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If you could ask one question to all of your neighbors, what would you ask?

Live TED Conversation: Join TED Fellow Candy Chang

Candy is a public installation artist, designer, and urban planner who likes to make cities more comfortable for people. She's passionate about redefining the ways we use public space to share information that can improve our neighborhoods and our personal well-being. See more of her at http://candychang.com and http://civiccenter.cc.

This conversation will open at 3pm EST on Monday, August 1, 2011.

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    Jul 29 2011: One I've been asking myself a lot recently...

    Do you actually care about the lack of community in suburban living. Would you actually get involved if there was a sense of community OR are you actually just happy travelling around doing the things you want, with the friends you choose (who are spread all over the city and beyond) and so do not have time or interest for a local community life as well?

    I know what I want the answer to this question to be, and I think most people would ideally agree, but in reality I think most people would fall into the latter. The question is whether that is the natural way or one that it can be re-learnt.
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      Aug 1 2011: Hey Lance - Great question. I think people living in both the city and suburbs definitely get more and more social support from people in places far and wide. I know I do. But there are still great benefits to community ties, depending on how invested you are in your place. Some people are and some people simply aren't.

      For the people who are... Who knows a neighborhood better, a place better, than the people who live and work there. We know the details that will help make it more complete, more comfortable, more ours. We know where the public transportation stop should go. We know what businesses our neighborhood needs. We know what needs fixing. And we need better tools to easily share these ideas in a way that's constructive, that will make a difference. What ways can we share info to self-organize and become effective agents in our communities?
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        Aug 1 2011: more effective agents? here is an example we tried.

        to learn self-organizing we organize music events or joint painting. in this play group someone emerges as the leader - and he is the perfect agent later on; or the perfect admin in a social network for the community. we call this method "creative quarter".
        it needs improve but it works well.
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        Aug 1 2011: you pointed it out - un-forceful.
        we think about motivation and incentives when starting community work. al have to want to be a community - by what topic ever. then we go about the difficult pain-staking duties....
        here is a blog on a creative quarter in dortmund: http://bit.ly/nzjMBR
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    Aug 1 2011: A great conversation topic... Mine would be:
    Why do you never smile back when I smile at you in the stairway?
    Would you have wanted me to knock on your door when I first moved in and introduce myself?
    Why do you not bother to get to know me at all?
    Do you even know I have been living in this house for almost one year?
    Do you know the other neighbors better than you know me?
    Does my nationality bother you, do you have the wrong idea about what kind of person I am?
    What would you say if I asked for help, what would you be willing to give?
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    Aug 1 2011: So I ask this question out of personal curiosity, and I've been entertained and enlightened by the range of responses on Facebook over the weekend https://www.facebook.com/TED/posts/175621919171732 . Just starting to parse through some of the responses. All the examples below are real ones from the FB thread...

    There are the common challenges of living so close together, like uninvited nudity, noise, and dog poo (one of my favorites from the thread: "Why don't you wear pants when you water your yard?")

    But we have all probably bugged someone else without knowing it. The drama could be alleviated if we just knew.
    (Is there anything I do that bugs you? Can you guys hear us doing it? Why do you hate me?).

    There are ways to make our neighborhood better that we can only do together.
    (Would you please turn your porch lights on at night?... one small step to make our street brighter and safer. Would you like to join me in throwing a neighborhood block party? I'd like to shout and announce in the street the night before we need to move our cars across the street, so we don't all get parking tickets once a month when we forget. Would this annoy you?)

    There are a lot of pros of sharing local info and resources.
    (What's ur password for the wifi? Do you need eggs? Do I have anything you can use? Do you have something I can use? May I use your backyard for a vegetable garden? If you say yes. I will give you 25%, I'll keep 25%, and donate 50% to the food bank. Where can we start a community garden?)

    There are the practical things we can learn from each other
    (Which supermarket do you prefer? Do you know how to make compost? How in God's name did you get that giant furniture up the stairwell? And can you show me how?)

