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We Are City: Exiting the Teenage Years

Our guest blogger today is Michael Kaufmann, Director of Special Projects and Civic Investment for Health & Hospital Corporation, and President for the IMA Contemporary Arts Society.

Over a year ago, a few people gathered to organize a screening of Gary Hutswit’s documentary Urbanized. This conversation blossomed into a vision for an accompanying half-day conference and bazaar. Members of LISC, the IMA, Butler Center for Urban Ecology, Health & Hospital Corporation, and URBN DSGN began charting out an event that would examine the unique issues, both challenges and opportunities, that face cities and, in particular, Indianapolis.

The idea was to engage with urban leaders and change-makers in a half-day summit focused on the design of Indianapolis and issues around urbanism: transit, civility, diversity, redevelopment, livability, and resilience. The summit was segmented into three themes: LOOK, MOVE, and GROW. Topics ranged from the psychology of neighborhoods, the audacious ambition of Dubai, Burning Man as a city building model, repurposing gray fields and over-asphalted shopping districts into eco-districts, transit, and cultural entrepreneurship. Additionally attendees participated in a brainstorming session (facilitated by Big Car and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful) and an Urbanized Bazaar, at which various organizations presented the latest, greatest urban design initiatives that are shaping Indianapolis now and in the future. You can view the agenda and list of speakers here.

We came to recognize that this conversation should stay alive. We needed to continue to convene people and become advocates for the opportunities urban areas provide, while acknowledging some of its barriers, complications and serious problems. Out of this passion came the vision for We Are City, a multi-program initiative that would include the rebranded summit, a film and conversation series, and an e-newsletter, loaded with nuggets of inspiration and challenge on the subject of cities.

Why the name “We Are City”? It is about acknowledging that yes, Indianapolis, you, we, are collectively the city. It may seem like stating the obvious, but we are having a difficult time leaving our teenage years as a metro area. It is as if we need that last little nudge to kick us out of a suburban mindset in viewing our downtown as much more than a shopping mall. We Are City is a confident effort to build consensus around a variety of topics, to form a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis. To propel us forward through both an analysis of our past, an acknowledgment of our present, and a hope for our future.

The We Are City Film Series uses new documentary films to trigger dialogue about topics related to quality of life in Indianapolis. A Matter of Taste, On My Own Two Wheels, and The Pruitt-Igoe Myth were the first three films shown. Each film was followed by a brief on-stage dialogue with local players in the field. Then the audience was invited to take matters into their own hands at “action tables.” Anyone could start a table to pose questions related to the films, such as: How can we advance Indy’s food culture? What needs to happen to continue to bolster the biking culture in our city? What can we do to be more consciously creative when we look at planning for the housing needs of those who are struggling to make it? The result was a great convening of spirited conversation, ideation, and strategizing for implementation.

The series was presented by the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Wishard Health Services, with support from Butler University Center for Urban Ecology, Indiana Humanities, Big Car, Heartland Film Festival, URBN DSGN and The Platform, and promotional support provided by NUVO. As Anne Laker, the IMA’s Director of Public Programs pointed out, “This civic discussion is a continuation of the trend of these types of events over the past few years, such as Pecha Kucha, Think Farm, IndyTalks series, Innovate Indy, IndyHub’s Raise Your IQ series, and the upcoming TEDx conference.”

In the weeks to come we will be posting here on the IMA blog about these civic issues. We encourage you to check back and learn what was captured at these events, and contribute your own thoughts via the comments section in the blog or via your preferred social medium (e.g. Facebook, or via Twitter #wearecity).

We also hope you will join in on the conversation either at future We Are City film in spring 2013, at the upcoming We Are City summit (September 21), or by signing up for the We Are City e-newsletter. Let’s work together as we enter the next defining chapter of our city’s story.


Filed under: Local, Public Programs

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