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what's happened to city repair part III

I've been thinking about what to say about the thread at  http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2006/05/340023.shtml?discuss and i thought i've start one more round beginning with my thoughts. hope no one minds!
As a long-time city repair organizer, volunteer, co-direct, etc. who went through a lot of interpersonal issues and personal burnout leading to resignation. I want to thank all of the different perspectives that have been raised in this discussion. I have been reading all of them and thinking about posting but just waiting until i know what i want to say.

In the nine years that i had been involved in City Repair, I have seen a tremendous amount of changes. There has always been a "new age" element, so i don't think that it's that big of a deal, though i am concerned about the element moving from a equal part of our community to preventing people like the initial poster from feeling confortable.

My impression of the VBC central venue was first that it was a beautiful and incredable feat- one of the most detailed and expressive and expansive projects i've seen. In many ways, the event did strike me as a little "rave-like" as some has said in the thread. This wasn't too much of a surprise since it has been the vibe of many of our fundraising events. Asking around, it seems that many of the people who had been working on those fundraising parties where now taking central roles in organizing the VBC so it makes sense that they would bring their aethetic with them. From reading the conversation here, i would recommend that they think about how their aethetic chioces such as music type and the tuning-fork dude,as well as locatation in relationship to neighbors, role of the central venue as the central "barn" in the barn-raising process rather then as fund-raising event, effected long-time supporters of the movement who expressed alienation. to those who were feeling alienation: relax, it's a ephemeral expression, it isn't permanent, it will change next year, it's one snapshot on the 1000-year process of recovering our ability to talk to each other.

In my time in City Repair. I've seen a lot of projects fail. I've also seem some succede and many many more shine just long enough to show that we are getting near something important. then the light falls and all we have is the memory to start up the next project. these little ephemeral glimpses are important because they keep us adaptable. Each T-Horse was a product of the momemt and was often happening in a completely chaotic way, but that kept it magical. I would say that, in hindsight, 20 percent of the VBC sites were disasters- neighbors fought and didn't recover from the fights, the things we built weren't what we hoped or they melted before someone could build a roof or whatever. but i stand completely behind the other %80 and if CR can keep up doing so much more good then bad, then it still has my support and heart.

It's important for those still inside city repair to remember the possitive work that they and others inside and outside of the org do. For example, I went to the Earth Day Celebration after a hiatus on CR events and i had such a good time. It was the start of spring and it was so important for rekindling conversations and the networking that we have to do each years and the rains recede. People were having fun. But then i ran into some VBC organizers who said "oh, Earth Day is too much work for such little benefit!! they should build something lasting like us!" i think this is silly. The ephemeral and the formed need each other. It takes real people IN portland getting to know each other before an event like Earth Day can even be successful and then it takes many events like earth day to get neighbors to the point where they can collectively imagine something to do during the VBC.

Yes the VBC is mainly little COB kiosks. if you have a beter idea, what don't you talk with your neighbors and see if they would be into it. Make sure to talk at length with the people who disagree and hear what THEY would rather have - maby your idea for a cob drumcircle hut in the middle of the street could be turned into a brick performance ampetheatre to the side of the intersection and now they are into it. who knows. the reason it is little cob kiosks at this point is that that is the extent that those neighbors can agree on. someday it might be green low-income housing, and neighborhood orchards, and revolution, etc. etc. but let's not get ahead of ourselves...

anyway, much love to all those who work so hard to make CR happen including those who provide the essential feedback. I've already given my time, so I look forward to attending future events and seeing where the new folks take it.

VBC 01.Jun.2006 00:32

more than cob?

It's been great to have the posts about this.

As someone who really wants to see the projects be better monuments to what a group can accomplish together, I want to see VBC and CR be successful!!

The T-horse, the Sherrit Sq. project in Sellwood, the little houses out at Dignity Village (was that CR or just Mark Lakewood?), and many others are projects that are easy to love.
Even some of the cob structures are fun to come upon when you're not expecting it.

But the Sunnyside intersection (and some other cob stuff)- is just plain ugly (sorry, but it's true).

The painted yellow barrels with flowers planted in them look like first graders with no art talent (and poor adult guidance) created them.

Maybe that's what other people see, and then associate with City Repair. So, where has the "repair" part gone? Who's gotten "repaired"?
How is the giant sunflower appreciably better than what was there before?
Do cars really slow down at that intersection?

