Items of Inspiration
An Incomplete and Growing List of Sources of Wonder, Insight, Motivation and Cause for Reflection Curated by the New Urban Mechanics.
There is no shortage of moments of inspiration found in our day-to-day. In our constant quest to expand the opportunities for delight in the city of Boston, interrogate systems at play in the institution of local government and invite new perspectives to pressing everyday challenges we pause here and take stock of the ever growing list of things that propel the collective work forward.
* Stay tuned. This list will continue to be updated. This is not an official endorsement of any organization or ideology.
Anti-Racist + Social Justice Resources
Undesigning, Redesigning and Imagining Civic Life
- The Combahee River Collective Statement
Black Feminist collective committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression.
- Native Land. ca
An incomplete but great start to understanding the tribal heritage of land and acknowledging this history.
- The Design Justice Network Principles
These principles offer a grounding opportunity to reflect on how to challenge systems that perpetuate injustice by design and create a reference point for being critical and action oriented. The Design Justice Network is an international group of people and organizations committed to rethinking design processes so they center people who are often marginalized by design. They work according to a set of principles that were generated and collaboratively edited by their network.
- Black Space Manifesto
A guide for and by Black urban planners, architects, artists, activists, designers and leaders working to protect and create Black spaces.
Design isn’t inherently good but it has the capacity to create futures we want to live in. I’m excited and inspired by seeing designers challenging current systems at play and using design to address interconnected injustices that have spanned generations.
— Sabrina Dorsainvil, MONUM’s Director of Civic Design
- Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI)
DS4SI are a local to Boston creative studio that utilizes social interventions as a method for interrogating the ways justice shows up in public. Take a look at their Social Emergency Response Centers (SERCs) that reframe the response system approach to natural disasters and other emergencies to a model of responding to social emergencies. Read the theory behind them here. Check out their other writing, too: particularly their pieces on Spatial Justice and their book Ideas-Arrangements-Effects.
- Field Guide to Equity-Centered Community Design (ECCD) + Redesigners for Justice by the Creative Reaction Lab (CRXLAB)
Founded in support of the Uprising in Ferguson CRXLAB is a St. Louis-based organization dedicated to educating, training, and challenging Black and Latinx youth to become leaders in designing healthy and racially equitable communities. They challenge the belief that only adults with titles (e.g. mayors, CEOs, etc.) have the power and right to challenge racial and health inequities.
- Undesign the Redline — Designing the WE
This interactive exhibit, workshop series and curriculum explores the history of structural racism and inequality, how these designs compounded each other from 1938 Redlining maps until today, and how WE can come together to undesign these systems with intentionality.
- A Voice at the Table
This research initiative explores the role affirmative spaces play in promoting community building, empowerment, and resilience for Black womxn in Roxbury, MA. It has an unapologetic rejection of “traditional” urban planning methods of inquiry and the ways it centered the voices of its audience.
- Critical Design Lab Statement
Design commitments to abolishing white supremacy put forth by the Critical Design Lab. They are a multi-disciplinary and multi-institution collaborative drawing on the methods of critical and interrogative design, intersectional feminist design theory, and crip technoscience to address thorny questions about accessibility.
- Radical Repair
A conversation with designer and architect Mabel O Wilson on how we can rethink our practices and attempt to “repair” them.
- Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS)
Oakland-based architecture and real estate development non-profit working to end mass incarceration by building infrastructure that addresses its root causes: poverty, racism, unequal access to resources, and the criminal justice system itself. Their work counters the traditional adversarial and punitive architecture of justice — courthouses, prisons, and jails — by creating spaces and buildings for restorative justice, community building, and housing for people coming out of incarceration.
- Les Grands Voisins
This experiment in urban planning, temporary use, and collective living in Paris, France is an example of how truly experimental urban planning/ design/ economic ideas CAN be brought to life, despite the challenges and at the scale of an entire neighborhood.
Raising kids is awesome, but it’s not easy. Especially trying to raise kids that are creative, empathetic, and aware of injustice in the world.
— Kris Carter, Co-chair of MONUM (and father of twins)
- Wee The People
(WTP) is a Boston-based social justice project for children ages 4–12. Launched in 2015 by two Black mothers, WTP organizes free, interactive workshops and events that explore activism, resistance, and social action through the visual and performing arts: music, dance/movement, theater, graphic arts, spoken word, and storytelling.
