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Body & Soul: Urban Parks 2008

Over the next few days I’ll be in Pittsburgh for the Body & Soul: International Urban Parks Conference. Besides attending sessions and workshops, I’ll also be monitoring certain sessions to handle audio-visual and other computer issues that often arise. I promise to blog, or at least twitter, interesting ideas gleaned from the conference here at the Omphalos.

I’m excited to be going and especially to see some of my old colleagues from the Trust for Public Land that will be attending. But in a deeper sense, working at this conference and networking with other folk passionate about parks will be a return for me to an intention that motivated me to change my career six years ago.

Rewind the cosmic clock and half a decade ago you’ll find me riding a bicycle along the Schuylkill River Park greenway in Philadelphia and wondering how I could possibly reciprocate for the wonderful space that anonymous civic philanthopists, city planners, and landscape architects had provided for me to re-create myself on that beautiful day. The answer I came up with was studying to become a city planner myself, and two years later after writing a thesis and finishing a ton of work, I was awarded a degree in city planning. Still focused on parks I found a job with Peter Harnik at the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land, a research internship that last a year.

But for the past two and a half years I haven’t been focused on parks. Following the hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, I moved down to Louisiana to cut my teeth as a planning practitioner, first for a FEMA contractor in rural southwestern Louisiana, and afterwords for an engineering firm in Baton Rouge. During that time I gained enough experience to apply to take the AICP exam and passed. And now that I’ve returned from Louisiana, I’m once again looking to get back into working for city parks, as a city planner in a parks department, or in some other capacity as an open space or trails planner.

I’ve also been looking into programs that focus on green building and construction. What I discovered in Louisiana is that experience matters. However exciting green technology or environmental best practices sounds to a young planner, the tried and conventional modes ossified in regional expectations are a nearly impossible barrier if you can’t speak with firsthand experience to how practical a different approach might be.

A moment of transition and opportunity. This next year should be interesting. I’ll keep you informed.

About Aharon N. Varady


Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find my work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support me, please consider donating via my Patreon account.

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