A Task Large Enough For The Longest Life

Just saw Dave Winer tweet out this….

Which instantly made me recall this oft quoted passage from my teacher & mentor Harvey Sarles…

“Why is it, I have wondered, that whereas authors, poets, et al in earlier eras produced their most important works in their later years, it is characteristic of our age to begin with the climax, also a distrust of life; thus almost everyone considers quitting early, a professor for a few years, a poet for a few years, an actor a few years, etc— in short, as if the tasks were not enough for a whole life.

I think it can be explained this way, that instead of being character tasks, all tasks have become virtuosity tasks. This is why they are not enough. The ability to express the highest, to understand the highest, to present it, etc., can be achieved before thirty. But to do it— that changes everything and gives one a task large enough for the longest life.

But this is not what they want. They want to scintillate with virtuosity— and sneak away from character. This is why they turn aside…”

– from Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, 1833-1855, journal entry #4475, as quoted in Harvey Sarles’ book Teaching as Dialogue, Chapter 8, “Toward Becoming An Auto-Didact (Where Pedagogy Directs Itself)”


Our current era’s fascination with the cult of the new begs for shallow virtuosity but what our planet needs is depth, building better roots and rerouting branches. No small task. For me the question here is how to iteratively think and do civic practices to emerge more sustainable and equitable ways of living together. Part of a life long task.


Smart Cities Or Wise Cities?

Smart cities, smart politicians, smart leaders, smart writers, smart journalists, smart policy makers, smart planners, smart consultants, smart authors, smart… people.

When most people use the word “smart” in civic life they are really saying some person: has technocratic or corporate efficiency, or has skillful rhetoric regardless of logic or ethics, or has an exemplary command of status quo worldview. When these so called “smart” people let society down people don’t often ask why. The reason why is that we praise what is “smart” rather than debate what is “smart” and debate who defines what is “smart”, all of which distracts us from asking, “what is wise?”

Sunday Night Poem: The Street by Hellman Pardo

Photo I took of a busy street with speeding traffic and few pedestrian protections, two blocks from where I was born. Carrera 13 y Plaza Lourdes, Chapinero, Bogotá.


The Street

Without saying anything you speak to me.
You say, for example:
– I’m made of rock and make men sweat
In the days without shade and the nights without birds.
No one gets nowhere;
They pour through my hands that monoxide of blood
That brings them life or perhaps death.
They fall in and out of love over my dawning ribs,
They shatter and mutilate themselves.
If that is your nature
Let me continue to be this stone beaten
by time.

And I say, with astonishment in my face:
– Don’t worry, I’m just passing by.

born in Bogotá 1978
(English translation by Daniel Latorre and Luis Latorre)


La Calle

Sin decir nada todo me lo dices.
Dices, por ejemplo:
– Soy de roca y sudo a los hombres
En los días sin sombra y las noches sin pájaros.
Nadie llega a ninguna parte;
Vuelcan por mis manos ese monóxido de sangre
Que les da la vida o quizá la muerte.
Se aman y se desaman por mis costillas amanecidas,
Se rompen y se mutilan.
Si esa es su naturaleza
Déjame seguir siendo esta piedra vencida
por el tiempo.

Y digo, con estupor en el rostro:
– No te afanes, estoy de paso.

por Hellman Pardo
nació en Bogotá en 1978
desde Poetas Bogotanos: Conjuro Capital, 2008

Living Within The American Lie, On The Passing of Vaclav Havel

Occupy Wall Street protesters and police line, Liberty Square aka Zuccotti Park, NYC, October 2011

“In highly simplified terms, it could be said that the post-totalitarian system has been built on foundations laid by the historical encounter between dictatorship and the consumer society. Is it not true that the far-reaching adaptability to living a lie and the effortless spread of social auto-totality have some connection with the general unwillingness of consumption-oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity? With their willingness to surrender higher values when faced with the trivializing temptations of modern civilization? With their vulnerability to the attractions of mass indifference? And in the end, is not the greyness and the emptiness of life in the post-totalitarian system only an inflated caricature of modern life in general? And do we not in fact stand (although in the external measures of civilization, we are far behind) as a kind of warning to the West, revealing to it its own latent tendencies?”

– Vaclav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless” 1978, Prague

Reading this essay earlier in the Spring of 2011 stuck with me and continues to motivate my choices in making a better world to live together in. Vital voices like Havel’s, worth passing on to future generations. Meditating on why his dissident voice still matters today here in America.

(* Updated quote with full paragraph for more contextual punch, but it’s that last sentence that rings so loudly here in 2011.)

App Ideas: Public Media Helpers

Bill "don't say torture" Keller and Judith "who knew WMD didn't exist" Miller. Bad apples, or two of thousands of mainstream journalists who suppport a status quo system?

WeMedia browser extension, user story:

I want…

a Firefox plugin that detects any NYT (or other MSM) link and upon clicking on it gives you top non-MSM links on the same topic after parsing the HTML.