    And there are emotional things too. Our neighbors are people too :)
    (Why do you live here? What are you passionate about? What do you want out of life? How can I help? Are you happy? What rocks your world? Are you ok? Come over for tea some time!!
    • Aug 1 2011: After reading the Facebook replies, I realized that what I imagine is what I would ask my neighbors if I knew that they would trust me enough to answer from the heart, not what would I ask if all my neighbors were at a party and I had the floor. to ask a public question. In a sense, I am thinking about what Parker Palmer calls "the shy soul" and what it takes for that part of a person to feel safe enough to speak. . . and then, what would I ask in that context?
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        Aug 1 2011: Hi Christina - That's a wonderful observation and I like that phrase, "the shy soul". It's something I've just begun to think about with public art experiments. Anonymity and personal space are interesting benefits to interactive platforms in public space. You can share with your community but on your own time and without the pressure of the crowd or judgment. I don't think you'd see the same responses on the Before I Die wall (http://beforeidie.cc) if it was done face-to-face in a community meeting. The wall gives you the space you need to be private, solitary, and thoughtful. It brings out an honesty amongst people in public space that makes me wonder how much we could share and learn from each other if given the opportunity... Thanks for sharing, your comment will simmer with me for a long while!
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    Aug 2 2011: Candy,

    I'd ask them if they'd join me for a glass of wine or tea and share something about their core being. Meaning the person behind their closed doors, their car, their clothes, so to speak. Perhaps even "their story" if they're willing to share it.

    My goal would be to learn about their internal character, the one behind their externally expressed characteristics. And make an authentic connection around what we both care about which might be used as scaffolding for future conversations.

    A wonderful question, and wonderful to hear of your passion for public spaces.

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      Aug 2 2011: Signora Andrea, of course this conversation is wonderfull because its about human feelings, simple feelings, not theories or political or economic affairs. Simple things for wonderfull life. The cultural distance give us different choices to see hoe we can go to the neighbor. (il prossimo, el projimo, il proximo). The real thing is the deep meaning of the approach. Its a form for radical humanism: love others as love yourself. Dont you believe?
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        Aug 2 2011: Yes, Luigi,

        I agree with you. I think of it as seeking the "hidden humanity" in others. In this process there is an exchange wherein each person's "hidden humanity" can reflect and absorb. So when I see another's "hidden humanity" I see more of my own. My belief is this is best achieved in personal relationships where mutual presence is the primary agenda.

  • Aug 1 2011: I posted it on Facebook before I read all the other comments and now I have a slightly different question: First my original "If there's one thing I can do to make your day better, what would it be?"

    After reading all those Facebook comments I think a better question would be "If there's one thing I can do to make your day better (besides getting rid of all your neighbors that complain about you), what would it be?"
  • Aug 4 2011: In 30 plus years of work as a mental health clinician and community leader the aggregate of my experiences has led me to several observations/conclusions about "community", particularly within the context of middle, upper-middle class America. The first is that that long-standing dominance of white male privilege has been the prominent force in the growing disconnections between members of our communities. There are a variety of data that point to higher levels of community experience among people of color and between women. Second, in this context insidious, internalized oppressions now degrade individual and community life within all cultural groups and in particular, our nations youth, including white youth. Changing conversations from emphases on laziness and intelligence levels to forces/habits of oppression will create opportunities for people to feel valid amongst each other across all differences. Third, as we have engaged the dramatic sift from dependence on each other to dependence on technologies, we have raised the "bar" as regards the matrices of self-sufficiency: what one has and what one can do for oneself have become extreme. Finally, within the digital universe there is growing evidence that despite ourselves we need and seek each other. Recent, brilliant presentations on TED provide illustrations of the power of this need, not only in its reach but in its potential for collaborative good. Regrettably, it may take a social-economic meltdown of sorts, seemingly assured by the impotency of modern political systems, to awaken people in their individual and collective fear to the deep resource of community- of each other.
  • Aug 2 2011: Okay this might not be the answer you want but you did ask for it....
    I would ask "Do you know any twenty somethings available for a blind date?"
    Yes i know, it is crude but i am a single guy and that is the first question that pops into mind.

