Conversation on Re-Imagining Cities

John Boylan’s Next Conversation will be “Re-imagining Cities,” and occurs on Tuesday, April 20, from 7 to 9 pm.  Admission is free. Tell your friends.  This roundtable conversation series happens at Vermillion, a wine bar and art gallery at 1508 11th Ave. E, Seattle. For more information on the series, call John Boylan at 206-601-9848.  John Boylin has been holding these interactive conversations for years – speakers give their thoughts then the collected set of guests and speakers engage in a “conversation” on the topic (or related) at hand.

This month we’ll be looking at cities and the way we think of them, how we dream them, how we redesign them, how we rebuild them. What are some of the models we use for rethinking our cities? And what sort of thinking and dreaming is more like to lead to action, is more likely to lead to better cities?

The Guests

  • Sarah Bergmann, artist, illustrator, garden activist
  • Ray Gastil, city planner, urban designer
  • Kurt Kiefer, artist, curator, arts consultant
  • Alex Steffen, writer, editor, activist, lecturer

The Story

We start with a simple question: What are the ways in which we re-imagine a city? In Seattle, there has been a lot of talk about remaking our town, at many levels. Most of that talk lately seems to revolve around the need to move people: the mayor’s talk of more mass transit, the push for a new waterfront tunnel and a new 520 bridge, the affect of Sound Transit’s new stations on Capitol Hill and the University District.

But can we rethink our city outside of that focus on big transit projects? Simply, how do we rethink what a city can be? Often it starts with a simple “what if?” question that leads to a huge project: “What if we had a monorail, or a big new park in the Cascade neighborhood?” Or sometimes it’s more fantastic, as in, “What if civilization were to fall apart? Would Seattle become a series of villages? And what would they look like?” But is “what if?” the best way to re-imagine a city? What else is there? And most important, what sort of imaginings can actually lead to a re-imagined city?

For this conversation I’ve invited four guests who loosely represent four ways of re-imagining cities. For me Sarah Bergmann represents a viral and activist approach: think through a small project, execute it, and then work on ways to grow it and spread it across a city. Transformation grows from a small kernel. Ray Gastil is a city planner and urban designer, and brings to the conversation a background in architecture, formal city planning, and a rigor of urban design. I asked Kurt Kiefer to join the discussion as well, in part because of a thought experiment he ran not long ago. He took an artist’s eye to the idea of what would happen if global warming were to turn Queen Anne hill into an island. How would the hill change? Would the new island be able to sustain itself? Finally, Alex Steffen rounds out the list. As a writer, editor, and international lecturer, Alex has been doing a lot of observing and thinking about how cities work and how they need to change. At a set of lectures at Town Hall in February, he called for Seattle to reach citywide carbon neutrality by 2030.