Being new to a place is a gift. I have now been working in University Circle, an arts district of Cleveland, for a little over four months. They say “ignorance is bliss” and so I’m utilizing this period to catalog my unbiased perspectives.
With this work, we become deeply emmeshed in our communities, it is a necessity to do the job well. We know who owns that property, when it was developed, who opposed the project and the changes that ensued due to the controversy, what was razed to make way, what the neighbors feel today, what art project their development fees went towards, we may even know the concierge and what soccer team their daughter plays on. We are acutely connected. When we work with our elected officials to transform a park, we may later walk through the space with disappointment that value added elements didn’t land in the final design. Depending on our length of time in the roles, we might continue to yearn for that small music venue that was demolished over twenty years ago or recall a protest on that corner where upheaval occurred. There is richness in knowing the stories of a place, but it also can impede our ability to envision something different.
For a short period, I can walk through University Circle and see the opportunity without retracing the history of the controversy that surrounded any given project. Pretty quickly the stories are shared. I will soon learn all the “whys” and the “whos” of every corner of the district. I will continue to learn how things were funded and what agendas or politics were at play. But before that knowledge takes hold, I have a window of opportunity to see this place – in this moment – without others coloring the view. It’s a gift, but it doesn’t last long.
What if we could all engage in that exercise for just one walk in each of our places? Whether you have been in your role for one month or 32 years … whether you grew up going to your downtown or moved there for this position … Walk out your front door, step out of your car, lock up your bicycle, shake off your history and just be a tourist. What do you like? What would you want to be different? Which paths draw you in and which have little to offer? Without considering how it came to be, do you love a certain sculpture or water feature? Have a drink at a bar and chat with the bartender as if you are from out of town. Take a Lyft and ask your driver about their experiences.
I challenge you to be a tourist in your downtown, consider it a game and soak it all in. Enjoy the visit!