The Foshay from the 50th

On Friday, I hauled myself out of bed at sunrise to trek downtown for a breakfast event. Sunrise isn't all that early in the beginning of March, nonetheless it was 6:30 and that was early for me. I managed to catch the only sunlight of the day.

An eagle flew overhead as I crossed the new 35W bridge that is over the Mississippi River. A good omen for what turned into a good morning.

The talk was sponsored by the Minnesota International Center and the speaker was Majora Carter who is celebrated for her productive efforts to "Green the Ghetto." The event took place on the 50th floor of the IDS building. I'd forgotten that, and after a shaky, disorienting ride up the elevator, I was quite surprised to see such a wonderful view.

There was quite the view of the Foshay Tower, and the numerous windows on the 50th floor framed the slender rise of the tower from a multiplicity of angles.





I'll take any chance I can get to look down upon the city like this. Things seems to make sense, there seems to be a sense of order to the open lots with the rows and rows of cars, the sharp corners of the city streets on the grid, the rise of so many buildings like trees growing in a concrete jungle. It was easy to see how we are all connected, all part of the same human system.

I kept thinking why isn't this working for us? There are so many people working in these office spaces in the sky, shouldn't they have a better grip on the world? Shouldn't such lofty view inspire compassion, gratitude, good will?

I was rewarded for my thoughts with the great talk given by Carter. Here's the description offered on the MIC website:

Majora Carter pioneered urban green economic practices in one of the country's most difficult environments: the South Bronx, N.Y. By connecting the right type of training, policy and relationships, she now helps cities across the U.S. realize the value of integrating infrastructure and the local economy in ways that benefit everyone. Ms. Carter will be in Minnesota to serve as the keynote speaker for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, which will be held at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

I was immediately struck with the relevancy of her vision to addressing the challenges of this century. She began by quoting another woman from her neighborhood who said: "You shouldn't have to move out of your neighborhood in order to live in a good neighborhood."

That idea resonated deeply within me. Especially now since I'm trying to make sense of life here in Minnesota, trying to tease out what it is about this town that appeals to me and the Big D. And hearing that quote made me think I no longer have to justify my reasons for remaining in this city, although I should make certain to notice my surroundings and perhaps contribute to improving and greening this community.

She talked about "horticultural infrastructure" and the importance of adding this element to city planning, the importance of having an abundance of green things to improve the air, cool rooftops, thus reducing our dependence on limited energy sources. There was discussion about ways to train crews for green projects, the possibility for alternative energy sources being connected to a national grid. All very interesting stuff that made up for the crappy breakfast meal and high ticket price for attending the event.

I'm a girl that likes the woods, the solitude of remote places, but I also find a lot of value in those things connected to the grid, city resources that enrich my everyday life whether it be necessary utilities or public benefits such as libraries. And not all of us who live in the city can sprawl towards and over the green space, the woodland spaces of Minnesota. Helping to improve the city keeps people in the city.

These changes are no longer an ideal to strive for. They are necessary for sustaining our abundant lifestyles. They are necessary in making certain that all communities have access to these things. Carter didn't waste too much time on ideals but rather offered real, practical solutions out there to fighting poverty, unemployment and violence in our communities. Real practical efforts to reduce our reliance on oil and fossil fuels and increase our use of clean, alternative energies such as wind and solar.

The question that I had for the speaker was "what role or contribution can the Arts have in this effort to green our world?" While it's true that artists and their various forms of art should be included in the green spaces created for the public, there must also be other ways in which the Arts can improve communication, educate the public, seek to tease out visions for the future. In response to my question, Carter offered the idea the Arts provides a way to see beauty that is fundamental to building communities, bringing people together in celebration of community.

It's going to take me a while to wrap my brain around this questions. I want to think more about other ways in which the Arts can contribute as this country is facing a real green revolution. My own artistic endeavors focus on capturing moments in my woodland environment, the green park spaces in my neighborhoods, the stark beauty of the desert which is so alien to my midwest sensibilities. I am left with the wondrous feeling that my effort to push my art to a different level was inspired by a birds-eye view of the city grid.

Surprising and wondrous - apt words for describing this burgeoning national interest in greening our cities in a way that improves life for all of us in this human system.

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