Posts Tagged ‘interculturalism’



July 23, 2012

Readers of this blog are aware that over the last seven months, I have become absorbed in a new way of thinking-initially because of my introduction to Charles Landry’s “The Art of City Making”.  Landry did a residency here in Minneapolis/St. Paul in early May which I participated in as part of the Plan-It Hennepin project.

It was an eye-opener for me in many ways…and once that happens, one sees signs and applications everywhere one looks.  And sometimes I forget that everyone in my world does not see it the same way I do.  That was evident earlier this week, when a friend of some thirty years and I had a discussion on immigrants in Minnesota.  Our perspectives, coming from different directions and viewpoints clashed resoundingly.  We survived the discussion of conflicting ideas, and I resolved to keep in mind that not everyone is celebrating the changes I see.

So, as I glanced at the STRIB headline on  Sunday  “A Changing Landscape” and realized it was a story of Somali immigration and impact in outstate towns such as Willmar, Rochester, and Faribault, I reminded myself that friends and family in those three towns might indeed view this very differently than I do. It will be painful to some and encouraging to others, and for all, a bit of a cultural shock.  Not everyone in my world has the benefit of learning and beginning to understand the importance of interculturalism in our 21st century world of globilization as presented by Landry, nor the Richard Florida theory of economic reset we are now experiencing.

Nonetheless, as I took in the message, I thought it should be a welcome change – if understood.  The “reset” after the Great Depression created the move to the suburbs…as we ”recorrected” once again, and the excesses of the late 20th century pushed that migration further and further into the surrounding countryside as exurbs developed.  And with that came suburban malls and big box stores, and more and more super highways…and that left empty buildings and department stores in the core, and eventually, the central city blight so many of our cities have experienced.

The article began by recounting that Main Streets in many smaller Minnesota communities have not fared so well in the last 25-30 years, and the growth of immigrant populations and business are …a shot in the arm…an economic development program.  But for long-time residents, it’s a big change, and the old community they long for will never be again.

It is hard for those residents to see strangers they know nothing about move into their towns…and for the most part, judging from family discussions, I understand they see them as “different”, “troublesome in schools” and a little bit scary.

 It is easy to miss that immigrants of any color most likely have the same qualities our own immigrant forefathers had….otherwise they would not have risked the move.  They are entrepreneurs, they create businesses and therefore jobs; they resurrect stores and services needed in the core;  and over time their businesses include law offices, insurance agencies, and real estate offices…all services needed in a community; they pay taxes;  and yes, they bring a different look and perspective to disrupt our comfort level.  

I was encouraged to read the perspective of Royal Ross, director of a program called Faribault Main Street.   He understands that it is a hard adjustment for residents in a small town….”it is a cultural shock to us a little bit…it’s neither good nor bad.  It’s just different.”

And his example of differences is one that we all can understand.  Large groups of Somali men tend to congregate at day’s end, on Faribault sidewalks, a common way to get together and exchange information.  But they are speaking Somali and not moving out of the way for others walking by.

Ross mentions that the white locals are not used to seeing large groups congregating in public areas like that…and that we need to get used to how each other operate.

 So, of course , I understand:  because it is different, and since the group is “not like us- white and speaking English” –it becomes intimidating.  We forget that through much of our own US history, citizens, like citizens of countries all over the world, did/do that in the Town Square …which disappeared from our own cities in the last 50 years, along with the downtowns.  It is why discussions in city-making in MSP continue to focus on creating “intercultural gathering spaces”. 

 Losing that face-to-face interaction has not been good for our country. Somehow, the staged networking events in a sterile indoor gathering space, complete with speakers and name tags and mixer games and superficial conversation exchanges do not accomplish the same thing.  We should learn from those Somali gathering, not fear them!

So despite the misunderstanding, I will continue to advocate for the move to intercultural planning and understanding, and will view the separate article reporting on racing camels and ostriches at Canterbury  as a little “intercultural creep” as we experiment and try “new” things as a baby step in the right direction!





June 14, 2012

In the end, what a rewarding experience I had working with Lisa Brenna, MIntahoe, and the Boat Club for the June NACE Meeting!

When Lisa asked me to take part in the program, I was not so sure what my contribution could be, as the unique space, Lisa’s creativity and Mintahoe’s skill at combining their primary event product – the food and beverage- into an outstanding visual experience did not seem to need my help.  Those elements were in good hands with Mintahoe.   And who needs décor, with a view of the river and city of St. Paul behind it?

Time availability on both our parts limited what we could do in terms of some of the interactive ideas I threw out to get the guests to engage and participate…and the things Lisa hoped I could help on did not happen.  How simple should it be for me to get a bongo player for the ceremony circle- or a little soft seating for the program portion of evening?  Well, I didn’t deliver on those either!

So as we went forward, I was feeling pretty useless, until I realized, she had planned her menu around something I said about interculturalism, and that she did not view my response to her request for linens and centerpieces  as laziness when I agreed to source them, but then questioned at the same time WHY she wanted them.  This was a meeting, not an event, I reminded her.  White linens were appropriate, and why did she want to detract from message of the meeting and the WOW of what she was doing, with “cool looking new linens”?  Fortunately for me, she agreed, and as I wandered around fairly anonymously in the crowd, I did not hear one comment from any of the NACE people criticizing the white table covers .  Good, saved again. 