It's very hard to come up with art that everyone will agree is beautiful, since we don't all share the same aesthetic.

Maybe the real sad thing of CR and VBC, is talking too much to each other and not enough to the rest of the city?

Building consensus takes time and skill and patience. It needs to be inclusive and democratic.
Imposing poorly thought-out (cob, or what ever) projects on the rest of our neighbors might not really help to build community!!

What can we do? Anyone have any ideas?

not involved with city repair 01.Jun.2006 08:11


hey all,

the conversation re: city repair and vbc has been really interesting, and it's great that it has stayed largely constructive. as an outsider, the only things i can weigh in on are the price of the vbc events and my perceived value of the projects.

$20 for an event does make it kind of exclusive, not that i've never gone to an event that cost that... but i've really got to want to go... kinda' limits participation in a really important project.

flowers in intersections and other vbc/cr projects: i come from a flat, brown, plastic and concrete city... as do a number of my friends. flowers painted in an intersection, barrels with flowers and cob projects in general tell us where we live... that this is a better place where people care about things besides just getting by in the stingiest way possible... that there is joy and creativity here. all cr/vbc projects have attested to the spirit of joy, creativity, and hard work prevalent in pdx, regardless of whether i really like the colors (normally i'm not partial to yellow and orange either...).

anyways, thanks.

joy and colors 01.Jun.2006 14:23

psych out

I agree with the above poster, the $20 totally eliminated me and my friends from going to those VBC evening events.

There is the same problem with the TBA festival. Few free or low cost events, too much exclusivity and dividing people by their income.
In Portland, a city with the second least affordable apt. rents in the country, event costs divide people right down a solid line- the haves on one side and the have-nots on the other.
If VBC is about bringing people together, then the least that could happen is a having a sliding scale, or only one or two expensive events in the overall mix.

About joy and colors, the above person is right, no matter the aesthetics, seeing those barrels and the sunflower does express the joy of a neighborhood that is doing things differently- compared to most cities.
But why compare?


With all the artists and creative people living here in Portland, we could come up with intersection repairs (and CR has done it before) that are truly beautiful. Even graceful and elegant!!
The new painting at Cup & Saucer over on NE Killingsworth and 30th is pretty cool.

Colors and shapes and their effect on people's mood and behavior is something very well-documented- a little more care and thought is all we need to take it all to the next stage.
Maybe there would be more support for CR and VBC and fewer neighbors resisting all the different ideas if this could happen?

That's one of the key messages that Mark Lakewood and friends have brought to Portland from the very beginning of CR: great, innovative, and beautiful design does not need to be limited to the wealthy segment of the population.

Gardens, flowers, color, works of art, artful structures- like for inexpensive housing, teahouses, good conversation, must also belong to ordinary people!

Take it to the streets!!!

But what is City Repair about?? 02.Jun.2006 00:09


It still needs to be made clear... what is City Repair Project all about? I see decorating intersections and building small structures as just an entry into what could be so much more that is vital to human survival. And, yes, Lakeman has written and spoken of City Repair Project as a vehicle for such. If this is what CR is about, then open the doors to elevating the effort to affecting change in how we live daily, the entire economic, political and social structures, person by person, neighborhood by neighborhood. Otherwise, CR will remain an organization stuck in a rut and eventually losing steam and fading away.

good point, eager one 02.Jun.2006 09:56


Yes, yes, yes!!
CR needs to make it clear that their projects are only the beginning of organizing people for the much larger goals of social change.
I hope the CR group can come back to this purpose.
We already have too much fluff- the situation (on many levels) is urgent.

in the woods 03.Jun.2006 04:01


Quite a while ago, I came regularly to T-horse socials. I fondly remember the bountiful, warm and friendly energy there. It inspires me to this day. My only regret is that I couldn't contribute more than I did. For personal reasons unrelated to the philosophy or operation of CR, I had to kind of leave that setting, but still hope one day to resume some participation with them.

I haven't had occasion to go to the VBC events, so I wouldn't comment too much about them, except to say that I'm leery about the pay to enter policy. Pay to enter is one of the reasons I haven't had occasion to go.

If people have the money, assuming the event is good, they'll give the money willingly. The logical, simple thing to do, is mount the scale of the event according to the money or resources available, rather than resorting to the weary and counterproductive pay at the door routine. Take the money and resources acquired from the previous years efforts, to mount the scale of the current years event.

