The Coast to Coast Community Process

Last week I had a very successful visit to Syracuse New York where we began community engagement to create a peacemaking center in the Near West Side. Prior to leaving I invited some folks to my home to begin the conversation on creating these spaces by asking “What values does our current justice architecture communicate?” We had a lively conversation that teased out the qualities of these spaces and helped me more than ever to understand how the design of our courthouses actually elicits a diversity of feelings from excitement to guilt and fear.  Afterwards we began to visualize what values spaces for peacemaking should have. I asked each person to generate 5 “playing cards” that would form an extensive and eclectic deck that I then brought to Syracuse to work with the community around these same themes.  It was fun and surprisingly intense as folks cut images from magazine and one by one sat with me to explain why they chose them. I feel so grateful to have this amazing community that supports my work and I want to take this space to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Moving on to another amazing community across the country,  I spent my first day  visited the Near West Side neighborhood in Syracuse again. While there I had the chance to meet the architects we are collaborating with, Ashley McGrath. Their representative, Jason Evans, is a passionate advocate for his city which came out as he brainstormed to help us develop our process for the design engagement workshop.  The following day Jason and my clients at the Center for Court Innovation spent an entire morning helping us create the materials we needed for the event in addition to those I brought from that gathering at my home.  As I watched these practiced and erudite lawyers cut out little circles for peacemaking rooms and consultation spaces with complete focus and deliberation I asked myself what I had done to deserve these wonderful clients.

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That night with Jason and Marc Norman’s help I led the Center for Court Innovation, students from Syracuse University and community members such as Paul Nojaim( who owns Nojaims Supermarket the most amazing  community grocery store I have ever seen) through a peacemaking circle. The circle helps those unfamiliar with peacemaking to understand the process.  It also creates an opportunity for participants to express themselves with playing cards, objects and materials about spaces in their lives and community where they go to resource themselves.

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This phase then led everyone to participate in a diagraming and spatial visualization exercise. They broke into teams where they created a narrative and bubble diagram of the spatial sequences that a victim, offender or community member might experience when they entered a peacemaking center.

As always I was amazed at the insights that come out. We debated about separate entrances and the stigmatization of this architectural feature the neglects to understand that offenders are often victims themselves.  Participants came up with ideas for flexible spaces that doubled as libraries and break rooms for moments when decompression is required during the intense process of peacemaking. These ideas very much resonated with me as well as the creation of spaces for solitary reflection comprised of mirrors and views to the landscape.

I cannot express how powerful and inspiring the collection of stories and thoughts from the community has been so far. I look forward to my next set of events in April and know that it will yield even more valuable content as we continue to create these new spaces across our cities.

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