in Germany we had lived in Berwyn Heights not far from College Park. Columbia was explained to me as the City of the Future. Keeping in mind I was angry that my older Brother who now works for NASA had seniority over me on Saturday morning, so I had to watch them walk on the moon and miss Saturday morning cartoons on my first weekend back in the United States, which I had not seen for four years. I started making animated films as soon as we arrived in Columbia, we had stop motion car races, Mister Magician, so my interests were very well defined at an early age.
I have always believed in God. I thought when I returned to Columbia that my faith was one hundred percent, however; my faith has deepened since returning to the East Coast and this is largely due to Kittamaqundi Community. I jokingly explain how I am a born again Christian as my regular attendance in a Church started shortly after my near death experience, nine days in a coma followed by three operations and two and a half months getting in and out of a wheel chair and back onto my feet.
Following my rehabilitation from this injury on a one year follow up visit to the doctors who saved my life I wrote a book which was never published which I titled The Long Road Home. I do recall telling Normale when I returned to Columbia that it was good to be home. And were you to read my book, which was in many ways the realization that a screenplay for a film I never managed to shoot, which I titled Innergalactic Missionary, was very much a vision of what was taking shape in the world today. So there is a touch of Dorothy, and Toto too, regarding off to see the wizard, or there is no place like home.
It was in writing my version of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, The Long Road Home, which were written at the same time coincidentally, where I came to view my writing not so much as fiction but rather as vision. If you can accept the concept that the future is planned well in advance and that on some level life is a self fulfilling prophecy.
Columbia holds a special place in my heart, as do all the familiar faces in the Kittamaqundi Community. I often joke that I did not find God; that would be Kurt Cobain, you see, God found me. So God bless you, you are forever in my prayers. Thank you for feeding me your unique blessings and another piece to the puzzle. I do not want to hijack this thread, but in my own way I welcome the opportunity to play a part on the team to nourish love in Columbia.

Jessie Newburn

Hi Heather,

Thanks for writing these pieces / perspectives, Heather. It's especially appealing to see this information through your I-didn't-grow-up-here lense. I want to let you know about a nifty feature we have with HoCoBlogs; it allows any blogger to redirect any blog post to another category on our site. This is particularly useful for people who write about local issues some of the time but not all of the time. More info about this option is available here - http://hocoblogs.wordpress.com/for-bloggers-2/hyper-local-content/

See you around!
Jessie

PS - Hi John, Go Scorps!

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