VIDA: The Process

In developing the canalscape initiative, we practiced VIDA: Visioning, Inspiring, Demonstrating, and Advocating. For more about this approach, see Good Urbanism (2013) by Nan Ellin. Read a sample chapter including a case study about canalscape.

VIDA applies two kinds of vision: the ability to see things clearly and a vision for a better future. These are acquired through “me-search” and  “we-search.” Me-search entails listening to our own intuitions, preconceptions, and biases. We-search involves listening to others and carefully observing places to build relationships, identify assets, and consider how best to build upon them. Combining the me-search and we-search with re-search into the past, best practices elsewhere, and current conditions, we paint a vision of what could be and inspire all to implement the vision through community engagement*. While VIDA identifies problems, it focuses on possibilities. As these possibilities are outlined, refined, and shared, demonstration begins with painting the picture to others, and evolves through prototyping, or moving it into the world. The entire VIDA process is one of advocating by communicating the vision to others through various media, exhibitions, and convening. A successful VIDA process is catalytic, effecting significant and ongoing change, eventually without the initial stewards, who may then move on to catalyze other projects.

Just as a good manager builds on existing strengths of an organization, so good urbanism builds upon given assets of places as well as exemplary practices elsewhere. In this way, a generative and dynamic self-adjusting feedback mechanism is set into motion, where communities build creatively upon their strengths. Rather than neglect, abandon, or erase our urban heritage, this approach preserves buildings, neighborhoods, cultural institutions, creative and intellectual capital, and natural landscapes that we value; rehabilitates, reclaims, restores, or renovates what is underperforming; and adds what we do not have yet but would like. And it does so in that order. Consequently, the new builds upon existing assets and is deeply influenced by this “DNA” of a place, allowing for unique and meaningful expressions to unfold, often even converting problems into solutions.

Conventional urban intervention has proceeded in the reverse order, considering first what is needed, but too often at the expense of what is valued. In many instances over the last century, urban interventions have even opted to begin with a tabula rasa, or clean slate, razing what is already there or finding pristine land upon which to erect master plans. The VIDA approach veers away from the clean slate as well as master plans that, in their focus on controlling everything, ironically tend to generate fragmented cities without soul or character. Instead, it determines where there is energy in the larger system, both physical and social, and where it is lacking. It can thus perform “urban acupuncture,” skillfully inserting interventions into the urban organism that clear blockages along “urban meridians,” thereby liberating “chi,” the life force of the city and enabling positive growth and change** . Setting a self-generative and self-adjusting feedback mechanism into place, this process activates underutilized resources and attracts new ones.

* VIDA builds upon the “tao of urbanism” (Ellin 2010), integral urbanism (Ellin 2006), Asset-Based Community Development (McKnight and Kretzmann 1996), Theory U (Scharmer 2007), and the work of Peter Block (2008).
** On urban acupuncture, see Frampton 1999, De Sola-Morales 2004, Lerner 2005, and Ellin 2006.

Block, Peter. 2008. Community: The Structure of Belonging. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Franscisco.

De Solà- Morales, Manuel. 2004. “The Strategy of Urban Acupuncture,” Structure Fabric and Topography Conference, Nanjing University.

Ellin, Nan. 2010. “The Tao of Urbanism” in What We See: Advancing the Investigations of Jane Jacobs. Goldsmith, S. and Elizabeth, L., eds. New Village Press: Oakland.

Ellin, Nan. 2006. Integral Urbanism. Routledge:New York.

Frampton, Kenneth. 1999. “Seven Points for the Millennium: An Untimely Manifesto.” Architectural Record.

Lerner, Jaime. 2005. Acupunctura Urbana. Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo: Editora Record.

McNight, John L. and Kretzmann, John P. 1996. Mapping Community Capacity. Report of the Neighborhood Innovations Network, Chicago Community Trust and Northwestern University.

Scharmer, C. Otto. 2007. Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. The Society for Organized Learning: Cambridge.