Our biggest annual program is the Village Building Convergence. Since 1996, we have facilitated tens of thousands of community members in their placemaking journey. But we wouldn't be here if not for countless others, only some of whom we get to name below.
Seeds of our Story Tree
Our co-founders were profoundly inspired by the Lacandon Maya. To both credit them in the founding of this organization but also to support the cultural context that co-birthed our mission, we advocate for this local organization that is working to support the Lacandon and their way of life.
"How did city repair begin?"
Many people have asked "how did City Repair begin?". Any answer will depend upon how you look at it. Certainly, no matter how the story is told, all credit must be given to people who did the work to make way for City Repair to happen. In this sense, no matter how the story is told, we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Whether cultural resisters, community activists, radical city planners, enlightened politicians, or determined grandmothers, City Repair as we know it began with people who did the early work. While the first urban place making initiatives of the mid-nineties define what we now call City Repair, and the project became a non profit in the year 2000, the story begins long before those events. The shortest version of the long answer is that, in Portland the partnership cultures that define urban place making began even before the advent of Pioneer Square and the earlier cultural momentum of the 1960's and 70's. However, it was the community uprising that created Pioneer Square that especially formed the prototype of common culture-in-action that made possible what is now known as City Repair.
Activist Planners: Pioneer Square
The story of Pioneer Square begins the story of City Repair by having established the most significant community gathering place in the heart of the city of Portland. The fact that a cross-cultural collaboration had to emerge in defiance of the will of the dominant political class, and their malleable Mayor Ivancie., is perhaps the most important feature of the story. In fact, after Mayor Ivancie withdrew funding for the project, the thousands of names on the bricks that provide the surface of the square give testament to the inexorable will of the community to finally have a place where every single Portland citizen would belong. The deeper story, not so widely known, is that the community momentum had to be built from within the city government, and it was built by a small group of activist planners. Old and young, they were the group that actually founded the function of urban design within the bureau of planning within city government. Gordon Clark, Richard Lakeman, Jason Shipley, Leo Williams and others formed the core of the team that were unstoppable in their remarkable dedication to the emergence of community spaces in Portland, Oregon. Thanks to President Kennedy's call to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country", the planners were inspired to realize that "freedom of assembly requires a place to assemble". Though the mayor was fierce in his determination to stop, and fire, this core team, the Director of Planning, Lloyd Keefe protected them. What they had discovered would go on the become an enduring cultural cause...that no neighborhood in the entire city, and not even the city core, had even one cultural open space, by design.
Years passed, and the partnership culture was successful in creating the astounding new public square that Time Magazine hailed as one of the "seven most beautiful public places in the world". Much of that story is famous, including the global competition to design the square, that was ultimately won by a marvelous local architect named Will Martin and his multi disciplinary design team. Though the competition featured such world famous modernists as Peter Eisenman and the champion of eclecticism Charles Mooore, it was the brilliant local team and the entire community that had actually won. However, Mayor Ivancie had other plans, and while he was trying to stop the square from moving forward Martin's team hatched a plan to "seize the rooftop" of the parking garage on the proposed site, paint the design in dramatic fashion, and get the media to show images of the gigantic colorful design to help turn the tide. The sale of each brick to fund the square, and many other aspects of the story came next. However, it was the quick-action painting of the rooftop that helped inspire the emergence of City Repair in Portland neighborhood intersections more than ten years later.
Natural Light & The Italian Piazza 1990-2017
The work of Sandra Davis Lakeman during her decades of study in the public spaces of ancient villages of Italy and Sardinia, has certainly helped develop the concepts that characterize City Repair today. The fact that the primary gathering place, piazza or "public square" best occurs in the middle of pathway intersections is a key insight from her work. The notion being that "where our pathways converge, our lives come together" in that place. Her work also reveals that "geomorphic" villages are adapted to their landscape and bioregion in highly specific ways that become cultural expressions meaning and function. The fact that the village literally "emerges" from the land form and in response to light and climate,and through the intelligence and ingenuity of the participating population is a key distinction that also contributed to the goals and design principals that form the foundation of City Repair today. The archetypes of urban form, which Ms. Lakeman has been describing during her work in Sardinia has also helped City Repair in it's focus on the complimentary parts and pieces that support the "retrofit" of ordinary "development" communities in the USA.
Jane Jacobs, Sybil Maholy-Nagy, & Kevin Lynch, Contemporary Urban Theorists
The work of these three design titans in the period of the 1960-80's has provided a common conceptual ground for retrofitting urban space in North America. Their keen analysis and advocacy for participatory culture, walkable and talkable environments and more has inspired and empowered generations of design activists and advocates with a shared language, goals, values, and form concepts. Jacobs left us numerous works, most famous being "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". Maholy-Nagy, Jacobs sister champion of the 1960's, wrote "The Matrix of Man", the only comprehensive history of the colonial grid. Lynch's work, "Image of the City", is most-often cited in City Repair's work, as he has left us a language of place fabric at a scale that is comprehensible for any neighborhood or town.
