Human Impacts Chicago: Closing the “Loop”

In 2013-2014 the Human Impacts Institute is partnering with the Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of Germany to explore how we can make climate change personal to our communities and re-communicate climate issues to the American public in creative and engaging ways through our “Creative Climate” Human Impacts Salons series. Working with local partners in eight U.S. cities and in Berlin, this year-long tour bring together creative visionaries with community leaders, environmental experts, and activists in a salon-style event of performance and in-depth discussion to highlight local action, resources, and solutions to addressing one of the most pressing issues of our times–climate change.

The best way to predict the future is to design it. At least, that’s the view articulated by Buckminster Fuller, one of the most prominent designers of the 20th Century. But what about the case of climate change– something many urban planners, architects, and innovators agree is a threat and should be accounted for in our current and future design strategy? How do we design for a changing climate?

This was the driving question behind Human Impacts Chicago, the latest installment of the Human Impacts Salon Series, a national tour that has already explored climate issues in Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York, Miami, Boston, and finally Chicago this September. While Chicago is already known for its cutting-edge architecture and design, including Millenium Park (designed in part by Frank Gehry), the city is moving more and more in the direction of sustainable design and climate-friendly building. Human Impacts Chicago took the opportunity to talk these issues through with a group of Chicago’s leading minds and design thinkers.

Gathered at the Goethe-Institut Chicago, 70 community members as well as panelists from the City of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago Slam Works, and other local groups attended the Salon.

HII’s Tara DePorte moderated the discussion, posing questions like “What are we designing for?” and “who are we designing for?” to speakers and attendees. University of Chicago’s Liz Moyer was able to shed light on some of cutting edge ways scientists and designers are trying to address climate change such as geoengineering and carbon-capture, and elaborate on the uncertainties scientists are evaluating. Nethertheless, panelists agree– there is a sense in which we don’t know what we are designing for. Other panelists were able to hone in on the “who” of the question, such as Janet Attarian from the City of Chicago Department of Transportation, noting that Chicago residents, per capita, have a much smaller carbon footprint than suburban residents (this is true in many cities). Density, it seems, is part and parcel of being carbon efficient. Attarian notably adds that “efficiency does not mean livable, does not mean beautiful.” In striving for sustainability, design has to take more than just efficiency into account to ensure that we live fulfilling lives.

With practical experience on the latter point, Katherine Darnstadt’s firm, Latent Design, starts the design process by looking at the social side of the project– letting it inform the artistic and environmental aspects of the architecture. Consider Chicago’s Geek Bar, one of Darnstadt’s recent projects. Salon Attendees heard first hand from Dardstadt how her firm balances sustainability, efficiency, and culture.

In keeping with the “salon” format, discussion was interposed with several unique performances from Chicago Slam Works Artists J.W Basilo, Mojdeh Stoakley, and Fatimah Asghar as well as climate-inspired dance from Carson Reiners.

The closing question for evening, posed to attendees and panelists alike, was “How will you design your life to address climate change?” While this is a weighty ask, it’s bears thinking about. How would you do it?

Human Impacts Chicago Panelists included:

With Inspiring Performances from :

  • Mojdeh Stoakley

  • Fatimah Asghar

  • J.W. Basilo

  • Carson Reiners

This program would not be possible without the support of the following:

The Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of the German Government, which aims to support platforms and partnerships that help Americans and Germans exchange their know-how and to pave the way for joint solutions.

The Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicagoproviding information on Germany and the consular services for Visa, Passport, and Legal advice, and Germany-related news and events. They offer a wide spectrum of information, including details on traveling, studying, and doing business in Germany. Their German language website features information and news relevant to German citizens.

StoryCorps’ mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

by Tess Clark, Human Impacts Institute’s Development Manager

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