When I went to the T-horse gatherings, I could see that some people were investing massive energy into those events....because they had it to give and elected to do so. That, I think, is a major part of the operating philosopy that CR is based on, and a strong point that is essential to continue encouraging.

For the best health of the community and the effort that is CR, how might we best regard someone who goes to the events, but does not particpate in the outside activities related to putting the them together? Someone who, say for example, finds the experience of joining in with others at the event itself, collectively helping to set up the horse, and relax in casual social surroundings, invigorating, yet personally challenging due to not readily aparrent, under the surface uneasiness about many things not specifically related to the situation at hand?

The person registers great experiences, infrequently, or never, ever before felt, acquires a wealth of valuable knowledge, that they carry on, sharing with others, inspiring them with all of this acquired from the extraordinary summer twilight T-horse socials. Is such a person a moocher, or a valuable participant?

Many people with valuable, undeveloped abilities, skills, and potential, are passed over because they don't have the fee for the gate. Under certain circumstances, even the considerate provision that no one shall be turned away for lack of funds, can be a humiliating and degrading experience.

The beauty and vision of CR, is that it has cast a wide net, reaching even into overlooked quarters for all those with a similar capacity for vision and beauty, who would help generate and introduce refreshingly new ideas that may lead to something better for everybody in this world. It should keep doing this.

Imagination and innovation supported by extraordinary sense of community is what I hope CR continues to be about. Just one example: it's inspiring that they have demonstrated that great things can be built using materials the conventional building industry disregards as crap.

I also remember from the T-horse socials, that there were certain people, perhaps some of those doing a lot of the heavy lifting, that were ambitious, and looked to the day when the organization could do things on a much bigger scale. Plans to accomplish this involved beauracratic manoevering for non-profit status, and generation of operating capital. The descendant of that evolved mentality from an almost exclusively, serendipitous self reliance of the long ago is what some may be seeing today in CR.

The result is that people are being turned away from the positive influence it could have upon them. CR loses, everybody loses. CR slips slowly into exclusivity, sacrificing its visionary accessibility for operating capital imagined neccessary for bigger schemes.

You get what you pay for, is said manytimes. Also true though, is that in paying, you gradually get less and less for what you pay. Giving is better. People without money, inspired by great ideas and the offer of community, have things other than money they will gladly give when the opportunity is there.

to be 03.Jun.2006 11:11

a wonderful summary

This last essay really describes (in a beautiful way) some of the problems of CR today.

In that move from a welcoming creative community to a more formal "organization" (particularly to a 501(c)(3)- with all of its hierarchical structure and formidable IRS cautions about being "too" political) there was necessarily a switch in purpose that led directly AWAY from the goals of CR's early days.

Maintaining an organization quickly becomes a goal in and of itself- money must be constantly raised and then meticulously accounted for, and there are reports to document- in excrutiating detail- how the funds were used. Way too many meetings, a Board of Directors that might not share your vision. It can be exhausting!

Over time, the Federal Gov't rules for non-profits have tightened and the official scrutiny of a group's activity that takes place has strengthened. Not every project belongs in a tight box of this type of structure. To be attentive to true community-building and honest social change maybe a looser, more flexible, less-funding dependent format is needed. There is a real dilemma in this situation. How to grow, yet stay true to the original purpose.

I agree that those early days of CR were heady ones. I also agree with "be" that people who become passionate about something find ways to contribute (both money and time) well beyond a $20 entrance fee. People are willing to dedicate not just a little time and money, but their lives to a really worthy project.

You prevent people from discovering this and place a barrier against joining by charging an entrance fee.
Immediately the fee sets up a dynamic that commodifies the activity. You are purchasing something, and that money is not optional or a freely offered "gift". [I also agree that the "no one turned away for lack of funds" policy is humiliating- particularly when you are facing people at a table positioned to block the entrance and they are eyeing you closely- trying to judge if you are lying or not? AWFUL!!]

Commodification of "community" - a fake community experience- seems to be the last thing that CR would want to be about.

