Keefe was invited to a dinner in the small, crowd source–designed, New York apartment of Graham Hill, a socially conscious real estate entrepreneur, along with eight other big thinkers (including Blue Bottle coffee founder, James Freeman), to talk about the future of cities—and how the constraints and friction of cities are the future of the human race. Their dinner party conversation ranged from small space design, to the growing mobile-bound network of grocery delivery and TaskRabbit cleanup, to the role of city government, to how to get more folks bicycling (and the main friction of the night: bike helmets), but Keefe hit the idea that tied everything together:
"You said we were all thinking about cities," says Julie Keefe, looking at me and addressing the evening's premise. "But what we're all thinking about is community." She was appointed Portland, Oregon's creative laureate last year for Hello Neighbor, a public art project created to address the anxieties around gentrification in her North Portland neighborhood. And she's zeroing in on the primary potential of cities. "Community" in the suburbs generally means knowing your neighbors and having enough property for a garden party. In contrast, communities in cities are dynamic: City dwellers never know all their neighbors, which forces them to constantly form new, at times fleeting, bonds. Yes, this can make urban life lonely, even scary, but it's never dull. It can lead to new ideas and even dramatic changes to the physical landscape.
Funny thing is, Keefe told me after the fact that most of the other thinkers’ cutting edge ideas were old hat in Portland. Even the focus of the article, designing for small spaces, has a rich history in Portland. (See our recent feature.) That said, we’re still drooling over the amazing expandable dinner table (although we’re less sold on the soundproofed bathroom stall/meditation room).
Also check out the audio slideshow Keefe did for PoMo documenting the Jefferson Dancers’ recent trip to China.