As we were approaching the meeting date, it finally became clear that what she was looking for from me was a few minutes in the program to share my event perspective on a topic of my choice with the audience.

And now, I was really worried.  Oh yes, I have a LOT of thoughts and strong opinions on events…I just hate public speaking and do not do very well at it!  Yikes, now I certainly was in trouble….my logo was all over that invitation as a partner with Lisa…Like it or not, I had to put together 10 minutes of something!

I took what I thought was a gamble, but it nevertheless  reflected my current thoughts on events, and put together a few comments about collaboration, multi-generational events, and most importantly, intercultural audiences and what that means to all of us that represent the event world and the changes we have to start making right now in how we approach our business-if we have any desire to be players in this industry a decade from now..

And off I went to the site to see if I could help with the set (silly me, I KNEW it was in good hands). Other than filling some votives with colored salt to hold the mashed cones,  I had nothing to do for a couple hours but WORRY about what I was going to say, how I was going to say it, would I remember the key points, and would the audience relate, or think Lisa was crazy to have asked me to participate.  I spent  the set-up and event time, mentally  changing what I was going to say – over and over. 

And then, there I was, mike in hand – no podium to help me easily reference my notes, with a room full of people staring at me.  Ask me what I said, and which things I remembered, or forgot, and I could not tell you….but I did start to notice people smiling and nodding …so it appeared a few at least were following what I had to say.  I got a few questions, and a bit of discussion going at the end with audience joining in the discussion, so I knew that I had at least SURVIVED the ordeal.

But the end of the evening demonstrated how really gracious these NACE people are!  I lost track of the thank yous, and the brief comments about the appropriate topic and next step suggestions-I only know however badly I may have delivered the message, this group of people “Got It”!   It was worth every moment of worrying beforehand!




June 10, 2012

It was our final workshop for Plan-It Hennepin, the city-making initiative primarily funded by the National Endowment of the Arts.  Since March, we have Talked It, Planned It, Tracked It, and yesterday, in the workshop at New Century Theatre we did our best at “Putting it All Together-Naming and Claiming”.

Drawing on a past workshop in which we went out on the street with our photographers from FAIR School to record the YES and NO elements currently found along the avenue from the river to the Walker, yesterday we addressed the NOs in the four defined districts. 

As we gathered around our large working model of Hennepin Avenue, we viewed the major zones we have become so familiar with, now marked with pictures and explanations of the NOs we identified in May.  Then, led in song by Mankwe  Ndosi , we returned to the theatre for a final planning exercise that  was designed to address the activity and dynamic mix of people in public space.  Networking to share educational experiences, and vital businesses represented in each group, we then turned to our task – to identify design and development initiatives (stressing function before form) and finally, to define public policies that support a vibrant, equitable public realm in a city.

This week, we were allowed to choose our area of interest, so my May comrades and I gathered around our work table with the dynamic Harry Waters  to start the discussion of HOW we might get rid of the NOs from river’s edge to the LRT; captured our thoughts on flags which were stuck in  small green balls if they pertained to architectural changes, places or ideas and in yellow cones if they pertained to people or events,  Once these visual symbols were complete and placed on the model of the entire street, we  joined together with the other teams to share  results.

 Aside from all the individual projects and thoughts, two things stand out about the day…the link of the three “sisters” – Nicollet for commerce, Hennepin for arts, and First Avenue for dining and entertainment – which all can come together at the Gateway and the river….and at the other end, the ideas we heard to conquer the “divider” of the freeway with remarkable creativity including the vision of disguising it with an amphitheater that turns the vision back upon the city.  Woven through-out was a concern for interculturalism as well as a feeling that a new “community” had been formed- driven first by our own personal interest, and then strengthened by the collaborative process to which we had been exposed.

Gathered together in a closing Declaration Circle, we each were asked what one thing we would commit to do on our own   (and be held accountable for by our co-participants) to keep what we have begun in these last four months  continuing to move forward as the project  moves into final three months of planning.

Talk about engaging…interacting…and being held accountable for our actions!

Again, this has been the most amazing event experience I have ever participated in.  A world of thanks to Tom Borrup and his hometown team of Ta-coumba Aiken, Mankwe  Ndosi, Leah Nelson, and Harry Waters, JR – all  supported by a talented cast of international and local experts  from Seitu Jones, Chancee Martoreli, Don Mitchell this past Thursday  to  Candy Chang, Charles Landry,  and a great group of locals who kicked the initiative off last March and of course, the inspiring  FAIR School students  and the several other youth groups in the city that participated separately and shared their visions.

Borrowing on some thoughts from Landry, we are on our way  to becoming a  world-class city based on cultural literacy, healthy (physically and mentally) urban planning, eco consciousness, and creative city making that empowers people to use their imagination and to rethink  planning not just in terms of hardware, but in terms of facilitation interaction and interculturalism.

Many of us expressed the same thought. We are sorry to see this phase of the year-long project end.  But judging on our Declarations, I am sure I have not see the last of the many new friends I have made as we share our passion for  MSP and its future!