Urban Terrapsychology and Creative Placemaking (5)

I was intrigued to read Patricia Damery's October 27 blog post describing a recent San Francisco seminar on Jung and Steiner, and their contributions to an evolution of consciousness.  Synchronistically, that relates closely to the topic of my blog for today, picking up on my post of last Saturday.

When I met Robert Sardello of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture in 1991, we had both recently become students of Steiner and valued his thought as a complement to that of Jung.  And for both Sardello and me, the city was a focus of our thinking at the time.  Those were the reasons why Sardello proposed at our first encounter that we study together in the future.

I met Sardello at the "Art and the Sacred" conference, sponsored by the Dallas Institute, which I attended as a vacation retreat at the time of the spring equinox.  But when I returned and described the event to my boss at the Saint Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development, he reminded me that the city's mayor was beginning to articulate a "cultural initiative" and challenged me to investigate the model of the Dallas Institute for its applicability in our city.  That gave me a ready avenue to work with Sardello throughout the year of 1991 - a momentous year for him as he was completing his most recent book, Facing the World with Soul, at that time.

There were three times subsequent to the conference when travel brought us together.  Only a month after the conference, my City employer sent me down to Dallas for several days to learn more about the Dallas Institute and generate a proposal to create something similar in Saint Paul.  During in the summer, a local anthroposophical organization brought Sardello to the Twin Cities to run a seminar based on his forthcoming book.  And at the end of the year my City government commissioned him to provide advice to Saint Paul's cultural initiative.

The context for the assignment to Sardello was a recently-completed report by a nationally prominent urban political analyst, Neal Pierce.  During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Peirce had written a series of reports analyzing various US cities and recommending strategies for their future.  His reports included both Dallas and Saint Paul - and for Saint Paul, his key recommendation was to make culture the cornerstone of the city's future development.  Given the role of the Dallas Institute as a promoter of humanities and culture, our City leaders felt that Sardello could provide useful guidance regarding how we might advance the ideas recommended by Neal Peirce.

Robert Sardello's subsequent report was a fascinating example of translating depth psychology into the realm of city politics and planning.  Without explicitly identifying Hillman, Sardello drew on a fundamental Hillmanian perspective - namely the distinction in the Western world between Greek thinking (living, fluid, culture-affirming, "polytheistic") and Roman thinking (dying, static, civilization-affirming, idolatrously "monotheistic").  He cautioned my city not to try to put culture into the service of business development (a civilization-type perspective) but to allow it to flourish freely as something valuable in and of itself, as a component of a gift economy.  And stepping beyond Hillman into Steiner territory, he also identified Nicholas Roerich as a guide to understand culture as "reverence for light" and challenged us to pursue an educational model with such a focus.

In many ways, my city planning career since 1991 has been an effort to put Sardello's perspective into practice.  Next week I'll pick up how that began to occur in the years 1992-1994. 


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Comment by Lola McCrary on February 1, 2015 at 4:16pm

Another synchronicity perhaps...in 1987 while you were working on these ideas in the Twin Cities a young woman named Emma Bull published an urban fantasy called War for the Oaks, centering around the rock music culture and the open spaces in that area. (Sorry about the two previous posts deleted for typos!)

Comment by Mark VanderSchaaf on November 10, 2014 at 3:58pm

Patricia - Exciting to hear that you read this blog while visiting our city.  Yes, bike trails, creeks and other waters are all treasured assets in this region, even in wintertime (which unofficially began today with our first snowfall of the year).  Future blog posts of mine will talk about that.  Thanks for your comments.  The Women's Future First Conference sounds very worthwhile.  I know some of the speakers at the Minneapolis conference, but was not aware of the event before you brought it to my attention.

Comment by Patricia Damery on November 9, 2014 at 2:04pm

What a remarkable story!  I read this blog sitting in a hotel just after a Women's Future First Conference in Minneapolis. The cities are beautiful, at least the parts I have seen. I just walked the bike trail across the freeway and along a creek lined with milkweed and cat tails. "Reverence for light!"  What a concept in city planning!  From what I have seen, I think you have demonstrated that. 

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