In last week's post I recounted my 1983 decision to develop the skills of an urban social scientist while seeking opportunities to apply the "Van Allen Method" of relying on dreams, intuition and synchronicity as a way to engage more fully the souls of cities. By 1986 I had some evidence that both strategies were succeeding.
My graduate work in urban planning concentrated on economic and fiscal analysis - the most quantitative of the social science approaches to urban issues. With my M.S. in this subject I was able to get hired as a policy analyst for the state economic development department in Wisconsin. But more importantly, in 1986 I also had a rare opportunity to test my belief that spiritual imagination could also lead to creative engagement with urban issues.
This opportunity arose in the form of a competition that one of my former urban planning professors had entered. The competition sought design concepts for a community-oriented college campus in the city of Kawasaki, Japan - an industrial suburb on the southern edge of Tokyo. My former professor, a habitual procrastinator, had waited until the last minute to develop a proposal and now asked me and another former student to participate in a weekend intensive brainstorming session with him. His invitation included the promise that no suggested ideas would be off the table, and that if we should happen to win we would split the prize three-way.
Here was my big chance to put myself into a Japanese frame of mind and see what would be the result. The idea that my intuition yielded was in a way rather simple: think of the city of Kawasaki as a kind of human body with seven chakras that would become the locations for seven outposts of the new college campus, connected by a transportation and communications spine. Since the terms of the deal with my former professor were that no serious idea would be rejected, this became a key element of our proposal.
To our surprise and delight, our quickly-thrown-together proposal was selected as a finalist in the competition, and we were flown to Japan to present our ideas in person. Although we did not win the Grand Prize, there was a feature of the final competition that seemed to vindicate my contribution. One other proposal also imagined Kawasaki as a body with seven chakras, and designed the campus around seven chakra-plazas. This proposal came from a famous Japanese architect, Kiko Mozuna, widely celebrated as Japan's "cosmic architect" for his long history of designing buildings and communities around Japanese spiritual traditions. So in some mysterious way I had perhaps tapped into the same ideas that inspired him.
It was intriguing to think that intuition could yield such powerful insights, and my Kawasaki experience inspired me to keep exploring that possibility. But it would be another five years until I discovered some important tools to help me advance down this path - tools that grew out of the work of James Hillman. In next week's post I will share that story.