Against the nationwide movement by banks and development culture to invest in suburban sprawl, Pioneer Square also proved to be a powerful anchor for the redevelopment and rejuvenation of the urban core of Portland. The square's cultural function still serves as a dazzling jewel that attracts people to their natural habitat, the public square. There was not a direct, logical next set of steps to begin to broaden the participatory culture of place making beyond the urban core of Portland. It took more than a decade for it to happen, and maybe it never would if not for numerous indigenous influences that inspired the broad, new level of awareness and motivation that has become the movement and structure that is City Repair. Building upon what had been already accomplished with Pioneer Square, these groups and individuals provided the theoretical and strategic basis, guidance and wisdom that enabled the next generation of Portlanders to embark upon the next phase of cultural repair that Pioneer Square, and many forms of timely community activism and action had done so much to enervate. In fact, City Repair can also be seen as "a child of" innumerable emergent institutions that also arose in those times, including; the increasingly progressive city council and succession of mayors; Portland's increasingly activated bureaucracy and organizational cultures, Portland's private commercial culture with a mostly local ownership, dozens of educational institutions, OMSI, KBOO, Metro, People's, RACC, ReBuilding Center, Portland's broad culture of ecological action and vision, armies of artists and performers, thousands of designers and builders, thousands of activist volunteers, people who have come to help from all over the world, and so many more. These dimensions of Portland culture have all given rise to City Repair, and they are also the communities that comprise it as a whole. City Repair is constantly growing and changing, and the organization of City Repair exists now as a powerful entity which has joined that constantly expanding network.
Indigenous inspiration and support that was gathered during the research phase that led to City Repair included the following, in chronological order:
* Nikai, Apache Medicine Woman, 1991
In 1991, Nikai led an elaborate ritual in Oregon's Alvord Desert. The ritual was a celebration of the completion of an elaborate project that had just been established in the northern extent of the giant lake bed that forms the Alvord Basin. Coordinated by a team from Fairfield, Iowa, the project was a half-mile diameter symbol that was meticulously inscribed in the baked clay of the lake bed, a fusion of East Indian and North American Apache symbols. The purpose, as their leader Bill Witherspoon said, was to create a graphic "call for help", to attract attention from the cosmos in Earth's time of need. At the completion of the giant installation, an event was held in the center during "between time", or twilight when the spirit realm is apparently most accessible. During the sacred gathering, Nikai described the formation of the universe, recounted the lives of each of the 18 participants in attendance, and then announced each person's state of being, life purpose, and their personal strategies for fulfilling their purpose. The way forward for City Repair to emerge was described during this ritual.
* Elk River (Calvin Magpie), Cheyenne, 1992-1996
A former architect working in San Francisco, Elk River eventually became a "Road Man", trained by his people to travel the cities of the American west coast, and subtly intervene in the daily reality of urban life, sometimes conducting sacred rituals to "wake people up". Elk River advised the emergence of City Repair in numerous ways by; describing colonial systems that characterize American life, yet Americans do not understand; Describing the difference between villages where people generate culture together, vs neighborhoods where people barely even know the people they live next to; that the reemergence of circles in the colonial gird would have a restorative effect on human interaction and behavior; that the "economy of the universe", and culture building depends upon joyous reciprocity. That it is one thing to give, and the next level is helping others to also give from a place of identifying with their "larger scale of self" in the Tree of Life.
* Lacandon Maya, Kayum Max, Chan Kin Quarto, Bor, Kin Sol, Others...1992, 94, 95
Located in Chiapas, the Lacandon are famous for managing to evade contact with their Spanish invaders for many centuries, and were only finally contacted in the middle of the 20th Century. They are a collection of many Mayan communities who banded together, becoming nomadic refugees as they went deep into what is now the Selva Lacandona (Lacandon Rainforest) in order to hide from the invaders and keep their culture intact. After Mexican contact in 1945, their culture of 5000 people was reduced by European Diseases to only 120 by 1994.
Their support in the emergence of City Repair was perhaps the most profound, as they literally were able to describe everything about it before it existed. This included the context of imperialism's hostility and violence towards all village based cultures, the fact that nearly every person alive is a refugee in a real sense, the path forward to prepare for City Repair, and the projects that would be built. They also described it's creative potential to change the world as a kind of "anti-virus", based upon the awakening of every person to their own capacity and destiny. Everything about their community provided an alternative pattern based on a deeply rooted connection of people and place, from their geomorphic settlement patterns and gathering places and agricultural systems, to their astounding community decision making processes. Not least, witnessing their "heavenly" relationship to other species was proof that a better world is possible everywhere.
* Jicarilla Apache, Dulce, New Mexico 1995
This interaction with a man on the road going west from Dulce, included advice about the human proclivity for economic reciprocity, the economy of sharing being the basis for all forms of "capital" to flow, and personal rituals and change, loss, and transformation.
* Linda Green, Warm Springs, 1997
Linda Green was initiated as a highest level medicine woman in the winter of 1997. Her ritual lasted three days, and provided a window into the cultural and ritualistic basis of a truly resilient community. To help Linda become a great leader in their midst, they sang and danced, and showered gifts upon each other for three continuous days and nights. Before sunrise on the final day, they swept like a tide, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth across the long house in celebration of their place in the universe, and the moon and stars, and Earth and sun. This exposure also helped the development of City Repair providing a window into an intact living cultural milieu with functional myths and metaphors, sharing economy, and symbolic fabric of space, time, and place.
To journey through time and place, use the interactive maps below to watch our placemaking endeavors from the beginning until 2017!
City Repair and/or VBC across the nation, and the globe!
We've also helped start numerous chapters of the VBC across the nation, and even in Canada.
* Sebastapol VBC
* OlyVBC (Olympia)
* Santa Barbara VBC (California)
* City Repair Calgary (Canada)
* Vermont VBC
*Akron City Repair (Ohio)
*Cleveland City Repair (Ohio)
Organizations or entities that have been birthed from City Repair over time include:
* The Portland Earth Day Coalition
* Free Geek
* ClarkLewis, Gotham Tavern, and Family Supper
Other placemaking interventions/initiatives that we were foundational in supporting, developing, or inspiring include:
* Dignity Village
* Tryon Farm
* ReBuilding Center
* PDX Harp
Across the Nation!
* Village Reclamation Project (Minneapolis)
* OM Village (Madison, WI)
* Quixote Village (Olympia, WA)
* Opportunity Village (Eugene, OR)
* Feet First (Seattle)
* PLACE (Oakland, California)