Le genocide armenien





Par Jay Walljasper

Ponte de Lima, Portugal. (Picture: Anne-Marie Impe)

A new way of thinking about communities, the environment, and public life is sweeping across North America—and the world. It’s a grassroots phenomenon, one that people are more likely to be talked about at local coffee shopsor neighborhood meetings than on CNN or the presidential debates. But it is gaining influence in small but important ways every day.

Some have begun to calling it a movement, although most folks see it simply as a set of fresh, common-sense ideas that can help us discover more pleasure and meaning in our daily lives. At the heart of this upsurge are growing numbers of people enthusiastically seeking places they can gather with others as neighbors and citizens. These people are hungry to instill a new sense of public spirit to their neighborhoods and towns. They want more and better parks, cafes, walkable neighborhoods, youth hang-outs, farmer’s markets, business districts, bike paths, community centers, locally-owned businesses, public transit, and playgrounds.

This new movement is a startlingly diverse phenomenon, transcending conventional categories of left, right, and center, and uniting people who fancy themselves avant-garde innovators and those who feel cozily at home in the middle of the mainstream. The idea of placemaking sparks waves of energy wherever it is discussed , and is beginning to influence business, government, the media, and the practice of various professions.

In many ways placemaking movement is a natural outgrowth of the work of many other American movements, and stands as obvious allies of neighborhood activists, historic preservationists, environmentalists, and New Urbanists as well as many advocates of public health, entrepreneurialism, community safety, social justice, and civic engagement. Architects, developers, urban planners, traffic engineers, and landscape architects are central to these efforts but the wider circle of placemakers include many business owners and managers, journalists, educators, clergy, social service providers, fitness promoters, mental health professionals, artists, and more. In fact, it’s hard to conceive of any thoughtful people who wouldn’t endorse the movement’s main aim: fostering a vital and nourishing sense of place everywhere that people live, work, and play.

The dramatic rise of attention to issues of place recently shows that the subject can no longer be dismissed as a minor question of architectural aesthetics or civic do-goodism. America’s alarming rise in obesity, for instance, is being blamed by authorities in many fields on the fact that fewer Americans today go out for a walk or other form of exercise. The chief reason is that there are few attractive or safe places to walk, run, bike, or play in our car-dominated communities. This problem has become a flashpoint for many newcomers to the placemaking movement; it’s a potent symbol of what’s wrong with how we look at places.

At a time when serious concerns about political polarization and the fraying of our democratic traditions are in the air, a revival of public places offers hope that we can still engage with one another in civil, productive ways as fellow citizens. With the general decline of public venues, from the town square to the corner tavern, where folks meet to discuss questions of the day, political debate has shifted to impersonal forums such as talk radio, where bullying and theatrics often crowd out reasoned discussion. Perhaps even more troubling to the future of our democracy is the fact that more and more Americans can turn to the media for web sites, radio stations, publications and cable shows that tell them exactly what they want to hear. In the absence of literal public places, where you come across people with other views, there is no engagement from different sides of political debates.

Restoring a sense of place to modern life also offers an answer to one of the most pressing cultural questions of our time: the diminishment of local character, customs, and color in an age of one-size-fits-all globalization. The whole world is perilously close to watching the same TV shows, wearing the same well-advertised fashions, listening to the same tunes. Will the planet end up as one big shopping mall with the corporate entertainment complex calling the shots? Not so long as people still hit the streets, hang out with one another, and put their own unique local stamp on language, music, fashion, arts, dancing, humor, ideas, and all other human endeavor. But for this antidote to truly offer an local alternative to globalized, people need public spots where new, independent, homegrown expression can ferment.

The rapidly-growing interest in placemaking over recent months has been likened to the dramatic upswell in environmental awareness that led to the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, a landmark event that involved tens of millions of Americans and gave birth to a powerful new political force. The issue of place, like conservation and pollution in the 1960s, is not a new idea at all. But it is an idea poised to explode onto the public consciousness in ways that help transform debates about a whole range of issues.