Exploration and Collaboration in the Chester Made Exploration Zone
Although I live only 8 miles away, I had never been to Chester before this spring. As a white, middle class man, I had allowed the race and class divisions of our segregated society keep me away. But now, as a participant in a Tactical Urbanism workshop, I am visiting various vacant lots in the Chester Made Exploration Zone (the downtown arts district) to brainstorm their potential as people-oriented public spaces.
The workshop is a citizen-led approach to using short term, low-cost, creative projects to inspire long term change, and jumping in was an opportunity for me to hear about the visions of justice and opportunity in the city as I helped organize the 100-mile Walk for Green Jobs and Justice through the area.
In the immediate vicinity, Chester has a thriving arts district with a performance space (MJ Freed Theater), maker space, community arts space (Abstract), art gallery, Internet coffee shop and Artists Warehouse production facility. I got connected to a community taking control of their public space.
When Owen Biddle and I explored the Chester Made Exploration Zone, we first toured the Freed Theater and Abstract with Duprese Northern. Before, it never occurred to me to think of the arts as a springboard for renewal, but then, when Devon Walls talked about his passion for solarizing the Zone, it suddenly seemed like a good idea to Walk here and rally for solarization as a way of transferring jobs, savings, and power to the non-profit and community organizations nurturing this visionary art and creativity. For me, the Walk is more than moving from the fossil fuel past to the green future. It is a way of connecting communities and activists that our segregated and class-ridden society tries to keep apart. The new connection is very exciting for me.
The May 9th segment of 100-mile Walk for Green Jobs and Justice will finish up in Chester, at the Freed Theater.