Interviewsand Articles


What Would It Take to Have a Commons?

by Richard Whittaker, Oct 3, 2010



In my interview with James O'Dea, I had to stop a couple of times to struggle with my emotions before I could continue speaking. After all the years of doing interviews, it was only the first or second phone interview I'd done. Marshall McLuhan wrote that the telephone is a hot medium--there's an intimacy to the connection. Of course, the natural response to hearing about the terrible realities O'Dea speaks of should cause anyone to have some trouble. O'Dea's life, I learned, has taken him repeatedly into the crucibles of man's inhumanity to man. Most of us lead lives far from the terrors of genocide, warfare, torture and rape. And although we hear about such things daily, we develop a hard shell that protects us from such realities. In talking with O'Dea, this shell became thinner and much that I was hearing was hard to take in. How did he deal with such things? I wondered. O'Dea is a man of indefatigable hope, to say nothing of courage. His is a search for what could possibly be healing in the aftermath of great social and personal trauma. Here he speaks about some of the things that give him hope.
     Issue #17 has no theme, exactly, and so the reader will experience some sudden shifts along the way. Perhaps the jump from O'Dea to the interview with Karl Linn is least wrenching. I was lucky enough to meet and interview Linn a few years before he died in 2005. He was a special man and one of multiple disciplines. Born in Germany, he fled the Nazis and later established careers in child psychiatry and landscape architecture. Among his friends were the architect Louis Kahn and the incisive cultural critic Ivan Illich. Linn, descended from a long line of rabbis, combined and adapted his human understandings on behalf of civic health in an integrated approach to the creation of communal gardens--as neighborhood commons. Over the years he was responsible for the establishment of many such gardens, especially in neighborhoods thought to be beyond help. In this interview Linn refers to himself as a "people-landscape-architect."
     In the midst of putting this issue together I was reminded of a conversation I had with a young architect from Louisville, Kentucky while I was visiting Arcosanti ten years ago. I've given it the title From Arcosanti With Love. And that's because, in spite of its brevity, one hears something of the spirit of Arcosanti and can feel the influence that Paolo Soleri has exerted for decades on thousands of visiting architects and others interested in the built environment. For those of you who are not familiar with Paolo Soleri or Arcosanti, let me recommend the following interview as a primer. In an email note to me, Rawlins said, "You'll be happy to know that my healthy, growing firm consistently does about 95% of it's work within a 3 mile radius of our office in Louisville." Very Solerian.
     Perhaps next one might dip into Parabola editor, Tracy Cochran's fascinating article  Avatar, Striker and Me. This is a meditation on the film unlike any others out there and a fascinating read. In her introductory paragraph Cochran writes how the movie inspired "vivid childhood memories-and an insight into the Buddha's teaching on the proliferation of thought, the process by which we become overwhelmed and controlled by images and impressions."
     We conclude this issue with Claudia Jensen Dudley's beautiful little piece Why Write? It will bring the reader back to some of the simple things in life-like mud pies. Claudia has worked with thousands of children in San Francisco teaching them poetry and just recently had a book of her poetry published [Waters of the Afternoon, Browser Books, San Francisco]. I love the way this writer brings us to our senses. The word that suddenly springs to mind is healing. It's a good description of these poetic meditations.

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine


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