Candy Chang is back in Philadelphia with our client, Mural Arts, creating a piece entitled  The Big I Ching: The Atlas of Tomorrow. She is hosting a talk tonight, January 28th, 5:30-7:30 PM, at Giovanni’s Room. Her involvement with the city triggered my memory and catalyzed this post…

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to hear Candy Chang speak at Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences lecture series. When I heard she was in town, I jumped at the chance to go. Being a TED-Talk Alum and someone I became familiar with while living in New Orleans, I knew her words would be magnetic.

Her work has always drawn me in (Before I Die wall, I Wish This Was stickers, and Neighborland – to name a few of her projects). With a background in urban planning, architecture and design, Candy takes a neighborhood, open space, or forgotten home, and tries to understand its potential and how to engage the community. Usually she does this by inviting people into the space to write what they wish for it / want it to be.

When I lived in New Orleans, wishing things for forgotten places became unfairly habitual. While most people who live outside of Louisiana remember New Orleans for the Hurricane, 99% of New Orleanians just want to move on. I hosted a foreign press tour in 2010, five years after Katrina. I was asked the same question over and over: “When do you think the city will recover?” It was a tough question to swallow since I was new to the city myself and its landscape was still unclear to me. So when I asked my colleagues, they attempted to make the question disappear by answering, “It has recovered.” “This is who New Orleans is now.” and “There is no need to recover when the memory of ‘before’ dies.”

Because of the struggle most NOLA neighborhoods felt, and still feel, Candy and her design crew decided to relocate to the Bywater. She didn’t mark up an unfamiliar place and call it fixed (as history has done so many times before). Candy took the opportunity to dig her feet in and add to the regenerating force that New Orleans, and its marsh land, does naturally. In doing so, the first “Before I Die” wall was conceptualized and created.

The action of getting people to pay attention to forgotten, boarded-up, ugly-looking places was foreign to me. I used to look away when I noticed unattractive or blighted buildings. Since understanding Candy’s idea to invite people to look, touch, write and re-invent (“I Wish This Was … a grocery store!” or “a community garden”) I now stop and think, ‘What could this place be?’ I like to believe that positive imagination helps the karmic space grow in the right direction.

Since starting with J2, I have come to understand that this type of questioning seems to be inherent. To some a blank slate can be daunting, to the J2 team it is the beginning of something great.

As we kicked-off interior concepts for Open Source Hub, I kept thinking, “I Wish I Was…” and realized we have those capabilities to make it happen, literally, at our fingertips. The J2 design and development team fills in the blank with so much karmic potential, making people realize unused spaces have a world of possibility.