In early 1992 I had the opportunity to bring the insights I learned from the Dallas Institute into the life of Saint Paul, the city where I was working as a planner. Several images and ideas were inspiring me at that time: the need for cities to advance culture but avoid the traps of imperialistic "civilization," the importance of having places of soul but also a strong civic spirit to bring a broader identify into focus, attentiveness to seven generations back and seven generations forward, respect for both indigenous wisdom and the mainstream Abrahamic spiritual traditions of western culture, and attention to the "powers of the four directions" in our natural environment.
All of these elements converged in a January, 1992 neighborhood forum that I helped to plan. This forum a regular annual event funded by Saint Paul's city government. I had joined the planning committee for the 1992 event, and successfully inspired other committee members to support my proposals for a theme and sessions. In that year the theme would be "Visions, Echoes and Dreams for the Seventh Generation." Sessions would explore topics such as "Urban Ecology and the Recovery of Saint Paul's 'Sky-Blue Waters'," "Developing a Sense of Place from the Past," and "Neighborhood Design with a Human Face."
As the conference theme suggests, the forum looked both backwards and forwards - to echoes of events going back seven generations to the city's incorporation in 1854, and looking ahead with attention to 150 years in the future. In city planning circles such a perspective is rare - normally 30 years is considered a long-term planning perspective. The premise of this forum, though, was that 30 years is really short-term thinking and that the Native American perspective of seven generations is more responsible; even if we can't predict the future that far in advance, we can commit ourselves to an environmental and social ethic that can help ensure the nurturance of life for that longer time span.
For our keynote speaker, we turned to a colleague of Robert Sardello at the Dallas Institute - Mary Ellen Degnan, who at the time was heading up a remarkable project called "Dallas Visions." For the first - and perhaps the only - time in US history, an organization devoted to archetypal and depth psychology was selected to be the lead agency to create a regional plan for a major metropolitan area. Mary Ellen's job was to organize that project. Her extensive background in urban design and Dallas civic projects was a perfect complement to the work of Robert Sardello, with his more academic perspective. I had met her during my visit to the Dallas Institute in 1991 and got to witness her work in action. Especially memorable was a gigantic visionary map of the city that was an outgrowth of the project - displayed on the wall of a two-story atrium in a prominent downtown office building!
Mary Ellen's keynote address was entitled "Why Are Visions Important for Cities?" Such a topic could have easily resulted in nothing but cliches - it's fairly typical for cities to proclaim that they have a vision for the future, and many of them do. The distinctive insights that Mary Ellen provided, however, were informed by her attentiveness to insights from depth psychology, leading to a much richer presentation and fruitful discussion in breakout sessions on topics including "Neighborhood Festivals," "Youth and Urban Visions," and "A Vision for Saint Paul Public Schools."
Part of what made the Mary Ellen Degnan/Dallas Institute perspective on visions so fruitful was her Jungian/Hillmanian recognition of the presence of the Shadow in the background of all human achievement, cities included. Perhaps Dallas' recent history made it easier for that city to acknowledge the darker shades of reality - in 1992 and even today many people immediately think of the Kennedy assassination and the horrific chapter of American history that ensued when the city's name is uttered. It's as if the city bears a karmic stain from that 1963 event, and is compelled to revisit the event continually as it sets its own vision for the future.
The 1992 Saint Paul Neighborhood Forum introduced the depth psychology perspective to a wide audience, and prepared the way for a 1993 event that would take that perspective to an even deeper level in my city. My next blog post will consider what occurred in that year.