    Right now my neighbors are strangers. How do you approach strangers and inquire about their family without getting stared at. Meeting in bars, clubs and churches might be a good way. Except i'm not into religion, clubbing and drinking.

    A communal space for cooking, eating, exercising and entertainment would be a nice place to start. Cities are too isolationist. You are in the midst of millions of people most of which you fear are out to exploit you in one way or another.
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    Aug 2 2011: What are you expert at ? So that we know where you can help us & vice verssa..
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    Aug 2 2011: We have to remember that the approach with others are no the same in different cultures. The classic scene from films when the neighbor goes to ask for a cup of sugar is just an american use, more a film example than a reality. Here in Italy we used the streets, not the homes. The home space is sacred and not ready for goodwill visitors. We prefer to be in the plaza or the restaurant, a neutral space than in our own homes. I never lived in other part, except in Mexico and the uses there are more or less the same than here. When you can traspass the main door then you are accepted as a neighbor, not before. We dont ask anything we prefer to see in silence and collect some information from the friends. The friendship is also a different feel here than other parts.
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    Aug 1 2011: All of you are my ciberneighbors then I asked....Do you want to ride a bike. We start the WBW (World Bike Web). Here in Rome theres a lot of people riding a bike....so you want to join us?.
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    Aug 1 2011: In remote places, and when visiting friends in suburbs, I've often been tempted to go door to door and ask, "Do you long for connection, but don't know what to do? Do you yearn for others you resonate with but fear it'll take too much energy and time to seek it?"

    People are so often isolated, and I often wonder if they've simply adapted to it, or the solitude is something they genuinely desire. I, rather, think they are simply fearful of taking steps to connect. Connection is so life affirming, yet sometimes so difficult to achieve.
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      Aug 4 2011: Hey Linda - Good subject and if you haven't yet, you should watch James Kunstler's highly entertaining TED talk on suburbia http://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_suburbia.html. Obviously I agree there are tons of benefits to local connections and I am a high-density kind of girl, but just to play out the other side... This makes me think about my parents, who live in the middle of nowhere. After many debates I realized they simply value peace and quiet over everything else right now. They have lots of friends around town but their home is a place for solitude. We want different things from our home life. Some people want to be pillars of their community. Some people want their personal time. And some people want something in between (like me). But in all cases, how can we still facilitate the platforms to share practical information at the local level? This is helpful even if you want to hole up!
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      Aug 4 2011: I personally believe that our capitalistic culture is far too individualistic. We are taught from an early age that each one of us are supposed to live in our own house and have our own property, separate from everyone else. Even today I feel very awkward when going near someone else's home, as though I am invading their property, even though in my mind I find such concept completely absurd. This materialistic consumption-based culture is designed to maximize both our division and our consumption.

      Having said that, I often watch my kids in our communal backyard, which we share with our neighbors... they often play with each others' toys and go in their friends homes. They don't believe in "property". Natives also never believed in "property". I also recently talked with a fellow from Africa and he told me that in his hometown, he can walk to anyone's house and go in, because everyone is a friend.
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    Aug 1 2011: We decided to keep this conversation opened for 2 days so we can discuss at a gentler pace ha. Thanks again for joining the conversation! Lots to simmer on.
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      Aug 1 2011: Wow! Probably not the question I would ask my neighbours, but your "Before I die..." wall is a fabulous idea!
      It's these kinds of projects that kindle hope in our future and bring a smile to anyone's face, no matter how bad their day or week or month was.

      With some friends I did something similar as a final project for an English course I took - we went around with a camera asking students where they would like to wake up if they could choose any random place. The project is based on the http://fiftypeopleonequestion.com/ project, going around in major cities and asking people questions like this or what do you wish to happen until the day is over. You notice that some people give pretty shallow and expectable answers (same with you wall too), but I am most amazed by those who are honest and give really deep and moving answers.

