We Are City hosts final summit 

click to enlarge We Are City co-founders address the audience at last year's SUMMIT. (From left to right, Michael Kaufmann, Tim Carter and John Beeler.) - TESSA TILLETT PHOTOGRAPHY
  • We Are City co-founders address the audience at last year's SUMMIT. (From left to right, Michael Kaufmann, Tim Carter and John Beeler.)
  • Tessa Tillett Photography

What kind of Indianapolis do you want to live in? What projects and ideas might inspire how we move forward as a community? What can we learn from other cities about who and what we want to be?

Get some ideas at the next — and final — We Are City Summit at the Indiana History Center on August 21. The founders say the half-day conference will be their third and last summit, as they endeavor to terminate gracefully and continue their efforts through other viable endeavors.

“As an organization, which is at its best ad hoc, it wasn’t sustainable without getting bigger,” says John Beeler, one of the co-founders of We Are City. “In order to grow, we’d have to take ourselves more seriously. We decided to shut it down and see what else we could involve ourselves with.”

The idea of terminating gracefully comes from the Unix philosophy of software development, which has driven We Are City from its inception about three years ago. The philosophy also encourages adherents to write programs that connect and “talk” to one another, a useful metaphor for cities and the Summit itself.

As for the topics to be presented at the upcoming conference, Beeler says the organizers choose presenters based on their work and who they are, rather than specific subjects, which creates an element of surprise for attendees.

“It’s a very people-driven decision,” Beeler says. “We don’t know what the speakers are going to talk about. You could see a trainwreck. But that’s never happened.”

A trainwreck seems unlikely with the Summit’s roster of diverse talent, who will likely talk in the arenas of urban development, civic engagement and art.

“There’s an underlying recognition that cities are this incredibly complex places,” says Phyllis Boyd, an Indianapolis-based landscape architect with Green3 who is scheduled to speak. “If we’re really going to try to improve our city, we’re going to have to look at it from all these different angles. We are City is open to all the different ways you can look at the city and interact with the city.”

click to enlarge Samantha Cross returns as emcee for the 2014 We Are City SUMMIT. - TESSA TILLETT PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Samantha Cross returns as emcee for the 2014 We Are City SUMMIT.
  • Tessa Tillett Photography

Boyd says she plans to share some of the processes behind the environmental planning and design work of Green 3, which works with communities, nonprofits and municipalities on projects like the ongoing Delaware Street Gateway in Mapleton-Fall Creek. “I’ll look at this wider issue of how you go about moving from vision to built work,” she says.

Expect to hear from a range of other local movers and shakers, like Sarah Green, art curator and founder of PBS’ The Art Assignment, a collaborative video and art project that challenges viewers to take on creative challenges and share them via social media.

Other participants include Ryan Gravel, an urban designer working to create a chain of connected green spaces in Atlanta called the BeltLine; Nettrice Gaskins, an artist and digital media expert at Georgia Tech; Bryce Johnson, a staff scientist with the Exploratorium in San Francisco; artist Matthew Skjonsberg of the Laboratory of Urbanism in Lusanne, Switzerland; Claudia Folska, a transportation expert from Denver; and Brooklyn-based artists Jace Clayton and Rocio Rodriguez Salceda, who also completed Indianapolis residencies through We Are City’s IMPORT program last year.

Who has attended the Summit in the past two years? “People who are community-minded,” says Ryan Puckett, who helps promote the event. “It’s a mix of people who are interested in architecture, also just basic city improvement. Somebody who would get into transit development, someone who would be interested in bringing more art to the city, people who are interested in sustainability — it runs the gamut.”

If you’ve never been to the Summit before, expect something a little different than your typical academic or professional conference. There will be opportunities for audience to engage and participate.

“We try to offer plenty of time for people to interact and not sit there all day,” Puckett says. He also promises fortune cookies will be involved.

For fans of the Summit’s popular biweekly BRIEFING email, it will also come to an end within a month or two. The email, which began as an electronic missalette to promote the first Summit, grew from six subscribers to more than 1,400, and offers highlights of various projects, ideas and initiatives related to city-building in Indianapolis and around the world.

Tickets for the Summit, presented by Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., cost $20 for the general public, $15 for students, and $25 at the door, though last year advanced tickets sold out. But even if online tickets appear sold out, organizers indicate they’ll try to accommodate anyone who shows up on the day of the event.

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