My partner and I recently spent four days knocking on doors in Charlotte, North Carolina working to get out the vote just before the 2016 Presidential election. And you know how that story ended. But what’s relevant here is what happened along the way.
Being out of my comfort zone was rewarding. Except for Halloweens past, I have little experience to going door-to-door. To make it even more challenging, here I was, an east coast Caucasian urbanite trying to engage folks in primarily African-American and suburban neighborhoods in spontaneous conversation about matters of national importance. It was – at times – awkward.
If you’ve read my blog, you know my gig. “Thinking sustainably within the practice of architecture”. So when I walk up to someone’s front porch to convince them to vote a certain way, my issues are climate change, buildings, and greenhouse gas emissions. The people I was talking to? They had issues, too. Civil rights, voter suppression, criminal justice reform, incarceration rates. We may have been in the same church, but our pews were very, very far apart.
A few years back (2004), an essay titled “The Death of Environmentalism” caused quite a stir.Reviled by many for being divisive and unfair, the authors’ primary points – that we are making inadequate progress on global warming and, tactically speaking, environmental activists tend to isolate ourselves from other social movements – were pretty irrefutable. A little later (2007), Paul Hawken’s masterpiece Blessed Unrest was in my hands. I felt uplifted by the scope and breadth of world-wide human caring and generosity (tactics be damned) that he described. Those two poles – we’re losing the fight but may still win the battle – contributed to forming something of a dichotomous but suppressed personal world view.
And then, almost ten years later, I’m standing on a porch in Charlotte and – boom – there it is again. We’re all in this together, but we’re not connecting,
So here’s what I think.
I think we need to see what we (architects and designers fighting climate change via the AIA 2030 Commitment and other strategies) do as being part of a broader efforts to serve greater human needs. Learn about the environmental justice movement. Understand that climate change impacts will be inequitably borne by the least privileged members of our society. Appreciate how environmental degradation in US cities is often connected to hyper-segregation. For a lot of people, airborne particulates are a much bigger deal that building-integrated photovoltaics. Check out how theRockefeller Foundation describes urban resilience as beginning with social cohesion. Learn how to connect what we do with people who are fighting oppression and poverty.
Then make those connections part of our everyday work. Because we are (as has been said before) stronger together.
This post is part of an ongoing series from Principal Mike Davis, FAIA on our progress toward the AIA 2030 Commitment.