Tag Archives: Community

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (Isaiah Zagar)

Rewind – Travel in 2016 (2); Philadelphia Freedom

It was almost with trepidation that we took off for US WordCamp in Philadelphia at the end of November. In the wake of the Trump election victory, even before his inauguration and what has followed, US travel already seemed somehow less appealing.

Justice, equality and freedom of the press

The Liberty BellIn the event, I am really glad that we were there in that moment. It was a reminder of so much that is good in America. To stand beside the Liberty Bell was particularly poignant. To read of past success in the struggle against injustice and inequality was a heartening reminder that there always have been and still are many who will fight for the best of what it is to be human.

We had a day together in which to explore. The Liberty Bell was a ‘must see’. Benjamin Franklin’s printing press resonated well with our attendance at WCUS. After all, WordPress specifically seeks to democratize publishing. Franklin’s grandson’s statement on the freedom of the press is as relevant now as it as ever been.

Old Philadelphia

We mooched around the historic area, delighting in Elfreth’s Alley, one of the oldest streets in North America, where some houses date back to the 1720s. Later,  we ambled through the very elegant Society Hill.

The weird, the wonderful and the truly magical

As we wandered, we chanced on the fabulous Center for Art in Wood, as well as a weird and wonderful exhibition of pipes. This latter was somewhat outside our normal sphere of interest, but absolutely amazing glass work!

All the while, we were heading towards Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.  These are indeed magical, both for the immersive visual experience and the sense of art as driver for community regeneration. Isaiah Zagar is a mosaic artist on a huge scale, reminiscent of Gaudi but drawing on many other influences, in particular Folk Art. Started in 1994, the Magic Gardens form a hub for the regeneration of the South Street area of Philadelphia; Zagar’s first mosaics in the area go back to the 1960s.

Full Moon, Isaiah Zagar
We even brought our own small piece of Zagar’s work home with us. He titled it ‘Full Moon’, but we also make an association to the Blue Moon. Those of you who know our history will remember that this has a very personal significance for us!

 

The perfect end to a perfect day, Little Fish was one of the best fish restaurants we’ve ever discovered!

The next few days were conference days. In the evenings, though, we made the most of the seasonal spirit with a trip to the Christmas market and to Macy’s Christmas light show.

Passion, democratization, accessibility and community

WCUS itself was a fascinating experience for someone who functions at the edge of the WordPress community. What stays with me is the depth of commitment to making WordPress accessible to all. In 2016 there were 115 WordCamps in 41 countries, with close to 90% of the costs (though not the travel) covered by sponsors.

WordPress is available in 50 languages and there is a strong push for internationalization and accessibility. All this exists in the context of a code-base  written by volunteers (Paul has ‘core commits’ in a number of WordPress releases).

The third day of the conference was ‘Contributor Day’.Hundreds of people gave a full day of their time to coding, bug fix, testing, review, documentation, translation and more. In five years, the WordPress market share has grown from 13% to 27% of the web and this effort is what underpins it. What a fantastic model for social co-operation! 

While Paul focused on the more technical sessions and networking, I tapped into the wider content. Topics included ‘Version Control Your Life’, ‘Five Newsroom Tips for Better Website Content’, ‘Care and Feeding of Your Passion’, as well as a really helpful session on releasing a WordPress product.

‘Darth Vader wins over Yoda every time!’

Perhaps most pertinent to world events was a great talk on ‘The Dark Side of Democratization’. It seems that content that elicits emotional response is what goes viral, particularly if it arouses anger (hence the headline quote!). Therefore we all need to cultivate an ability to evaluate both our emotional response to content and the ‘facts’ in a post-truth world. An interesting suggestion was the importance of monitoring ‘news’ from sources that reflect the people who don’t think like you, engaging with understanding and tolerance, not judgement.

You can find’ the full 40 min session at https://dennis.blog/democratization/,  together with a great set of resource links including fact checkers.

Partying with dinosaurs

Partying with dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences

The ‘corridor stream’ is always a key element of any WordCamp and the after-party is a fun extension of this. In this case, we partied with dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences, making some useful contacts while were were about it!

A Sunday stroll

While Paul was delving into core code, I made a solo Philly foray. The Barnes Foundation, established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture”, houses a wonderful collection displayed in a quite unique style. The Museum of Art would definitely have been overload, though I did stand on the famous steps. Instead, I wandered on up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway behind the museum to the elegant Lemon Hill Mansion, all decked out for Christmas and picturesque Boathouse Row, enjoying the mild December sunshine.

Google Album – Philadelphia 2016 (more photos!)

The next chapter: moving rural (2)

Community in Carrying Place

We have stepped into the pages of a novel filled with richly drawn characters – more than a hint of Stephen Leacock, but giving life too to my reading of Mary Lawson (writing about a more northerly Ontario rural community), Robertson Davies’ Salterton Trilogy, Monique Proulx’s Laurentian forest folk. I think perhaps it is easier to live in an unconstrainedly authentic way outside a city. Whether this is because of the people this life attracts, the grounding effect of an ever-present awareness of the natural world, less pressure from the tyranny of ‘nomal’ or something I do not yet understand I am not sure.

I love that there are farming families who have been here for generations, with a deep knowledge of and love for the land. There are those who left but felt the tug of their roots and returned, those who came thirty or twenty years ago, those who drive five hours each way every summer weekend from Pennsylvania or western Ontario, and newcomers like us – a healthy mix that includes at least a little multicultural leavening. It is good to know that about 60% of us are permanent residents.

The community is drawn from all walks of life; as well as the farming families we have so far met a lawyer, a civil servant fresh from a posting as Consul General, the published author of a fantasy novel, a forensic psychologist, a tech entrepreneur, a lawyer, a physiotherapist, a wonderful character with many stories to tell who described starting adult life as a ‘huckster’[1], the Chinese owner of a local fishing lodge and his wife who runs an LED import business, a couple with a tech background who have a smallholding with a straw-bale home, and more.

One eighty-year-old neighbor settled here with her ex-naval husband after travelling the seas on a schooner he built. She is on intimate terms with the raccoons, as well as the ubiquitous chipmunks and squirrels, and has this summer permitted the construction of the Groundhog Hilton in her rockery, though she plans a forced resettlement of the young engineer next Spring.

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The pot of honey and card that arrived on our doorstep between our pre-closing inspection and our return from the lawyer with the ‘keys to the kingdom’ were no one-off. There is a genuine kindness and warmth that seems to characterize our new ‘hood; people take care of each other. There will always be someone willing to share their knowledge or who can help with the things that need doing. And there is something pretty awesome about setting out for an evening paddle and ending up getting to know new neighbours over a beer on their island party deck!

[1] Dictionary definition of huckster: retailer of small articles, especially a peddler of fruits and vegetables; hawker.

The Danforth in Art

‘What is this place?’ This was the question posed by Art of the Danforth during the last week of April.

Organized by an independent group of locally based individuals, this new community art walk between Greenwood and Woodbine is rooted in a belief in the power of art to cut across divisions and draw people together.

East Danforth’s population includes an above average percentage of artists and Art of the Danforth certainly showcased some amazing talent. But it also provided a potent reminder that creativity and art belong to all of us.

(Excerpt from an article I have just written for Local Magazine)

We have both been very involved in Art of the Danforth as volunteers since November – it’s been fabulous to be part of something like this that really is conducive to neighbourhood regeneration through the arts. And we’ve met so many amazing people!

Here are my photos from the event that I uploaded to Flickr  – you can see more on the Art of the Danforth Group Flickr page or read about specific artists and installations on the Art of the Danforth website.

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