Technology, Sci-Fi + Digital Futures
Considerations and Tools for Future Forecasting in the Digital Age
- Artefact: Tarot Cards of Tech
This is a thought provoking tool in card format. Users are asked several questions to forecast potential futures of the technologies they are designing based on their choices. They are a set of provocations designed to help creators more fully consider the impact of technology.
- The Jejune Institute
Alternate Reality game that encourages players to explore their city in an enchanting way. (This is one of our co-founder’s favorite things ever.)
- Law of the Newly Possible
Bryant Walker Smith takes on some of the fascinating challenges that have emerged as technology enters our public spaces — a tad heavy on autonomous vehicles, but repeatedly elicits new questions from answers.
Care, Collaboration + Democracy
Unpacking Seemingly Invisible Yet Highly Impactful Systems and Actions
- The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)
Based in New York City this organization uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement. They collaborate with designers, educators, advocates, students, and communities to make educational tools that demystify complex policy and planning issues.
- Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality, and Justice and the Ethics of Care, by Joan Tronto
- Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation
This diagram encourages you to unpack the level of agency and power associated with engagement and decision-making.
- Gehl’s Public Life Data Protocol
“The idea of creating a protocol that captures quantitative and qualitative data into a unified [place] is really interesting”
A painful and powerful decentralized memorialization effort initiated by Gunter Demnig in the 1990s.
- Waag Society
A ~25 year old interdisciplinary research and prototyping group guided by the values of fairness, openness and inclusivity.
Language can guide or hinder the imagination and this group uses exciting language archetypes like “Primary Care Architect”, accompaniment, and imagining themselves as DJs.
- Candy Chang
As an artist Candy Chang creates work that envisions the future of ritual in public life. Her projects examine the dynamics between society and the psyche, the threshold between isolation and community, and the role of public space in an alienating age. Her work centers on participatory public art and lies at the intersection of contemplative practice and the built environment. See select projects: Post-it Notes for Neighbors, Confessions, I Wish This Was
Conferences and Unconferences
- Hacking Heritage Unconference
Hacking Heritage is a participant-led unconference that is open to anyone with an interest in exploring questions about community history, heritage and preservation together
- The Black in Design Conference
This conference is organized by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design African American Student Union (GSD AASU) and recognizes the contributions of the African diaspora to the design fields and promotes discourse around the agency of the design profession to address and dismantle the institutional barriers faced by our communities.
- Allied Media Conference
The Allied Media Conference is a collaboratively designed event that explores the intersections of media and communications, art, technology, education, and social justice. Read the Allied Media Network Principles.
Arts + Culture
Written or Spoken Works
Sometimes someone else finds just the words to describe the complexity of the world and the narratives of everyday and beyond that feed you mind, body and soul.
Books, Poetry and Writings
I’m still a cyberpunk at heart. This is the book that enabled me to be able to live in the modern capitalist USA. (Regarding Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling)
— Nigel Jacob, Co-founder and Co-chair of MONUM
- The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
- Seed to Harvest series by Octavia Butler
- Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life by Marcus Anthony Hunter and Zandria Robinson
- All About Love, by bell hooks
- Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Marie Brown
- Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag
- Love’s Executioner, by Irvin D. Yalom
- Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder
- The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
- Urban Alchemy, by Mindy Fullilove
- Electric Arches, by Eve Ewing
- Meaningful Inefficiencies, by Eric Gordon, Gabe Mugar (with Steve Walter)
- Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Professor Ruha Benjamin
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
[We] Can’t forget about graphic novels that highlight badass ladies owning their power. Graphic novels are a recent discovery but the experience of exploring independent comic book shops and discovering this whole new generation of comics that highlight women, particularly women who look like me, has been transformative. — Taylor Cain, Director of the Housing Innovation Lab
Podcasts and Independent Radio
- MIT The Move
The Move is a movement to rebuild our public’s muscle for democracy.
- Lavar Burton Reads Reading Rainbow for adults, a true gift.
