Places in our memories


If I could choose my landscape
Of memorable things, my landscape
Of lonely Autumn,
I would choose, I would steal this street
That is previous to me and to all.

She returns my useless gaze,
The one of fifteen or twenty years ago
When the green home was poisoning the sky.
For that reason it is cruel to leave it in this sunset
With so many balconies as lonely nests
And so many steps hoped more than ever.

Here there will always be, here, the enemies,
The soft spies of the loneliness,
Women legs that carry my eyes
Far from the quadratic equation.

Here there are birds, rain, some death,
Dry leaves, horns and lonely names,
Clouds that are growing in front of my window
While humidity brings laments and flies.

However past also exists
With their sudden roses and modest scandals,
With their hard sounds of any anxiety
And their insignificant itch of memories.

Ah if I could choose my landscape
I would choose, I would steal this street,
This recently grown dark street
The one I bloodily revive in
And the one of which I know with strict nostalgia
The number and the name of its seventy trees.

-If I could choose my landscape. Mario Benedetti-

Cities are one of my preferred study fields. Right now exists several trending topics in this issue, topics like Smart City, Resilient City, Internet of things, or my favorite one: Sustainable Cities. These Concepts try to give answers to problems like Climate Change, Violence, high rates of Unemployment and so on. Sometimes adopting one of these approaches is really expensive to planners in municipalities or city councils. Some organizations like Project for Public Spaces (PPS) works to empowering people to build better places to live. However the purpose of this essay is how can we build better places through our individual perspective.

There is a phrase, Think Global, Act Local, that summarizes what I think about this approach to analyze or solve problems in cities. As an idea was writing for its first time in the book Cities in evolution (1915):

“Local character” is thus no mere accidental old-world quaintness, as its mimics think and say. It is attained only in course of adequate grasp and treatment of the whole environment, and in active sympathy with the essential and characteristic life of the place concerned.

People expects answers from Governments, Institutions or other organizations to solve their own issues. Usually a lot of these organizations are disconnected from people´s pains and needs, besides, there is a lack of commitment between communities to develop the places where they lives.

How can we manage this situation?

We have many options to begin, first of all we can divide the big picture in categories as: Education, Energy, Transportation, Security, Public Spaces or Healthcare. These categories works as indicators of our cities as well. Solve such a problems is not easy, there must exist collaboration between different inhabitants, public and private organizations. Inhabitants have needs, Governments Laws and Grants and Companies or Banks, financial resources.

We could write and talk about this for a long time, nonetheless let´s develop the theme of the place. But, which one? The place in our memory.

Cities are the places that we want, our personality is conditioned by cities but we can transform our places too, as an infinite loop. We bring into our backs the place when we born and then we leave it in the other places we visited. In this way everyone is connected each other, people planting flowers or trees in front of their houses are contributing to urban design, is not necessary be an architect instead a good citizen.

There is not a lot of examples of citizen initiatives. Fortunately there are people like Candy Chang who can transform places in something else, good places, through art and design. I was lucky to collaborate in one of her projects: Before I Die in Madrid, Spain. In this project people put their desires and dreams, things they want to do before dying. Transforming small places in cultural landscapes, a site to share your dreams with others, is a lovely project and really easy to make. There is a lot of “Before I Die” walls around the world and a beautiful book about all these experiences too.

Great ideas usually have great collaborators, and cities are not just a bunch of buildings aligned in one dimension posing for a picture. Is a construct, an organized whole. It can be build in different ways through the desires of their inhabitants. We must think in the big picture but our actions must be local. Governments must solve problems of the city, private institutions as well, but communities are the first responsible to promote the change. Acting locally also means separate the big problem in categories and solve one by one. These categories work as indicators too. Communities can change via collaboration and commitment, everyone is the owner of their future. We are called to build places where we will capable of remind us and nothing more.


– The image in this article is a painting by Leonid Afremov you can visit his official page here.

– If you speak spanish, please read the poem that I put here in original version, out of respect the original work in his original language. You can click here.

– Geddes, Patrick. Cities in evolution: an introduction to the town planning movement and to the study of civics. London: Williams, 1915.

– This post has been written as an assignment for Duke University, English Composition 1. Class by Prof. Denise Comer.

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