Monday, November 7, 2011

Buenos Aires & Washington
3: Vision of a City on a Hill

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill...
Jesus in Matthew 5:14 NIV

It's all about light!  In The Kingdom Of God Is Within You, the book, it is said, that changed Gandhi's life, Tolstoy wrote :

...the life of a man [woman] and of humanity is nothing but a continual movement
from darkness into light, from a lower stage of truth to a higher,...

These words of Jesus and Tolstoy provide a compelling vision for our 2 cities: just as our lives ought to be about constantly seeking truth and the light that truth generates, our cities need to be about seeking truth and light.

Finding truth in an urban environment is finding the optimal arrangement of living space so it is in tune with nature and people. It is about facilitating learning, employment, health, good shelter and nutrition, and good relations, always seeking the optimal conditions so that all may enjoy access to these requisites of a good life. When we are moving toward this optimal mode, we generate light and inspire and create light for others. When children receive great educations from community schools, we are hopeful. When communities clean their air and water, we are relieved. When we see the homeless and elders cared for, our hearts sing. When many nations reached out and stood together, Chilean miners were rescued, and we stood proud and tall in the new light of possibilities that cooperation and caring brought to the global community.

I've tried in 2 previous posts to make it clear that the visions of our two cities are blurred but not hopeless. It's really quite simple. A city can be interesting and beautiful. It can attract visitors and residents by the millions BUT it will never be great, it will never be The City on the Hill that gives light to everyone, until its people have an enthusiastic, uncompromising commitment to a clearly-defined vision and I fully believe that the engine of this vision that will drive our two cities to greatness is a commitment to the well-being of children. The future of Washington is its children. El futuro de Buenos Aires es sus niños. And, yes, I say to all my aging peers, cities must also care today for yesterday's children, our honored elder citizens, but the future is today's children. It must be understood that the future demands that we place our youngest, most vulnerable citizens in the first position. Today. Every problem with which we now struggle, is connected to a failure to ensure the well-being of previous generations.

Nurturing and educating this generation of our precious children will turn the world around in one decade!  Photo: Paul Weiss

Think about this: of all the problems facing us in the chaos of our cities, the one that would inspire the most support and give us the most impelling entry point is the lifting up of children. And once we begin, the spirit of our efforts will spread to every city need. This is not about only taking care of children, but about bursting the dam of resistance and starting a flow of energy that will touch every corner of the city.

Got it? Okay, let's begin. We create the future by the way we nurture and educate our children. Children need healthy, safe, inspiring places to live, play and learn. Every child that is neglected reduces the light and the future capacity of the city to realize its dreams, its vision. In Buenos Aires last year, students took over and closed 30 schools demanding repairs and heat and other necessities. As the take-overs occurred I couldn't help thinking about the possibility of the same explosion of student demands in Washington, in places like Potomac Gardens, where virtually no recreational facilities exist and where neighbors wonder why children are so troublesome. Duuuuh! As I write, another student upheaval is happening in Chile with students demanding better schools. How different the image of President Sebastián Piñera welcoming the miners as they emerged from the rescue capsule and, now, repressing the students! Blurred vision. Is this the way we want our city and future to evolve, with anger, tear gas and political discord? Little truth, no light. We're talking about creating a City on the Hill, a Beloved Community, where every child has an opportunity to develop his/her potential. When children know they are valued at home, in the neighborhood, in the school, they don't go in anger to the streets. But we need to create a process, a vision of a city, that values its children, then make it happen. How do we do this?

The rescue of the Chilean miners gives us a clear model to follow. See my blog post, 33 Miners Rescued – DC Kids Still Trapped, where I wrote about the U.S. public school system:

What is needed in DC – and every failing school system – is an immediate, all-out encampment on the Washington Mall like the one at the San Jose mine. Bring in the experts, the media, the money guys, the politicians, and start putting together the rescue apparatus.