Take Starhawk's presentation, for example: when she was here, was the spiral dance or ritual that she led in Portland for the VBC touch on any local, national or international issues? Did it bring people together around a crucial political or social reality that needs changing? Say- Oregon's lack of affordable housing, or child hunger? Or address the June nuclear test in Nevada or probable bombing of Iran? I wasn't there, so I really hope that Starhawk did manage to make it real, but how does that compare to being out on the street doing a spiral dance to blockade military ships sending equipment to Iraq, say (like in Olympia)? You are having an ersatz experience if you pay $20 to join Starhawk and dance in the basement of a church. That experience has become something you have purchased- just a toy to play with and add to your collection.

For CR, it seems that going back to the roots of their original community projects might help.
Somehow things have gotten off-track and the quality of participation and the quality of the end products are a reflection of that.

I hope that the way is found, again- because CR has the potential to offer deep experiences and hints of social change that are desperately needed today.

The more things stay the same 04.Jun.2006 02:42


I've been thinking about Thomas Hanna while working with CR this year. It has been 36 years, and an entire generation since Hanna wrote this unfortunatly it is still true.
(those with ADHD can just read the final two pargraphs)

Bodies in Revolt -- A Primer in Somatic Thinking; Thomas Hanna 1970 Holt ,Rinehart & Winston

P 258
In their group expressions , the proto-mutants have overreacted and achieved a new imbalance in the following two ways:(1) either they have moved toward a totally sensual-accommodative stance and have fled their cultural environment or (2) they have moved toward a totally aggressive stance and have launched an attack on their cultural environment. In either case, the direction of movement is toward a radical somatic imbalance in respect to the cultural tradition.The first type of group expression is that characterized by the Hippies. The second type of group expression is that characterized by the Militants.

The somatic imbalance of the Hippies and the Militants mean that, adaptationally,they are maimed somewhat like the very cultural traditionalists who they are either fleeing or attacking. The short-lived destiny of these two group expressions of proto-mutation is due to the fact that they have one foot in the technological environment (a positive adaptional factor) and one foot in the moribund cultural tradition (a negative adaptional factor) upon which they must depend in order to orient themselves.

But the Western cultural tradition, because it is moribund and environmentally irrelevant, is quickly mutating out; and to the hurried pace of its disappearance, so will the orientation of the Hippies and the Militants hurriedly lose its initial compass points.

There is no question but what there are, at the present time, many mutants living successfully among us in American Society. There is no question about it, at least to me, in as much as I know a goodly number of them. But the authentic mutants who have successfully achieved a healthy somatic balance and a viable pattern of behavior are hardly known of or noticed--certainly not by the traditionalists. Instead, the easily noticed betes noires of the traditionalist are the conformist groups of proto-mutants who insultingly ape the traditionalists by inverting the image of the traditionalists, i.e., they rub the traditionalists' noses in the very somatic experiences which the traditionalists are so desirous of, yet afraid of: to be relaxed, slovenly, hairy, dirty, unhurried, unafraid and particularly--to appear that one is reveling in all the delights of sexuality--these are the very repressive sacrifices which the cultural traditionalists have made so that the technological society, now enjoyed by the proto-mutants, would be possible. The traditionalists stands transfixed with horror and revulsion before the spectacle of those who take the fruits of his labored sacrifice and either wallow in them voluptuously or throw them back at him savagely.

These initial group expressions of proto-mutation are, thus, passing phenomena which have only as much longevity as does the cultural tradition against which they enjoy their revenge. Both the tradition and the revenge seekers will dissipate together, leaving us with a bit more wisdom about somatic imbalance and leaving the air a bit cleaner so that other proto-mutants can be seen and appreciated for their experimentations.

The Hippie somatic ideal is not viable because all accommodation and no assimilation makes Jack a dull boy. And Jill as well. Leave sex up to the Hippies with their fumblingly sweet attempt to remove from it all fear and anger, and sex will have about the same attraction and consistency as last night's mashed potatoes. But--forgetting the Hippies as a group--even for single, non-grouped individuals, the Hippie ideal is not viable for a lifetime unless one becomes a professional Hippie (lecturer, trinket seller, eccentric artist, etc.) and thereby has the possibility of living off of Hippyism rather than with it.

