Recently in Somerville, TED’s “Ideas Worth Spreading,” were in full motion, with a local twist! Located at the Arrowstreet-designed Brooklyn Boulders rock climbing gym, TEDxSomerville’s Movement-themed event was a 6-hour long series of talks and performances by local community members. Aptly located, the event centered on the theme of “motion” – from physical to mental and individual to communal.
With nearly 20 presentations, certain speakers and performers really stood out to me. Author and novelist Matthew Dicks spoke about the importance of the word “yes” in personal exploration and success. Christina Economos, PhD., Co-Founder and Director of ChildObesity180, brought the audience through the start and growth of her organization, which is focused on improving the health of children. Toward the end of the 2nd session of presentations, singer-songwriter-playwright-blogger-pianist Amanda Palmer arrived on stage. Before she spoke, Palmer’s recent main stage TED talk was streamed on a large projection screen. Following that, she gave a great impromptu ukulele mini-concert.
Two presentations, one by George Proakis, Director of Planning for the City of Somerville and the other by Mimi Graney, Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets, had common central themes on movement and appropriate planning for the future. While the focus of each talk varied, both presentations complemented each other.
Mimi Graney’s talk centered on keeping a “gritty” lens focused on the City of Somerville. She notes that some of Somerville’s best and most important spaces are old industrial properties which provide low-cost spaces for growing creative and manufacturing sectors. Graney borrowed a phrase from urban activist Jane Jacobs to propel her point “…for really new ideas of any kind, there is no leeway for such chance error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”
The quote centers on initial economic viability and seems to refer to innovative start-ups, which are widespread in our nation – especially here in the Greater Boston area. At the conclusion of the presentation, Graney stated, “The cost of space is the driving factor in the location decisions across all sectors of Somerville’s creative economy, making affordability essential if the city is to maintain these businesses.”
Older buildings satisfy a need, but there are other types of spaces known as “live/work” environments and “work bars” that are emerging everywhere. Are these located in old buildings? Can we create new construction to serve the same purpose? It is important that planners, architects, and developers are as innovative as their clients, especially when creating spaces to house those clients.
Expanding upon the above idea, Graney’s presentation was followed by George Proakis, ACIP. Proakis’ talk had an emphasis on urging planning disciplines to recognize the changing needs of the served population as well as the need to adapt in a useful timeline. He noted the ever-changing landscape of fledgling urban (semi-urban) communities, the migration and growth of diverse business typologies to these locations (specifically Somerville, as an example), and the adversities that arise due to specificity and out-of-date, in-flexible zoning laws. Proakis pointed out not only the importance of planning and zoning in the evolution of an up-and coming-city, but its ability to adapt and adjust to the growing community’s needs. Understanding the community’s current needs will help assist future planners and developers with the necessary tools to be able adapt more easily and swiftly.
That’s my two cents. Overall, the TEDxSomerville event was full of interesting people and ideas, at a great new local establishment. I look forward to attending another TEDx event and hearing what other innovative locals are up to. Keep moving!