On our first morning in New York, we went to the United Nations to see an exhibit, “Design With the Other 90 Percent: Cities.” Using photographs and objects, the exhibit shows how people who live in poor city neighborhoods are improving their lives in sustainable ways. A few things really stood out to me.
In Medellín, Colombia, the local government built a cable-car system in one of its poorest slum areas that runs from the top of the hill to the bottom. Residents now get to work faster and more safely. The trip could take 2 hours on a crowded bus; it now only takes them 7 minutes. Libraries and schools were built to improve how kids spend their time; this gives them the chance to create a better future for themselves. It is also a much safer neighborhood now with 26 homicides instead of 381 per 100,000 residents each year.
In Ecuador and Nicaragua, bicycle pumps and toy helicopters are made into medical tools. It is amazing to see how people save lives by making these tools out of common items and for little money.
In Rio do Janeiro, Brazil, a few guys decided to experiment with a mural painting project in what was then a dangerous community. Their goal was to engage young people who lived there to help them paint. The project expanded far beyond their original plan when they employed local people to create some huge paintings that covered many houses and an entire staircase. The painters received a diploma and now see their work every day in their neighborhood; many aspire to be professional painters, and some of them want to take their painting to other parts of their city or to nearby villages.
The group is planning a bigger project that would cover a whole neighborhood and affect hundreds more people. Being a part of this project keeps young people busy and gives them a reason to feel good about themselves.
It is sad to see the conditions these people live in, but it is also extremely inspiring to see solutions that improve their lives. Sometimes it is the simplest solutions that solve the most complicated problems.
On Sunday morning we visited the Highline. You can see us at the start of our walk on the Highline in our Memphis caps — a gift from our friend, Linda Potter, who generously arranged for us to have wonderful seats at the Broadway show, Memphis, the night before. She’s been involved with the show since before it came to Broadway and knows some of the actors, so she made it possible for us to go backstage after the show.
Memphis was spectacular, and it was incredible to be able to meet some of its stars. Thank you, Linda!
The Highline was once an elevated railroad that paralleled the West Side Highway with tracks going directly into buildings that housed factories and meatpacking plants. During the last decade, designers with a different vision transformed these abandoned tracks into a pedestrian walkway where the tracks are visible in the soil of a flowering landscape. We were on this elevated walkway for many blocks, as we walked under buildings, over streets, and next to windows where people live and work.
The Highline walkway is well made and well designed. W ith benches along the way, it is a nice place to sit and watch others walk by. In a covered area, a man played a banjo, and a bit further on we came to wooden steps leading down to a glass wall. We sat against the glass and watched cars speed by below us.
Built in 1934, the idea of the Highline was to raise the tracks in order to lower the number of train-related injuries and deaths. The Highline trains stopped running in 1980, and 19 years later “friends of the Highline” dedicated themselves to the challenge of turning it into a public walkway. The contrast between the tracks, the plants and the architecture on either side of the walkway works well; there is always something interesting to look at, but the feeling is very calming, too. In bustling Manhattan, this place seems very natural and forces you to take your time.