From idea to reality, We Are City: Summit 

click to enlarge Oliver Blank - SUBMITTED PHOTO

Don't expect to find the usual city planning suspects at the We Are City: Summit. One tipoff is the list of sponsors for the half-day conference Friday at the Harrison Center for the Arts. The sponsors do include the traditional, like the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Visit Indy, the city's official tourism website; but also on the list are more cutting-edge arts groups like Big Car and City Gallery.

The Summit is being organized by We Are City, a loose collective of people representing community groups, the arts, universities and social media. We Are City formed after the Urbanized Summit last year at the Indianapolis Museum of Art which screened the documentary Urbanized.

Those involved want to continue the discussion on what city life in Indy could become. We Are City produced a film series earlier this year and a We Are City Exchange earlier this month that offered a wide range of organizations the chance to meet and exchange information. There is also a website and a We Are City Briefing, a bi-weekly email with links to local, national and international stories about what cities are doing.

The Summit is geared toward anyone interested in Indy's future, not just those who have been traditionally involved in city planning.

"In the past it was geared to urban planners, people in community development, architects, those working for nonprofits dealing with city issues," says Michael Kaufmann, who works with Wishard Hospital and is one of the organizers for We Are City. "We're getting an amazing variety of folks because we're addressing a wide variety of issues."

The Summit will feature a series of speakers involved in innovative and successful projects from around the country, along with leaders from local projects. The idea is to find things that a city does really well, something that sets it apart.

"We're introducing this concept of baseline, distinctive and exceptional," Kaufmann says. "We're using this as a framework to see where we stand, how we measure up to other cities. We're bringing in people doing interesting things in their cities. It's a sharing of ideas across cities."

The speakers from outside Indy include:

* Nigel Jacobs, a co-founder of Urban Mechanics in Boston. Urban Mechanics is part of the mayor's office and helps address city services and other needs of residents and businesses through the use of new technology. One example is a new app for smartphones that is being tested called Street Bump. It allows people to report the exact location of potholes to the city as soon as they hit them.

* Lauren Allen, the lead scientific advisor for The Center for Post Natural History in Pittsburgh. The center, which opened its permanent exhibition facility in March, documents the interplay between culture, nature and biotechnology that results in living organisms being altered through breeding or genetic engineering.

* Medrick Addison, Cleveland's Evergreen Initiative, a cooperative launched in 2008 to create jobs in the city's low income neighborhoods. Addison, the operational supervisor of the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, was in the first group of worker-owners to join the co-op.

* Oliver Blank, a designer, artist and composer with Civic Center in New Orleans. The center blends art, design, education, writing and music into city projects.

* Valeria Mogilevich, the program director for the Center for Urban Pedagogy in Brooklyn, N.Y. The center tries to help people understand urban planning and policy issues and to get them involved by using design and art.

Indiana participants range from the Latino Youth Collective to Reconnecting to Our Waterways to the Near Eastside Legacy Initiative to Michael Huber, a former deputy mayor in charge of economic development for Greg Ballard's administration.

Javier Barrera of the Latino Youth Collective took part in the We Are City Exchange last week. His organization helps young people research common problems in their neighborhoods and to seek solutions, while teaching them how to use media tools like video. They then produce short documentaries. The Exchange gave his group an opportunity to meet and talk with people from a range of other community organizations.

"We have been reaching out to organizations and are seeing what we can get accomplished and how we can get youth in our group connected," Barrera says. "Things have been happening. ... We would like to get these things from idea to reality."

That's one of the goals of the Summit. Another is offering an opportunity for a wider variety of people to get involved.

"The measure of success for a conference like this is for people - from the professionals to the person who is not extremely educated in a specific area - to both get something out of it," Kaufmann says.


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