The Militant somatic and environmental ideal is not viable because it has less environmental intelligence than does the cultural establishment which the Militant attacks. The Militant's heart is halfway in the right place--namely, in knowing that acceptance, trust, and love among men is now a historical inevitability, so why not achieve it now; but his heart is halfway in the wrong place by being more viciously aggressive than is the establishment he is hoping to destroy. The Militant's failing is in not realizing that aggression cannot destroy the cultural tradition; to the contrary, the techniques of aggression ( and the justifications for it) are something of which the establishment is a past master. The cultural establishment can tolerate and toy with the Militant up to a point, and then suddenly squash him--sending out prompt notes of condolence and proper expressions of regret.

avoiding diminishing returns 04.Jun.2006 13:12


Thomas Hanna's use of big words and phrases lend themselves to the potential for confusion, but I agree with the jest of what he's saying in the two examples of his work provided. Maybe that theory explains the devolution of CR.

As an addendum to what I wrote in my earlier post, of those who were doing the heavy lifting, I also remember them having thoughts of being paid, cash on the barrelhead you might say, so they could pay the rent, in addition to the intrinsically rewarding nature of CR gatherings.

I don't hold it against them for having those thoughts. That thinking is certainly reasonable given the way our mainstream society works, but the outcome of it sometimes quickly turns to bullshit.

Maybe those heavy lifters would have been doing a better thing if they'd just gracefully bailed, and let a new wave naturally take its course. Could be, it's time for that new wave to start coming in.

Wow 07.Jun.2006 04:35

Mark Lakeman


It sounds like one of these voices may be you. Whoever, it sounds to me like you gaia's could both use a crash-discourse on the state and current strength of City Repair. I think it's very, very hard to judge something of such complexity from the outside, especially if you often think way too much. In fact, the layers of current leadership in CR are deeper and stronger than ever, with strong links between a biggest-ever influx of new, young leadership and longer term leaders who remain involved at many levels. There's great deal of mutual appreciation, more than ever I would say. I may be spread over more of CR than anyone, so I can say to you from my own experience that people seem to be having mostly very constructive and rewarding relationships with each other.

VBC was amazing, exceeding all expectations. Our ways of measuring success are certainly fulfilled. This Indy discussion has some value, and I'm pretty sure that CR/VBC folks look it over. We're always conscious and working new ideas into form, so it's not hard to continue to evolve and be relevant. Thanks for writing, though I do look forward to more inquirey in the future, and hopefully less projections on some people's parts.


there you have it 11.Jun.2006 12:21


Wow, that last post looks to me like a great example of the CRP "listening problem" that people wrote about in the previous threads: the first poster says all kinds of nice things about CRP's work and makes a couple helpful suggestions, and the response is basically to accuse him of making other posts' criticisms. Huh?!?

If that's how frank observations are received at City Repair, I can only imagine how constructive criticism, or G-d forbid, negative feedback, are received. Can you really question why people are posting anonymously, when they see someone treated like that when they sign their name? Do you think people are going to WANT to give you feedback when they see stuff like that?

C'mon City Repair, people are posting feedback because they CARE, and they love what you do, and they want you to do better.

Wow Again 16.Jun.2006 10:06

Mark Lakeman

To the previous poster,

Please notice that you concluded your first paragraph with "huh?". I'm not surpirsed that you were confused because you misunderstood what I was saying. In fact, I did not originally notice that Jordan, who is my good friend, had posted at the top. I was refering to other posts lower down that I was guessing might have been his. Also, I did appreciate his comments, and if you re-read what I wrote you'll see that your take on my comments were well off.

I've just had a conversation with one of the people who maintain this site, and discussed with them the inherent limitations of this media as a communication tool. He said that he likes the net as a news source, but for people who live in the same bioregion it is a poor substitute for ral, direct, living interaction. I certainly agree. For instance, you have an impression that CR has a "listening problem" and run with it as your operative perspective, while having perhaps no actual direct experience in the matter. I, who have a decade of experience with CR, disagree with you about that because I've experienced perhaps the most healthy phenomena of listening and mutual support in CR that I have ever directly experienced in my life. Wow, so much so that we actually work our asses off to help communities across the city to be able to find space and time to sit down and listen ands speak with each other....Though, you might suggest that I am part of the problem anyway, so I could'nt tell the difference to begin with.

At this point however, I do know the difference. You, however, can only guess, or rely on second, third, or fourth hand information unless you choose to interact with real humans with real eyes, ears, and hearts. If you would like to meet and discuss these matters, or anything else about our planet, go ahead and contact me via CR. You could go beyond the virtual then and discover a great deal more than mere electronic impulses can convey. One thing though, in person in won't really be possible to introduce yourself as "anonymous" because you'll be real.

Mark Lakeman