Diving In

I started at Gehl Institute during one of the most divisively violent weeks in recent history in the United States.

The events in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, are vicious reminders that some people are unwanted in the public realm, that their lives carry little meaning. Casual participation in the everyday, by selling CDs in front of a friend’s store, by driving home after an afternoon of running errands, by being more visible in the public realm, was met with violent and deadly disapproval. Officers protecting peaceful demonstrators were targeted and killed.

Gehl Institute was established to improve public life for all and we hope to share more about our hopes and aspirations in the weeks to come. But we felt strongly that the events in the last week deserve acknowledgement and a reaction: the work of the Black Lives Matter movement that has been building over the last couple of years, these violent ends, and the lives taken.

What we want to say is that we are there with you.

One of the personal commitments I made by taking this role was to work to make visible what has been invisible in the public realm for so long. Gehl Institute’s work to uphold public life will be difficult as we attempt to move beyond a critique of design and planning to address widespread  social challenges; to look beyond project by project outcomes and seek systemic change; and to expand the participation of design, planning, and research professionals to include more people and voices who share our goals of shared humanity in the public realm. We are likely to get things wrong in our pursuit of what’s right. We are hopeful, however, the process of opening ourselves up to the challenge and to learning- as students of people and public life- will dismantle some faulty structures, and contribute to and co-create better ones.

Now I’m reminded of Cornel West’s words:  “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

The physical public realm has suffered mightily from a long, passive abdication of the common good. But this shared space was never open to all. This week was a vicious and cruel reminder that for too many, especially people of color, particularly black people, that being in public, having a public life, can even be deadly. That their participation will be actively cut short. Enough. We have to find our love and respect for people in public. We are there with you.