There are few things in life that don’t disappoint. TED talks is a stand out: delivering exciting, stimulating, interesting new perspectives on just about everything under the sun. And some things that are beyond our ken.
My stint in NYC was spent living on the 29th floor of an apartment building that overlooked the Hudson River … I could see all the way up to the George Washington Bridge and all the way down to lower West Side. I had windows on three sides of the apartment – and never felt hemmed in.I had light, warmth, security, great position – but I had no neighbours.
There were at least four apartments on each floor, more on the lower floors. And two blocks of 40 stories each. So I had plenty of neighbours. But I didn’t know them. We never interacted any further than a brief ‘Hello” at the elevators. Even decisions that had to be made together – like whether to replace the dry-cleaner with a coffee shop: were proposed by leaflet in our mailboxes, with responses via email. All those people, all that potential – all unexplored.
In this six-minute TED talk, artist Candy Chang tells how she has tried to share more with her neighbours by using public spaces. Her projects came from questions she had for the people who lived around her: in part, practical queries … like how much rent did they pay? And was there a better time to borrow a cup of sugar? But Chang was also interested in knowing their thoughts around rebuilding and creating. She wonderd how she could solicit communal wisdom and harness it to create neighbourhoods that reflected the actual needs, wants, hopes and desires of the people living in them.
“… over the past few years, I’ve tried ways to share more with my neighbors in public space, using simple tools like stickers, stencils and chalk”. says Chang in her talk. “There are a lot of ways the people around us can help improve our lives. We don’t bump into every neighbor, so a lot of wisdom never gets passed on, though we do share the same public spaces.”
To find answers: Chang and a group of friends turned the side of an abandoned house in her own neighbourhood into a giant chalkboard. They stenciled it with a fill-in-the-blank sentence: “Before I die, I want to … “. Their idea: that anyone walking by could just pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives and share their response in public.
Her neighbors’ answers proved surprising, poignant, funny and became an unexpected mirror for the community. “I didn’t know what to expect from this experiment, but by the next day, the wall was entirely filled out, and it kept growing.”
“So this neglected space became a constructive one, and people’s hopes and dreams made me laugh out loud, tear up, and they consoled me during my own tough times. It’s about knowing you’re not alone. It’s about understanding our neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It’s about making space for reflection and contemplation, and remembering what really matters most to us as we grow and change.
Since then, Chang and her Civic Center colleagues have received hundreds of messages from people who want to do the same in their communities. So they have created a website on which we can post our aspirations and a toolkit, to help people realise their own walls. And now there are walls all over the world: in Kazakhstan, South Africa, Australia, Argentina … and the call just keeps growing. Chang believes: Together, we’ve shown how powerful our public spaces can be if we’re given the opportunity to have a voice and share more with one another.
Chang believes that asking that one simple question: about the one experience we will all one day face alone – helps us to connect with others. “Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with other people. In our age of increasing distractions, it’s more important than ever to find ways to maintainperspective and remember that life is brief and tender. Death is something that we’re often discouraged to talk about or even think about, but I’ve realized that preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life”.
So, what’s your answer?
(images courtesy Candy Chang, video courtesy youtube and Tedtalks)