Building Community By Being There

By Paloma McGregor

Our trio of collaboration is growing simply by showing up to do the work. A couple weeks ago, Becky and I met Josue at a BRA event at Concrete Plant Park, and now he has joined our team. We hope to also bring in Charles, a photographer, grandfather and Bronx native, who is an avid supporter of the Bronx River restoration. And there’s Alex, who is a program assistant at Rocking the Boat.

This week, we met twice and each day added a new potential participant in this work. There’s Joe, pastor at the church that faces the newly begun Greenstreets project. He was standing in the open gate to his courtyard watching construction workers dig up the sidewalk across the street, so we went to talk with him. He had heard they were building a new sidewalk, so he was delighted when we told him that it was actually going to be trees. Joe walks a half-dozen blocks from his home to the church each day, and used to walk every day to Lutheran Hospital, where he worked in pediatrics. Now, he said he mostly walks to the bank or store, walks we hope to take with him soon.

Then there’s Frank, who lives just a few doors down from Joe’s church. He’s the original owner of his home, which was built in 1985. That year, they changed the name of that block from La Fontaine Ave. to Wade Square. A retired Parks Department employee, Frank’s eyes lit up when we explained that our mapping was not only of the physical landmarks in the neighborhood but of the histories and stories. He went into his house and 10 minutes later emerged with a book called Memories of Fordham, which included an old map of the area (on which he had written in where he was born and where he lives – look closely for ‘I LIVE HERE.’ written in the photo above).

A big question for me is what approaches to use to deepen our understanding of these physical spaces and their histories through some embodied practices. At our next meeting, I’d like to map a distance, then gather to talk and generate some moving reflections. I’d also like to do some directed traveling – providing prompts about speed, level, direction – so that we are experiencing the journey differently in our bodies. Scavenger hunts feel like an emerging possibility in terms of structure, asking participants to use a heightened awareness in order to gather information.

After our last two meetings, I remembered an early envisioning I had about the walks: small groups leaving from different places, following the storm water routes and, eventually, connecting with one another along the way to the river. I envision each group collecting along the way – information, objects and movement – and sharing at the riverside. As we continue our research, I will keep this idea in mind as a possible public engagement structure.

I would love to know how Google maps might also be helpful for mapping the stories and histories we collect, so that people could access audio or video associated with a site using smart phones.

Excited for what we will learn next week, what new ideas will emerge and how we will continue to build our community and our vision.

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2 thoughts on “Building Community By Being There

  1. Paloma,
    Being there, where ever that happens to be, really is so important to the process. That and an interest in what is going on. So much of the time we try to not get involved in order to not get distracted. Here it seems like every tangent sharpens the focus.
    I wish you could have heard Josue explaining to Andre just what the overall project goals were. He is definitely a part of the process now.
    Damian

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