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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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  • Aug 1 2011: My art & design collective, Works Progress (http://www.worksprogress.org/) has spent the last 2 years asking our neighbors in Minneapolis & St.Paul two very simple questions: What do you know? What do you want to know?

    To us, these questions seemed like the basis for building relationships that could help to regenerate our cities.

    We designed a new community event called Give & Take around these two questions, giving neighbors an opportunity to meet one another in a safe social space, building community around personal assets and knowledge. It's been incredible! We are now working to expand the program outside of the metropolitan Twin Cities, and are interested in developing a DIY Give & Take "kit" for neighborhoods & communities. Here's a couple of links! Would love to share what we've learned with others!

    Give & Take: http://www.give-take.org/
    Video Intro: http://vimeo.com/26980158

    Also: Candy, we so admire your work, Thank You!
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      Aug 1 2011: Hurrah for another exciting project! :D
      I am really interested in the relationship between the whole web 2.0 thing (by that I mean social networking, using websites to encourage interactions, etc) and physical communities. On the one hand it seems that I have better and more frequent comtact with people in other countries than I do my own neighbours, and I can't help wonder if such sites are contributing to this... On the other hand it seems like it could be such an invaluable tool for engaging people in the first instance who would never normally be interested in arts/community practices. How can we get people to get out from behind their PCs and meet up in the real world?
      • Aug 1 2011: We had the same question when we started the Give & Take event I linked to above! Social networking sites and blog platforms made it possible, as artists and designers and engaged citizens, to expand our network of peers and to have really generative conversations about practice, but when it came to connecting in our own neighborhoods, and generating the same kind of energy, it was a whole lot harder. Either the on ramps are not there, or the community infrastructures are outdated.

        Think about it: you pass all kinds of neighbors on the street, in stores, at events -- and if you don't already have a connection, the chances that you will stop to talk with one another are slim. Especially if your perceptions prevent you from seeing beyond what you see, if you think you couldn't possibly even have anything to talk about. I think that's a lot of missed potential there, because many of your neighbors probably have fascinating ideas, skills, or energy to share! And it's likely that if you tried, you'd find something in common.

        It seems as though our silos are getting bigger (more global), but they are still silos. I think there is a way to take what we love about connecting online (surprises! connections! information! Ideas!) and create real world platforms for exchange that are deeply rooted in our communities, but connected to a more global creative renaissance.
      • Aug 1 2011: Oh, and I also think homemade food (and also beer) are both amazing neighbor makers! You can't get that experience online ;)
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          Aug 1 2011: Yes, I thought you might have encountered the same question which is why I raised it... I agree about the beer though - hence the Fancy A Pint? (http://www.glittermouse.co.uk/fancy-a-pint.html) project that I tried to get off the ground and my comments below regarding cake! This conversation has given me the push to revist that project further now though, and I'm currently sat here planning ways to get my neighbours to trust random muffins...
          Another interesting artist network to keep an eye on though - I feel very encouraged that there are so many people working in these areas at the moment!
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        Aug 1 2011: Hi Annabeth - that really is a great question!

        I actually work with Shanai on Give & Take (and a bunch of other projects through http://www.worksprogress.org/), but just wanted to chime in to add that our vision for Give & Take is that it becomes kind of like a community-based TED Talks, not just for change-makers, but for everyday people who have something to share - be it a story, a hobby, a passion or even just an idea. We've started doing these events in different neighborhoods around the Twin Cities and will soon do our first event in rural Minnesota. The idea is that the content generated at the events can be fed back to a main hub online, very much like TED. Videos from the event will be shareable, allowing the live event to be a launching pad for all kinds of new connections happening online.

        Which is all to say: I really believe that we have only just begun to harness social networking online for face-to-face community-building. There is so much potential here, but as Shanai points out, the key is in building real/virtual communities that bridge cultural silos rather than reinforce them.

