The Arts Can Inform Urban Planning Thinking: Lessons from Janis Doucette

By Ose Schwab

As I recorded Janis Doucette share about her series, “The Attributes of Form”, it occurred to me that artists should always be part of the city planning process. City planners can find insights about their work from the arts.

I am not saying let artists create the plan – as the planning process should be informed by an array of measurements, data, and expertise. Yet, how the artist thinks and imagines with color, texture, patterns, sound, atunement, and relationship of one structure to another could be useful and even brilliant.

This series, “The Attributes of Form” by fabric artist Janis Doucette is a mixed media collection of fabric artworks of various sizes. It demonstrates the many layers of thought and workmanship that go into everything Janis does. It also shows the way creativity can connect one thing or idea to another.

The idea of relationships in urban planning reminded of the book “The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations and Human Behavior Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life,” by Jonathan F.P. Rose.

“The urban development book begins by exploring the evolution of cities, from the first emergence of human culture around 50,000 B.C., identifying the key characteristics that were necessary for the evolution of humans and the places that they built to give rise to urban life. The conditions that were necessary for cities to emerge so long ago are also necessary for cities to thrive today.

There are five characteristics that cities and metropolitan regions can develop to not only help prepare for these megatrends, but to prosper….[coherence,circularity, resilience, community, compassion] by an amazing musical achievement, The Well-Tempered Clavier, which Johann Sebastian Bach wrote… The Well-Tempered Clavier was composed to align our highest human aspirations with the sublime harmony of nature. …It is a model of the task we have today in designing and reshaping our cities.”

It is this thinking embedded in Janis’s art and process that I hope we can harness as we imagine a metropolis that in addition to being functional, enables well being, is aesthetic, inspires creativity, and provides a space for vibrant community.

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