Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Listening, Connection, and Community Design

So a while ago, I started my philosophical treatise on connection -- how connection is really the moral standard because it reflects the reality of the cosmos. It's gravity. It's chemical bonds. It's storytelling and love and family and community. All those things.

Today, reading Planning in the Face of Power by John Forester (a classic text, by the way), as he described the difference between listening and hearing, I made the connection that even this distinction is really at its heart a moral as well as practical reliance on -- connectedness.

You grant someone a hearing. It's institutional. You separate them from you. Their words fall upon your ears, and you make of them what you will. Listening means entering into relationship with the speaker. Meeting them halfway. Acknowledging your relationship in order that you may understand not just their words but their meaning. Forester advocates this kind of listening as the basis of good planning practice but also as essential community building, as well as engaging fully in all our relationships, personal as well as professional.

Zooming out a little, I see that this kind of engagement, this meeting halfway, this commitment to connection, is what I described below that leads to compounding interest of goodwill and good energy.

Happily, Forester's distinction serves as the basis of community design as "making sense together," which solves my biggest thesis problem, which I thought was, how can you plan a space for all these different identities? What would it possibly look like, and how can I know? According to my advisor, and now Forester, there is no prescriptive aesthetic or physical element -- there must not be. The process must be open and inclusive, and the design falls out of that earnest interaction and conversation. The design process models and begins to foster the very type of community interaction that the space should be able to support. So there.

It's all connected. QED.

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