        People answer our two questions on their name tags when they come to the event: "What do you know?" and "What do you want to know?" (For example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/worksprogress/sets/72157624019736075/) But this isn't just a clever ice-breaker! We've created a whole series of games to play with the audience that are designed to get people making new connections on their own. The 1.5 hour event ends up being a mix of community-sourced presentations (you can sign up on our site: http://www.give-take.org/) and social games that get people talking to each other. Because it's not issue-based, people come from all different walks of life.
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          Aug 1 2011: Hi Colin,
          I like the project and I can see that you have developed a 'face to face' element to it... so share the secret...? ;) How do you get people to turn up? Where do you publicise your website? How do you get people fired up to join in? Maybe that's a question with some really obvious answers but I think it's one of the first stumbling blocks to participative projects and definitely a key area to share good practice around. For myself, so far, I've had the best responses by approaching exisitng community groups. This is important and can be used to forge links between such groups but I am really interested in this mysterious goal of facilitating interactions between strangers... How do *you* do it?
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          Aug 2 2011: Hey Shanai and Colin - Great to check out Works Progress and Give & Take, keep on keeping' on! Good thoughts along with Annabeth on online tools to enhance physical communities. Been thinking about this a lot lately. My colleagues and I are currently launching http://neighborland.org in New Orleans. It takes the I Wish This Was public art project on vacant storefronts (http://iwishthiswas.cc) a few steps further to help people shape future businesses and services in their area. There are pros and cons to both analogue and digital tools and we're still trying to figure out how to rock the best of both and bridge the two.
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        Aug 1 2011: [Annabeth, for some reason I can't reply directly to your last post, so I'll do it here!]

        There is no magic bullet when it comes to community engagement. One thing that helps us is that we've been at it for quite a while. Like any creative practice, you have to actually practice it to get better at it. In this kind of work, the more you practice it, the more people know about it. People have to trust your intentions, so you have to be really good at communicating them to a lot of different kinds of people. It's taken 4+ years, but we now have an network of people interested in our programs that's over 3,000 strong and always growing.

        You're absolutely right that creating authentic partnerships is so so important. As we begin to experiment with our Give & Take program in new neighborhoods and cities around Minnesota, the first thing we do is try to find a partner on the project that is as excited about creating connected communities as we are. It's actually become one of our "simple rules" that we don't do a project if we can't find a community based partner for it.

        One more thing about Give & Take and why I think it's been successful so far: it's an asset-based open platform for people to fill up with all kinds of potential points of connection. You never know what's going to happen, but people always bring their best creative-selves to the night, and it's always an awesome time filled with laughter and humility. Community engagement shouldn't feel like taking your vitamins. It needs to be entertaining, and what better source for entertainment is there than ourselves?

        There's so much more to say, but I'll end with this: You can still be experimental, quirky, and fun - in fact, the world desperately NEEDS "experimental, quirky, and fun" right now - but you have to be able to tell people "This is an experiment! And you know what... it might not work!" If people trust you, they will absolutely join you on the adventure.
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          Aug 2 2011: Thanks for your thoughts Colin, So much here to muse on... Trust. There's a thing.
          Anyway, I will definitely be keeping an eye on your projects, hope it goes from strength to strength!
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          Aug 2 2011: I'm back! I've been thinking about that trust thing again, it reminded me of Jane Jacobs reflections on 'casual public trust' in The Death and Life of Great American Cities; The Failure of Town Planning (1964). If you're not already familiar with that text I would definitely recommend it... It seems to me that opportunities to exercise trust are becoming increasingly eroded. I think that's become a key function that projects such as these can perform; restoring some of that. It's a really important thing to raise and essential for anyone working in this area to be aware of... Anyway. Just thought I'd chuck that back at you :)
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      Aug 1 2011: Shannai extraordinary work I see in your site. The power of community is unavodable when all decided to do something positive. We start the WBW (Worl Bike Web) if you want to share this idea with your associates?

      Ciberbiking is a very strange thing but its possible because e all bike and share the effects in our places. Rome is a very special city to do this but in my little neighborhood some transform slow and positive. The people walk but decided to use the bike for some trips. Im not designer Im researcher in the Vaticasn Archives but our designers friends from Domus and Ferrari start a new design for an urban tricycle.

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