On Places in Process

We love experiencing other towns, seeing residents and locals in their space and observing how they interact with their place. We also look at things like trashcans, streetlights and banners. We look at the local shops and the curated mix. We look for diversity: of people, cultures, age and socioeconomic status.

But we think more than that, we look for devoted communities. We like to look around and see the potential and what could be. How can we make our mark on the community? This isn’t necessarily how other people travel, but because of our work, this is the inescapable lens with which we view the world.

Sometimes it’s nice to go to places that are completely built out, ready for tourists just like us. Their storefronts are full, the Edison bulbs are hung, brick walls are covered in murals and the sidewalks are full of people excited to be there, in no rush to leave.

But sometimes, it’s better to go to the places that challenge us, the places that invite us in to ask questions and imagine what was and what could be.

We recently visited friends in Baltimore, Maryland. For most of the day, we walked around neighborhoods that had great bars and cool art. They were activated with markets and festivals, and every corner seemed to offer some new development.

At the very end of our trip, we stopped in Sowebo. Y’all. We’re not kidding when we say this neighborhood was exactly what we were craving throughout our time in Baltimore.

Sowebo is an older arts community that has mostly vacant storefronts and lots of residential space with community members who have been there for decades, even generations, unwilling to leave this little corner of the city that they’ve claimed as theirs. It has soul but is losing momentum. But what Sowebo has is undeniable potential and an identity that is impossible to miss. Places like this engage you to imagine what else could be here. What else could live and thrive and complete this place?

The spaces in our life that are 100% developed and pretty are great, needed even. But more so, if we believe that places reflect the people that make them up, then I think we as humans are meant to be in places that are in process. Because so much of our own lives are always in process. Luckily, cities allow us to be a part of this process and even require our participation to move forward.

Ultimately communities have to be a place for people, where they can be invited in to leave a little bit of themselves: a bit of their creativity, a bit of their emotion, a bit of their humanity. As we came back home to our own neighborhood after traveling, we’re asking ourselves what our community is asking of us. How can we better engage? What creative work, act of labor, or act of love could change our community for the better? How could we work in tandem with our neighbors, with our elected officials? How is our place calling to us? This is not solely to make places better but to be more fully human and leave a creative, unique mark in creating a home.  Not only to fix our place but to be more fully ourselves, to give our values and our creativity and our mark, a purpose.