So that people can…

get P2P media often with better information & generate less ad revenue for status quo corporate media and instead do more so for independent/local media. I’m not online to get more MSM media. (I don’t know about you, but I’m here to route around it and get more public media, more source/varied/alternative information about our world.)

MSMugwumpScore browser extension, user story:

I want…

a Firefox plugin that looks at a Twitter user’s last 100 tweets and tells you via an overlay near their avatar what percent of their links are to MSM content.

So that people can…

have an ongoing sense of the info-diversity of Twitter users and follow or unfollow based on each person’s threshold percent for normative, and as NYU’s Jay Rosen aptly calls it, “voice from nowhere” news content.

Digital Placemaking at Project for Public Spaces

Screen shots of recent Digital Placemaking projects in Baltimore, NYC, Denver, and San Antonio
Screen shots of recent Digital Placemaking projects in Baltimore, NYC, Denver, and San Antonio

In the past 14 months at Project for Public Spaces I’ve started up a Digital Placemaking practice, you can read my into post there to find out more on how I’m bringing Cultural Studies, Media Ecology, Open Government, and Agile approaches into Placemaking. We’ve done 5 projects in this time and the value and promise of this community-led online/offline approach is really resonating with the cities we’re working with.

Radical Urbanism & Right to the City voices from 2008

I’m interested in the connections between Urbanism and the public space occupation movements that have come to prominence in 2011 amidst the environment of our new Media Ecology that’s infused with fast flowing ICT networks.

This post and my last three posts mark a little exploration into these threads.

Below I’m just sharing my notes on this talk from Winter 2008 on how The Right to the City weaves together many approaches in a new way. It’s insightful in the face of Occupy Wall Street today in the cool Fall of 2011. Scan my notes below or watch the 58 min video, or both! Continue reading “Radical Urbanism & Right to the City voices from 2008”

World Charter for the Right to the City

(Liberated into HTML from one of the many PDFs of this document, this text in particular was found at UrbanReinventors.net on October 2, 2011. See wikipedia for more on the idea of the Right to the City. I posted this after mulling over the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City posted by the blessed unrest that is the General Assembly at @OccupyWallStNYC. -danlatorre)

[begin full text]

Social Forum of the Americas – Quito – July 2004
World Urban Forum – Barcelona – October 2004
World Social Forum – Porto Alegre – January 2005
Revision in preparation for Barcelona – September 2005


The new millennium dawned with half of the world’s population living in cities, and experts forecast that by 2050 the world’s urbanization rate will reach 65%. Cities are potentially territories with vast economic, environmental, political and cultural wealth and diversity. The urban way of life influences the way in which we link with our fellow human beings and with the territory.

However, contrary to these potentials, the development models implemented in the majority of impoverished countries are characterized by the tendency to concentrate income and power, generating poverty and exclusion, contributing to environmental degradation, and accelerating migration and urbanization processes, social and spatial segregation, and privatization of common goods and public spaces. These processes favor proliferation of vast urban areas marked by poverty, precarious conditions, and vulnerability to natural disasters.

Today’s cities are far from offering equitable conditions and opportunities to their inhabitants. The majority of the urban population is deprived or limited – in virtue of their economic, social, cultural, ethnic, gender or age characteristics – in the satisfaction of their most elemental needs and rights. Public policies that contribute to this by ignoring the contributions of the popular inhabiting processes to the construction of the city and citizenship, are only detrimental to urban life. The grave consequences of this situation include massive evictions, segregation, and resulting deterioration of social coexistence.

This context favors the emergence of urban struggles that remain fragmented and incapable of producing transcendental changes in the current development model, despite their social and political importance.

In the face of this reality, and the need to counter its trends, urban organizations and movements linking together since the First World Social Forum (2001) have discussed and assumed the challenge to build a sustainable model of society and urban life, based on the principles of solidarity, freedom, equity, dignity, and social justice, and founded in respect for different urban cultures and balance between the urban and the rural. Since then, an integrated group of popular movements, nongovernmental organizations, professional associations, forums, and national and international civil society networks, committed to the social struggles for just, democratic, humane and sustainable cities, has worked to build a World Charter for the Right to the City. The Charter aims to gather the commitments and measures that must be assumed by civil society, local and national governments, members of parliament, and international organizations, so that all people may live with dignity in our cities.

The Right to the City broadens the traditional focus on improvement of peoples’ quality of life based on housing and the neighborhood, to encompass quality of life at the scale of the city and its rural surroundings, as a mechanism of protection of the population that lives in cities or regions with rapid urbanization processes. This implies initiating a new way of promotion, respect, defense and fulfillment of the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights guaranteed in regional and international human rights instruments.

