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by Alexandra J Tohme and François Alexandre

With rapid growth happening in the urban cores of Jacksonville and Miami, local leaders highlight the need to bridge culture, arts, community knowledge and economic opportunities — for better outcomes for all, cultural celebration & thriving cities.

On Saturday, November 18, Future of Cities (FOC) in partnership with Stratosferica, held the first US edition of the city-making summit, Utopian Hours — hosted at our Climate + Innovation Hub. The “city-making festival” was dedicated to dynamic discussions and engaging debates on urban development, and strategies for cities and the built environment — gathering developers, placemakers, city officials, researchers and architects and more, from the United States, Italy and around the world.

Multiple panels were presented, ranging from the “feminist city” with urban anthropologist Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, to placemaking and citizen making in Turin Italy, to “maximizing public space’s potential in New York City” with Ya-Ting Liu, to National Geographic Explorer Alize Carrere’s “introduction to climatopias.” 

FOC held the Regenerative Placemaking Panel, moderated by Alexandra J Tohme —which zoomed in on local approaches to community uplifting development, challenges from brain drain to displacement and economic exclusion, and presented strategies for equitable growth. The speakers bridged global perspectives from Haiti to the Arab World to South Florida. 

Panelists: François Alexandre, Founder & Director of Tapari1804; Emily Moody, Director of Community Engagement, Phoenix Jacksonville Arts + Innovation District (PHX-JAX); Tanya Watts Director of Neighborhood Affairs PHX-JAX moderated by Alexandra J Tohme Director of Regenerative Placemaking FOC.

From left to right: François Alexandre, TAPARI 1804, Alexandra Tohme (FOC), Ya-Ting Liu (Chief Public Realm Officer, NYC), Tony Cho (FOC), Tanya Watts (PHX-JAX & FOC), Suzanne Picket (Eastside CDC) and Emily Moody (PHX-JAX FOC) Photo: VACO Studio

Overall, the community leaders stressed the importance of preserving the dignity of communities undergoing change: “the most important ingredient, to all our efforts is: dignity” said Alexandra. Dignity for the development of the project and its lasting impact, and for all those involved and at stake. This involves uplifting community members with decent services and decent housing. Projects should not jeopardize urban living and livelihood for local residents, but rather should provide, in the words of François Alexandre: “A hand-up, not a hand-out.”

Alexandra spoke to her experiences listening to local communities facing extreme hardship when she worked in refugee camps, and the humility required in this approach — as some of the brightest ideas and most innovative strategies are found within the community members and youth themselves. This extends to the local experiences of our Florida based panelists — with the community leadership of François Alexandre, representing Little Haiti, Miami and Tanya Watts and Emily Moody representing Jacksonville’s neighborhoods of North Springfield and the Eastside.

The Regenerative Placemaking Panel during Utopian Hours
Zulu Painter completing his final piece during the 48 Hour Mural Festival in Jacksonville, FL with PHX-JAX Arts + Innovation District

Emily Moody, third generation Jacksonville resident and Director of Community Engagement with PHX-JAX, has been a cultural pioneer and supporting the arts movement to gain traction and momentum by working with local artists, including through activations such as mural festivals and creating outdoor art galleries. Emily also highlighted the need for rent control of art studios to prevent the displacement of artists as property values rise — a point to which Alexandra emphasized that the attraction of new residents and visitors to Jacksonville should be coupled with supporting the existing arts scenes to flourish during this growth.

Among other initiatives by the PHX-JAX District, Tanya Watts discussed how property trainings and tax assistance help residents remain in their neighborhoods amid development.

Tanya Watts speaking on the Regenerative Placemaking Panel

Tanya Watts, Director of Neighborhood Affairs for PHX-JAX, echoed a sentiment raised by François Alexandre on the importance of the culture and the community of the neighborhood, “to make sure they are bridged together and not overlooked — partnering with existing community leaders doing important work, such as Suzanne Pickett of the Historic Eastside CDC — one of oldest historic black neighborhoods in Jacksonville, FL.” 

Tanya highlighted many important points including the need to be cognizant of which communities are affected by projects, and how to make sure growth is happening “not to the community, but with the community,’ a point emphasized by François in describing the needed shift in perspective to uplifting communities instead of imposing changes upon them.

We look forward to ensuring that our programming can then take off to build our arts & culture, youth job creation & food security and community initiatives. 

“Friends of Phoenix is a new non-profit we have launched,” announced Emily, and one of the pillars to support the mission is “to keep artists in the neighborhood, keep them working and hopefully provide a livable wage to support the flourishment of the neighborhood, and wider city of Jacksonville.”

FOC’s new nonprofit endeavors in Little Haiti and Jacksonville are currently raising funds to support the programming that these community leaders have developed thoughtfully and after deep engagements, consultations, and shared activations in the neighborhoods with local residents, artists, entrepreneurs, and youth.

The Phoenix Arts + Innovation District sponsored a neighborhood camp program in the summer of 2023. The team provided lunches and activities for youth once a week and also served as a water stop on their neighborhood wellness walks.
Outdoor art murals bring color and vibrancy to Jacksonville’s streets

François Alexandre drew attention to the 50th anniversary of the boat people’s migration from Haiti, and that the community takes pride in commemorating its resilience in its historical journey. François expressed his commitment to fostering positive change, understanding the needs of the community, and bridging gaps between various sectors.

Born in Haiti and raised in South Florida, he shared insights into the transformation witnessed in Little Haiti, Miami. The time has never been more crucial than now for co-creation of projects with and by people and groups within the neighborhood. He envisions a collective effort to create a future that caters to the well-being of everyone involved.

