We Built This City: Spontaneous Interventions Comes to Chicago

This is one radical installation at the Chicago Cultural Center. A collective of designers, everyday folks, architects and futurists got together to tackle urbanism and figure out how to plan and evolve cities.

Spontaneous Interventions Installation Chicago Cultural Center

Photo: Chicago Cultural Center When it traveled to the Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale the Spontaneous Interventions installation received over 178,000 visitors. You follow the yellow and black text on the floor to learn about the history of cities and urban movement.

Starting with the first city in the world, Cataly, Huyuk in Anatolia, Turkey (7500 B.C.E., population 10,000) and landing, as it were, on the Occupy encampments in Zuccotti Park, Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good is a walking tour through the centuries with milestone events stitching together the idea of "cities." How they evolve, dissipate or erupt in chaos. A central theme is citizen activism to impact the environment or “re-programming public spaces.” Planting community gardens in abandoned lots, for instance. Or the eerie white Ghost Bikes erected around town to commemorate cyclists killed on the road (you’ve seen these). This is claiming the city as your own.

“Our goal with Spontaneous Interventions is to use the exhibition as a framework for understanding a larger movement, in which citizens all over the world are devising and implementing clever, low-barrier urban interventions to make their cities more inclusive, sustainable, pleasurable and safer,” said organizer Cathy Lang Ho in the press release.

It’s text heavy, so prepare to crane your neck to read and follow the history grid on the floor connecting each decade. Banners of about 84 city projects from across the country -- seed bomb vending, skipping only zones, edible school yards, living alleys -- hang in three adjoining spaces. As an urban landscape and design incubator, Chicago is pivotal: more than a dozen presentations are from Chi Town. The historic influence of this city as a gateway for urban planning is potent: By 1890 the city had more than a million inhabitants. The first planned community in the U.S. was created here by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux in Riverside. There's the first skyscraper. The momentous work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. And the culmination of the City Beautiful movement with Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, the roots of sustainability.

Spontaneous Interventions, through Sept. 1 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. While you're there, take a look at the the pop-up living room in Millennium Park.

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