Today is not just any Thursday...it’s Green Community opening day. Actually we’ve had a “soft” opening, with one wonderful celebratory event after another. Press, advisors, supporters, members, friends...have already had the chance to see what everyone can now see. Although those who know me well would agree that I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t like, I have to admit that I felt some uncharacteristic butterflies Tuesday night when Chase introduced me to make a few remarks to the hundreds of people in the audience. As I said then, I could have done nothing but thank people, one after another, for making the exhibition what it is, but there was wine to drink, food to enjoy, and the exhibition itself to see, so I kept things brief. But there are a few things left to say, and isn’t that what a blog is for? So, today’s blog comes in 3 acts: Another Surprise, The Biggest Thrill, More Thanks.
As I wrote on an earlier post, there are always surprises when something from the design world finally enters the real world, the experienced world. I’ve raved about the daylight, pointing out to the press on Monday how unusual it is to have a naturally lit exhibition. The surprise comes with how the space and its contents change with the day, from morning to afternoon, from sunny to cloudy. I hope that people will come back at least once a season, and at different times of the day just to see it. But it will take some getting used to. Museum visitors are accustomed to controlled conditions. The steady, if often very low, light levels and the consistent temperature of most exhibitions cocoon the visitor in a world not of this world. It can be an extraordinary experience to enter such a world, finally emerging, blinking and hungry (I always get hungry at museums) wondering what time it is. But, for Green Community it was important to remind our visitors... and ourselves...that this green exhibition is in the world, and the world is in the exhibition. Further, that we are in this place, on the south edge of this building, facing this Law Enforcement Memorial, atop this Metro station. The local contains the global. Will visitors articulate it to themselves in that way? It’s not necessary that they do, but if they stand in a sunny spot because it’s warmer there, or notice that the rotating globe at the entry wall becomes more vibrant in the late winter afternoon, or sometime next July gravitate to the cool of the Water section, then they have experienced the power of the changing natural environment on the designed environment.
The Biggest Thrill
You’re probably wondering why I called this post “Stella!” Veteran GC-ers already know that the tiniest community in the exhibition is Stella, Missouri (pop. 187) and its story would seem like a movie were it not true. So, Hollywood, here’s the pitch: Small farming town feels sprawl breathing down the highway from the HQ of a Big Successful Company up the Road. Citizens want their town to thrive, but not change character. A few spunky women of a certain age take matters into their own hands, buttonhole Bureaucrats at a meeting to get help to clean up an abandoned hospital, and map out a new plan for the future. (Here’s where Hollywood typecasting falls apart: The Bureaucrats? They are the good guys!) What happens next? Town meetings with architects and planners from the Environmental Protection Agency leads to an entire town talking about what its citizens value, what they fear, what they want for their children, and together government and the people make a plan. We learned about Stella from the incredibly helpful folks at the EPA. In fact, I would encourage all of our visitors to read every word in the exhibition and not to stop at the main text. Read the fine print and see who made each of these projects happen. While Washington-bashing is a seasonal activity, as we see these days, and the city is used as a synecdoche for everything wrong with the world, few of these U.S. based projects would have gone anywhere without federal funds, expertise, and cooperation. But Stella’s future was and remains in the hands of its devoted citizens and my biggest thrill Tuesday night was meeting three of the town’s matriarchs, two of whom were the initiators of the whole project. They shared their plans with me to open a bakery and dance studio—“for all the little girls in town who want to learn to dance”—on the main floor of their town’s most historic building and then add an apartment above. That’s the essence of sustainability.
The official thanks have been given, these are my own:
Reed, Cathy, Sandra, Alfred, Parker, Ken, Sarah, Asad, Jared, Martha, Lisa, , Hank, Chris, Shelagh, Brigid, Denisse, Simon, Sabrina, Kaid, Bill, Kira, Mary, the hardworking dedicated folks who invent, implement, and shepherd programs at EPA, DOE, HUD and the Interagency Sustainability Working Group inclusive but not limited to Phil, Phil, Alison, Edwin, Mike, Richard, Wendy, Pat, and to the EPA person whose name is buried in my notes who called me from an airport on the way from a conference to answer a question, and Eleonora, her mother Stella (another Stella!), Jane, Vicki and George, and... Douglas.