      Perhaps a video booth where people can answer this question in private as a next project?

      Keep up the great work and looking forward to those do-it-yourself instructions for the wall.
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    Aug 1 2011: What is the one goal you would be willing to collaborate with your neighbours for?
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      Aug 1 2011: Adital if you were my neighbor the first thing that I asked you is: Would you like to go to expresso coffee and a nice dinner?
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    Aug 1 2011: Oh man I'm like a live-chatting turtle! Sorry I'm so slow, I have yet to even read all the responses. Thanks so much for chiming in! I really appreciate it. A lot of great questions and ideas. You've given me a lot to think about and I will continue to go through the thread at my turtle pace.
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      Aug 1 2011: You should probably extend the time limit to a day or three ;)
      You don't need to respond directly, instead, think a bit about your responses and let others do the same... Forcing conversations with these narrow time limits is rarely good... Wouldn't you want to read all of it, check some facts and then respond?
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    Aug 1 2011: Candy, please join us on conversations more frequently with even more questions, I think you'll enjoy it!
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      Aug 1 2011: a foto in maastricht with my family. why do you ask ?
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          Aug 1 2011: oh yes - it is a great city and such an international flair in such an old town. amazing contrasts..50% of the students are from abroad. please go there!
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    Aug 1 2011: I would ask them: Is there something you think I have that I could share with on occasion? If so, what is it and how would access to it be helpful to you?
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    Aug 1 2011: A great topic is music - which music do you and your family like?

    it is emotional and has great depth to reach out to other person, to open this person - which naturally is closed on first contact.... isn´t this the drama? all are neighboors, but at first everybody is closed emotionally...
  • Aug 1 2011: What's one crazy, odd thing that makes you happy?
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    Aug 1 2011: ‎'Can I borrow your lawn mower (again)?'. Is it just me that talks to my neighbours? We had a power cut last night and I went next door to see if they had it too, then straight to other side to make sure the old lady there has candles/a torch. I don't hesitate, but then I guess I live in the North of England, it's hard to stop us all talking at the best of times!
  • Aug 1 2011: I would ask them: Who are you? Let them talk about themself. I think there are crazy unbelievable stories hidden among many neighborhoods. You could find out so much with such a simple question. The answer would depend on the person, how does every single individual interpret a question like that? How would you? You could find stories about what they are doing, how they got there or what they're dreams are. Is there a singer working like a bouncer, a single mom who got here after ending a career as a busdriver. Who knows? Not me, so let's find out!
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    Aug 1 2011: One question to my neighbors. I know that questions can be used as a way to get power, but they can also come from a deeply curious place. A place of seeing someone without judgement. I'm not so sure the question is as important as the place from which its asked. So that's my question to my self......How can I engage right now from a place of curiosity? Forget about time and .....yes.....listen to the answer without knowing what to say.
  • Aug 1 2011: What would you be willing to sacrifice for more green space in our area?
  • Aug 1 2011: My question would have something to do with private property in a neighborhood that is becoming more and more populated by older, very wealthy people in what was once farming country;for example: Does having nicely manicured personal property satisfy you as much as common space and contact with others might? How might our lives be different if people lived closer together and had large tracts of public land in our midst?
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    Aug 1 2011: Trying to suppress my initial choice of "How do you manage to put up with all the noise?", although this would be interesting to know.

    Since as a student I'm mostly surrounded by other students as neighbours I'd probably ask a simple: "Hi, where are you from?" I don't really know of all them well and there are quite a plenty living around, so it would definitely be interesting to get to know them better.
  • Aug 4 2011: If you weren't concerned (or, should it be consumed) with the fear of scarcity what would you generously offer everyone you came into contact with? Follow up question: Is your fear of scarcity truly real or is it perceived?
  • Aug 4 2011: Have you seen the trees are starting to bud?

    BTW: I would feel very uncomfortable if my neighbours started asking about my biggest dream, or inquiring after my core being, so I would never start with a question like that.
    This despite being from a country that seems to be famous for its directness or rudeness.