Tag Archives: creativity

Descent

As I descended into Detroit, I realized I’d lucked out with my window seat. As we flew west, I looked north to this view of the city of Detroit and nearby Windsor:

20130502-171707.jpg

When I looked out the window to take this picture, I put down my book, Detroit: A Biography by Scott Martelle. I had literally just finished the astounding story of alcohol being smuggled across this river during Prohibition. Martelle writes:

“…providentially it must have seemed, wartime prohibition laws across the river in Canada ended on January 1, 1920, a little more than two weeks before the American booze spigot was officially shut off” (Martelle, 104).

Powerful forces across this area of America looked to Detroit and the potential for illicit trade just across the Detroit River. There is no estimate for the extent of this underground empire, but both sides of the river saw a new market for rapid growth. And then I read about how this market, artificially created by a constitutional amendment, began to change the lives of locals.

Martelle writes,

“The smuggling business was so good that Canadian farmers gave up spring planting in favor of rum-running, letting their fields on the south side of the river lie fallow as they moved booze across the river in small launches.”

Everything changed in two weeks for the liquor export business in Windsor and the traditional way of life was left for new enterprise. And then I thought, this whole city has become like a fallow field: left for new opportunities and markets.

Detroit was planted, the city was carefully nourished and developed, and then it was left with no regard for heritage or tradition. The money ran dry (or ran away) and the people left with it. I guess, as much as you love a place, you have to feed yourself and your family. Even if you had a job you might have feared for your life. Detroit became a loser, a bad bet, and an unstable place to live:

“In March 2011, the US Census reported that the population of Detroit…had dropped to 714,000 people, down by a quarter-million since 2000 and by more than 1.1 million people from its peak of 2.8 million residents in 1950…” (Martelle, XII).

As Windsor plodded along at a casual, Canadian pace, Detroit rose to global fame and fell to national shame.

Today, people are overcoming the stigma that descended upon Detroit all those years ago and realizing there is still much to love. I’m amazed by the beauty and drama of the buildings and the potential of the space around them. And I’m not just squinting my eyes and using my imagination.

I don’t know what’s next for Detroit, but I’m glad to be here to see it unfold. The descent has been devastating and has left a shell of a place. I don’t know what Detroit can become without heavy industry, but creative citizens here are working to figure it out.

I’m just a tourist inspired by a story.

Advertisements

A is for Adaptive Reuse

There is nothing more creative than adaptive reuse. In a world of earth movers and concrete slabs, redeveloping old buildings has become more rare than starting from scratch. Adaptive reuse forces creative builders to work in an existing space and create something that honors the history of the space while also recreates a new use for old bricks.

My favorite current adaptive reuse project in Richmond is the Live/Work Lofts at Beckstoffer’s Mill. I like this project because it’s compact (one city block), extremely well-done (down to the brick sidewalks), and it’s in the middle of a neighborhood. The old wood mill has been reimagined and resurrected for twenty-first century use. Yay for creativity and hard work in Church Hill.

This is a part of my, Cataloguing Richmond series on my RVA page.

A Vantage

This week I have been teaching my high school students about imagination, appreciation, curiosity and innovation. The joys of alternative education 🙂 During this time, I’ve made some (albeit naive) teacher observations and formulated some theories to help myself improve and better understand what I’m doing. The most valuable lesson so far is this: The classroom is a vantage. From this vantage, we see the world for its order and structure. As Mufasa took Simba to the mountaintop, so do we teachers take our students to the classroom to make sense of the world in which they live.

From the vantage of Pride Rock, Mufasa shared with Simba the details of his kingdom: Places to go and places to avoid. At the same time, he is also sharing the weight of the responsibility of the kingdom (which I see as knowledge, adulthood, and the unknown future).  In this moment, he is imparting an understanding of life from the mountaintop because that is where the chaos of life begins to make sense. That is the place of perspective. Without the context of perspective we will hardly understand the significance of the information we retain.

One important point is that a mountaintop is positioned far away from life on the ground below. That’s not a bad thing! I think the “ivory tower” critique of education sometimes directs us to teach a more “realistic” education. But this is a mistake. Instead of making our education realistic, we believe that education must be detached from reality in order to prepare students for the abstract and unpredictable future. Is the future reality? No. We can only speculate how our students will use the information we teach them and we must give them the ability to make connections on their own. The ability to imagine the future and prepare for its challenges.

This capacity for imagination is becoming a subject of discussion as a skill that can (and should) be taught. In a PBS Newshour production, “Conversation: Imagination in Education,” Jeffrey Brown interviewed the director of the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education, Scott Noppe-Brandon. Brown asked, “What would [imagination in education] look like? What would be an example of putting imagination into the skill set and into the curriculum?” To this question, Mr. Noppe-Brandon responded,

“It’s taking issues like, ‘How do you get kids to notice deeply? How do you get them to attend to details and information in front of them? How do you get them to notice patterns and make connections and be reflective and tolerate ambiguity? Elements like that that combined over time start to build that cognitive capacity for imaginative thinking.” Imagine how differently we would teach if we believed this … the excitement in our voices as we say, “Look out over this world of information and conquer it with your mind.”

In my attempt to teach this concept to my students, I landed on the following formula:

Imagination + Creativity + Knowledge + Appreciation + Hard Work = Innovation.

Hopefully, my students will begin to value the ideas in their minds, appreciate the ideas of others and make connections between the two and reality. Reality is  not always the sort of place where people develop the capacity for creativity and imagination. That’s why we have the classroom. The classroom is a vantage. Every other hour of the day is enough reality for now.