Encampment at the San Jose Mine that resulted in the rescue of every trapped miner. Photo: Associated Press, October 2010

Then start drilling through all the issues that keep our public school kids trapped and in danger of living lives without hope. Drill through all the greed, prejudice and stupidity that separate poor kids in public schools from privileged kids in private schools. And create – and fund – the escape capsule. And this is most important: the encampment stays in place until every child in every failing school is rescued.

We need to create an encampment and we need to find a rescue capsule. We need to come together to create the process and the vision. It would be great if our political leaders would call the city together but chances of that happening are not great. However, I'd love to be the Lionel Messi or Cal Ripken of a movement in both cities and lead the charge to create beloved communities for the children of both. I'm willing to sit down with Mayors Vincent Gray and Mauricio Macri to talk about it. Fellows, I'm free for lunch. Give me a call.

But you and I that telephone call will not be coming. Politicians, by their very nature, are not people with the kind of vision we're talking about, a vision that endures beyond the election cycle. Sure, at election time we hear a lot of promises about better education, improved highways, more security, blah, blah, blah. But that's politics, not vision. We need politicians, and we are grateful for the good ones, but by their very nature, they are not able to create the city we are seeking. We, the people, need to do it. We, the citizens, have great power and we need to use it to create the vision and engage the assistance of our city leaders, elected or otherwise, but we must take the lead, make it happen and make it endure.

But, before we begin, our vision needs to overcome two major stumbling blocks. Our two cities are too big and there isn't enough money.

Cities are too big. We need to create urban villages throughout our cities, each with no more than 25,000 residents in each village. The principal goals of each village are to make children its highest priority and to create a volunteer force to care for the children, the elderly and the village. In Washington, the villages would be organized within existing wards; in Buenos Aires, they would be organized within the new comunas. Every village would have one representative to be part of a weekly city “encampment” which would develop a vision, discover resources, and give leadership. Monthly public village meetings would give everyone an opportunity to hear progress reports, voice concerns and engage in solutions.

There isn't enough money. It's not about money. Money is why existing structures don't work—money, money, money. The coin of the realm for our City on the Hill will be the spiritual and moral energy of its citizens. Everything will emanate from the goodness of people who share a great vision in their hearts of a city that cares for all its people.

How do we begin? Simple. Invite 1 or 2 neighbors you respect for coffee. Draw a line around enough of your neighbors to include 25,000 people. Come up with a great name for the village. Continue meeting for coffee, always inviting more neighbors. Keep a conversation going about how the village, 25,000 strong, can enrich the lives of children, the future.

Find a cafe. Invite one or two others. Begin the conversation
about children in your city.
   Photo: Paul Weiss

Next, pick one issue from the issues in these three posts. Ask, “How can we solve it?” One solution to much of the damage drivers and automobiles cause would be to enforce a 25 mph speed limit throughout the city. Save lives! Make it so!

As the group takes on size and consistency, talk about an encampment and an escape capsule. It's that simple. Simple, but never easy! Never easy because we never achieve much without taking some risks. It can be risky just to put yourself out there and invite friends and strangers to talk about changing the future. Keep drinking that coffee, talking, and inviting more neighbors. And watch things happen.

The bottom line. Conversation will not immediately bring us to the light, but it will create a place for light to shine. Little candles will soon become large torches, guiding our steps toward truth. Soon we will act and our actions will create hope. And we will find ourselves at the rainbow ground, the place from which beautiful colors of light emanate, shouting to the world that we have created hope … and discovered truth.

Paul Weiss founded and, for 30 years, directed Americas Children, an international nonprofit for children in North and South America. He recently published a book about his work, Touching The Rainbow Ground – 8 Steps To Hope. In 2011, he began a new journey on the rainbow trail, a global mission, The Rainbow Ground, to address the terrible challenges facing children everywhere.

This post is the third in a 3-part series:
Buenos Aires & Washington 1: Blurred Vision
Buenos Aires & Washington 2: Social Glue, Hubris & The 4 S's
Buenos Aires & Washington 3: Vision of a City on a Hill

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