François gave a shout out to another speaker and legendary place-maker, systems thinker and practitioner, Scott Francisco, who spoke later that day on his own panel (check out our interview piece with him here about tropical timber harvesting.) What Scott is doing, François emphasized, is a tangible example of the efforts needed: 

“He is putting value into communities, indigenous and local family livelihoods, and then that values goes back into the market.

If we could do that in every area, in every neighborhood, then its not just putting value into a coin and turning it into a dollar, but putting value into people, into local businesses, and transforming that into equitable and sustainable lasting economic growth, growth that has resiliency built in and can better withstand shocks, because it puts people, residents and communities at the core.”

Events such as Utopian Hours are important, as François emphasized that gatherings such as this summit bring together “thinkers that envision and work towards what the future looks like for all of us, not just the haves or have-nots, but for all people to move forward. What does it look like collectively, to regenerate a society that we are all part of and cares for all of us?”

~

Become a Regenerative Placemaker and join us in co-creating the future of cities with us as we work together towards a more regenerative future.

Subscribe to our newsletter at focities.com to get involved, email me at: ajtohme@focities.com and follow us on Instagram.

Future Of Cities Medium Blog. Learn more about the Tapari + Future of Cities Collaboration Project on youth empowerment, storytelling and Haitian culture.

To see the photo album from the Utopian Hours City-Making event, see the VACO Studio album here!
One of the initiatives TAPARI implements is a monthly food distribution to support 200–300 families in the most economically underserved neighborhoods of Miami
Tanya Watts, Director of Neighborhood Affairs, Photo: VACO Studio
Regenerative Placemaking Panel at Utopian Hours: From Left to right: Alexandra J Tohme Director of Regenerative Placemaking FOC; François Alexandre, Founder & Director of Tapari1804; Emily Moody, Director of Community Engagement PHX-JAX; Tanya Watts Director of Neighborhood Affairs PHX-JAX; Tony Cho FOC. Photo: VACO Studio
François Alexandre — Haitian-American social entrepreneur and international & community leader in South Florida with a focus on the black diaspora, rooted in his mission of “bridging community to better government.” He is founder of Konscious Kontractors, KLOTA (meaning “Conscious Leaders of Little Haiti”), & TAPARI non-profit working to empower and transform youth & scholars into future trailblazers and leaders of their community.
Jacksonville Arts & Music School (JAMS) students celebrating art and community — one of the community youth groups Emily engages with when developing and implementing the arts initiatives for PHX-JAX.
Alexandra J Tohme volunteering to support “Hoops4Unity” event which brings together foster children, adopted youth and children of law enforcement and the military together for physical and mental health programs. 
The PHX-JAX Team in front of one of the murals after the 48-Hour Mural Festival
From Left to Right: Suzanne Pickett (HECDC), François Alexandre (Tapari1804 and KLOTA), Reginald Charles (Tapari1804), Stervens Pauleus (Tapari1804)and Tanya Watts (PHX-JAX)

Participatory Co-Design & Proactive Balance for Regenerative Futures

“Oceans should be viewed as bodies of water that connect people, cultures, and nations, not separate them.”

Professor Ramsay Taum, Blue Continent

Oceans Month is almost over but the life beneath the surface continues to thrive. Our oceans are our greatest teachers of collaboration. This month we’ve been in awe of our underwater friends and their ability to move together & protect each other. 

At Future of Cities headquarters we’ve been focusing our attention on Ecological Balance, our giving and receiving, ebbing and flowing, slowing down to listen to the wisdom that lies at the depths of the oceans, beneath our soils, in the rays of the sun & through the powers of the wind. 

Preserving our planet’s ecosystems involves deep listening, participatory co-design, co-creation, collaboration and the implementation of varied practices and technologies for maintaining an active balance within the built environment. There is no one size fits all solution and cohabitating requires cooperation.

Ecological balance…

A foundational principle of our Regenerative Placemaking framework is “ecological balance.” Ecological balance is fundamental to mitigating biodiversity loss and securing a more sustainable future for the next seven generations. Within ecological balance we honor our past to teach us how to harmoniously adapt & coexist with the various climate changes at hand in the present. The intricacies of ecosystems is a complex web of interconnectedness which requires active participation and continuous balancing for lasting change. 

This month, as we immerse ourselves in the oceans of change, we’ve been wondering, with all that the ocean selflessly provides for us, in what ways can we continue to innovate and give back to our oceans? 

As conscientious stewards of digital technology & ecological policymaking, we have a shared responsibility to deploy efforts and resources to preserve indigenous cultures while simultaneously recognizing, honoring and amplifying the immense contributions that indigenous leaders and communities are continuing to make towards modern technological advancements. 

At the end of May we gathered for a historic geopolitical event with some of our close partners and global leaders at the ChoZen eco-retreat for a roundtable on regenerative technologies and cultural identity. Our Future of Cities team joined in a land blessing, with prayers led by Hawaiian indigenous leader and professor Ramsay Taum.

During their time at ChoZen, Blue Continent Institute generously shared with us their visions and goals on cultural respect and identity, passing on perspectives of island states and their depth of understanding for the importance of ecological balance beginning with the ocean. 

The wisdom that the ocean carries gifts us many insights, beyond water as natural wonders or utility for human transactions, and instead takes us on a much deeper journey to look within ourselves for the inner knowing that we are made of the ocean and are not separate from it. 

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