- Indian & Cowboy More than just a podcast, a collective of projects giving the mic to native creators
- Ear Hustle stories about and produced by people in the prison system, which remind me how privileged I am to simply hear about.
- Where should we begin? Eavesdropping on couples’ therapy with an addictively charismatic therapist (Ester Perel) who makes me question my own relationships to everyone in my life
- Mogul ‘behind the music’ vibes for casual and curious fans of hip hop
- Caliphate for dedicated and passionate reporting on a subject (terrorism) that’s often removed from real peoples’ voices
- Entre a French podcast that documents adolescence in unintentionally heartbreaking ways
- Reveal / Center for Investigative Reporting
Al Letson and his team are putting out some of the best investigative and meaningful reporting on the planet that sparks action and protects democracy.
Music, Dance, Film and Performances
As we said inspiration can show up in unexpected spaces. From the human body taking on endless challenges to moving lyrics that force you into reflection.
Nothing inspires me more than dance: watching it, doing it, seeing it happen spontaneously. I like that dance is a conversation between so many parties all at once: the dancer, the audience, the composer, the musicians, and everyone who has ever performed that dance before.
— Nayeli Rodriguez, MONUM’s Technologist for the Public Realm
- Merce Cunningham
- Pina Bausch
- Alvin Ailey
- Bill T. Jones
- William Forsythe
- Emma Portner
- Ohad Naharin
- New York City Ballet
- Paris Opera Ballet
- Order My Steps by Oompa
Oompa is a nationally-acclaimed, Boston-born, poet, rapper, and educator, who is forever representing the queer, black, orphaned, hood kids and them. “Order My Steps” is from the album Cleo released August 2019.
- Susie Ibarra is a Filipina-American composer, percussionist, and sound artist. Her field recordings, articulation of “digital sanctuaries”, and use of collaborative polyrhythms are magical. The way that she explicitly connects music to the natural world is also a source of inspiration.
- Thelonious Monk
Jazz Pianist and Composer
- George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
In particular, this version conducted by Leonard Bernstein and played by the New York Philharmonic.
- The MFA Ancient Nubia Now —
The entire exhibit was quite eye-opening and in particular this video of Vanessa Davies, “How Egyptologists Removed Ancient Egypt from Africa,” pushes you to consider who authors the history we take in and what their gaze imposes on what we hold true.
- Breathe Life 3, Problak
- Ron Finley
Gardener and Artist in Los Angeles
- Edward Hopper
American Realist Painter and Printmaker
- Mural Arts Philadelphia
- Käthe Kollwitz
Storytelling is a big part of our work and digital storytelling was an original side hustle for the team. Here’s a list of films curated by Kris Carter, co-director and founding member of the city of Boston’s “A/V Club.”
- Mark Osborne’s More
- Miguel Arteta & Miranda July’s Are You The Favorite Person of Anybody
- Eliot Rausch’s Last Minutes with Oden
- Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot’s The Corporation
- Errol Morris’ Thin Blue Line & The Fog of War & Miller High Life Series
- Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke & Do the Right Thing
- Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future I & II
- Casey Neistat’s Do What You Can’t
- Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi
- Sam Jones’ I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
- John Hughes’ love letter to Chicago: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
- Alejandro Gonzalez’ Amores Perros
- Minority Report
- Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther
- Peter Weir’s The Truman Show
- Andreas Dalsgaard’s Human Scale
- William H. Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces
- SpenSpenni’s Scraper Bike
- Andi Lipo & Jeremy Hartman’s 508 The Take Over
- Boston’s own, Lucas Brunelle’s Line of Sight
- Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station
- David Simon’s The Wire
And a few from our very own Michael Evans:
- Maragarita Martinez, Filmmaker and Television Host. Start with her short film, Representative
- The Vietnam War: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
The Outdoors, Nature and Our Planet
- Big Bend National Park
One of our chief of staff’s absolute favorite places on the planet. “It is so energizing and grounding and makes manifest the ambiguity and insignificance of human-defined borders. Also, it’s so much about the journey to get there.”
This list is far from complete and likely never will be! Thanks for taking a peek at some of the things we like to revisit and reflect on.
We love to learn with and from others. What inspires you?
Let us know via this form, or reach out to us via email: newurbanmechanics [at] boston [dot] gov.