In the city and its rural surroundings, the correlation between these rights and their necessary counterpart of duties can be demanded in accordance with the different responsibilities and socio-economic conditions of its inhabitants, as a form of promotion of: just distribution of the benefits and responsibilities resulting from the urbanization process; fulfillment of the social functions of the city and of property; distribution of urban income; and democratization of access to land and public services for all citizens, especially those with less economic resources and in situations of vulnerability.

For its origin and social meaning, the World Charter for the Right to the City is, above all, an instrument oriented to strengthen urban processes, vindications, and struggles. We call on the Charter to be constituted as a platform capable of linking the efforts of all those actors – public, social and private – interested in allocating full validity and effectiveness to this new human right through its promotion, legal recognition, implementation, regulation, and placement in practice.
Continue reading “World Charter for the Right to the City”

John Dewey 2.0 – We the P2P Public, Reassembling, Eclipsed No More

John Dewey wrote 2.5 human generations ago (in 1927) about what we now find so valuable in digital peer to peer systems of communication that enable better freedom of Expression, Transparency, and Collaboration. Dewey’s writing was in response to Walter Lippmann who wrote cynically about the “Phantom Public” and in that era of broadcast-top-down-one-way-media on the rise it’s no wonder Dewey offered that the public was just temporarily “eclipsed.”

Today, not only are we the Public able to return, but we now have technology systems for constant rewriting of social code, laws, relations, power dynamics.  Jay Rosen’s aphorism hits on this, that the publics are “the people formerly known as the audience.” The struggles that lead to Lippmann’s cynicism are far from behind us, the concentration of power has also increased in our digital networked era, and we the Public will need all the smarts and collaboration we can muster to remove the constant obstructions and restrictions continually put in our paths.

“There can be no public without full publicity in respect to all consequences which concern it. Whatever obstructs and restricts publicity, limits and distorts public opinion and checks and distorts thinking on social affairs. Without freedom of expression, not even methods of social inquiry can be developed. For tools can be evolved and perfected only in operation; in application to observing, reporting and organizing actual subject-matter; and this application cannot occur save through free and systematic communication.”

– John Dewey, The Public & its Problems, 1927

(Image: RHoK Nairobi, Kenya, photo by whiteafrican)

Renewing Networks: Egypt & “Losing Control”

(Image: “Thursday 10 February 2011 – Day 17 Al Qasr Al Aini Street, Cairo as doctors and nurses walk peacefully on one side of the street, others take video from mobile phones in the other side of the street.” photo by sierragoddess. cc-by-nd)

A lot of the recent talk about what’s going on in Tunisia and Egypt, about organizing today, digital media, anxieties about political organizational transitions… this all reminds me of this passage:

“Losing control is more important than trying to gain it. One distinguishing characteristic of the digital world is that power is being pushed to the edges away from organizations and towards people. This shift is good for organizations that need to engage many people in their work; yet to successfully power the edges, organizations have to be willing to lose control.

“Losing control” is a frightening phrase; it connotes flying through space without a parachute or a net. In this respect, social media are kryptonite for people who feel a need to control their efforts too tightly. But the reality in our connected world is that spending energy trying to control what other people do and say is counterproductive.

Organizations still need to be intentional about their efforts, they still need messages and plans, but they also have to expect that people and organizations in their ecosystem will march to their own drummers. More important, imperfectly coordinated efforts can be enormously successful, even exhilarating, as they unfold in unexpected ways.

Only by letting go and throwing off the yoke of control can organizations unleash the power and creativity of many people to do amazing things on their behalf. …”

— Beth Kanter & Allison Fine, The Networked Nonprofit

Some group of outside commentators frame changes like this as “chaos” or fog. But isn’t change the norm in life, and stability the exception often accomplished via some spectrum of repression? As the pre-Platonic adage goes, we never walk through the same stream twice. Where are we? We’re in an “unscripted time,” as Harvey Sarles has said in his essay “Responses To Change“— “a moment in history in which our ideas of the future seem really murky, unclear, unsure”— and what some in grappling with this recognition over the past 30 years have labeled: The Third Wave, The Aquarian Conspiracy, Blessed Unrest, or the Gutenberg Parenthesis.

Those involved in the the Egyptian and Tunisian protests are operating with a new spirit— the spirit of this age we’re in— and are doing amazing work to accomplish simple goals that have been articulated widely and for some time… a social code perhaps most eloquently documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and adapted and focused in on for local context. Some people focus on freedom to communicate, or freedom from want, or freedom of representative choice, or all of this and more.  How we’re doing this now has augmented, morphed, or in many ways is renewing long standing ways of human association that have been repressed via the narrow abstraction of printed words.

“Leaderless organization” is another phrase for networks. “Chaos” as used today is another word for networks, often used by idealist print-centered minds who’ve yet to reboot their awareness with actual human communication reality.

What can an organization learn from these recent events? The value of articulating outcomes and improving skills in sharing them, to then learn and co-create with like-minded peers… that’s the positive phrasing of what is meant by “losing control.”

That shock we feel over and over these days?
Sparks from reconnecting networks of human trust.