Carl Anthony: The Urban Habitat Program

The newest episode of our university podcast, ‘Mindful U at Naropa University,’ is out on iTunesStitcher, Fireside, and Spotify now! We are excited to announce this week’s episode features special guest Carl Anthony, keynote speaker at Naropa’s 2019 Earth Justice Day, architect, regional planner, social justice activist, and author, on the topic of ‘The Urban Habitat Program.’

play-iconCarl Anthony: The Urban Habitat Program

“We need to think about a new quality in our organization where we are not only protesting against the things that are really hurting our communities and neighborhoods, but we’re also really cultivating expertise on ideas and visions that we might have for the neighborhood and community. Finding ways that rather than having these issues come forth in competition, that we can actually have big enough solutions put forth that incorporate. And one of the areas that we have been specializing in is something called Movement for Regional Equity and what that basically means is that the decisions that are made at a regional level are taken up by the community and our metropolitan region.”

About Carl

Carl Anthony is an American architect, regional planner, social justice activist, and author. He is the founder and co-director of Breakthrough Communities, a project dedicated to building multiracial leadership for sustainable communities in California and the rest of the nation.

Full transcript

Carl Anthony: Urban Planning and Community Gathering

Hello. And welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birth place of the modern mindfulness movement.

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DAVID:
Hello. Today I’d like to welcome a very special guest to the podcast and also to the Naropa community. Carl Anthony. Carl is here as a guest speaker for Naropa on our Earth Justice week with his friend Paloma Pavel. Carl is an architect and urban planner, author, educator and founder of The Breakthrough Communities with his co-founder Paloma Pavel and also part of the Urban Habitat. How are you doing today?

CARL:
I’m very happy to be here today.

DAVID:
Such a pleasure to have you. I’ve got to speak with you over the last two days. And also, Paloma as well and both of you have just been like giving me really good food for thought for my soul. I feel so engaged. I’m just really excited to talk about the work you’ve done. So, thank you for being here.

CARL:
And I’m very happy to be here and to be enriched by Naropa.

DAVID:
Yes, so tell me how was that Naropa experience like speaking to the community and just being here in Boulder, Colorado.

CARL:
Well, it’s really interesting because every place that we go — we discover new things and also, we learn to see the work that we’re doing in a much larger context. So, it’s been really interesting to meet with people here — some of whom we’ve known from before and others making new friends. And hopefully we’ll be seeing much more of each other over the next years.

DAVID:
Yes, me too. I hope so. So, upon my research I’ve noticed you’ve been involved in many different projects, many different organizations — you’re just like a busy dude and you’re doing the good work. And to name a couple — The Ford Foundation, Breakthrough Communities, Urban Habitat. I’m curious what is that like for you involving yourself in multiple organizations and projects. How do you sustain yourself and how do you spread that out?

CARL:
Well, I think the one thing that underscores all of the things that I’ve been involved in — that I have been on a mission from a very early time in my life to try to answer some questions that came to me. In the beginning, manage some inconsistencies alongside of marvelous discoveries and to work out what is the relationship between things that are wrong that need to be corrected and things that are correct and need to be really invested in.

DAVID:
Ok. So, I’m actually curious — tell me about the early you because you sort of just talked about it real quick and what inspired you to move forward in the work that you do now? The who you’ve become now and like can you just tell us like a timeline of where the interests of planning, city planning, urban planning kind of came along and then working with the communities that you work with. And then also developing the organizations that you founded.

CARL:
Well many, many different things influenced me. My father was a farmer who had started a co-op that was actually providing the food for people in African-American community in West Philadelphia. And he’s worked all during the Depression to provide for the success of that move — that movement. And my mother was a dress designer. And she had learned how to make dresses from her mother. And that is a long tradition that goes back a long way. And so, as I was coming of age as a young child — I was really soaking in all that and each of those influences have helped to shape me. And I should also say my brother who’s no longer with us, but during those early years his aspirations to become a — an astrophysicist has also shaped my intelligence and what I’ve been trying to do.

DAVID:
Wow okay. So, when you were first getting started what made you want to become an architect? And also do the city planning? Did you like shapes? Did you like the idea of working with people in groups? Or how did that all get started?

CARL:
Well, I think it — probably one of the most fertile points in my career was given to me by my third grade teacher Mrs. Akins. And in that third grade period we learned about many things we learned about the shape of the universe and we learned about the origin of our planet of the Earth and development of oceans and mountains and the rocks. And the early evolution of humanity and that has been a great inspiration for me. And we also learned about the founding of the city of Philadelphia — the City of Brotherly Love, which was founded by William Penn — he was a Quaker during the 17th century. And all those things the way that William Penn made friends with the native people and tried to build a society that was compatible with the work that was being done by native people was a really important inspiration for me.

DAVID:
Yes. Okay. And when you had the idea to become an architect did you have the plan of doing it for underserved communities, people of color — or did you just go into it wanting to be an architect and you kind of noticed a hole in which you wanted to fill and you felt called to.

CARL:
Well I think that both those sources for inspiration. One of the things that was — really challenged me was in learning about William Penn and one of the things that I noticed at that time especially given the fact that there were so many African-Americans in Philadelphia — that in that story about how the city was founded there was no mention of African-American people. And I was struck by the fact that as now I’m going back to read what was happening there in the 17th century when William Penn showed up on the banks of the Delaware, he found black people living there. And that was a surprise to me. It was also true that William Penn himself had slaves. And this was also a shock to me because we thought of him as a hero and really wanting to advance the issues of social and racial justice. And you know he had slaves and that was a problem. And then his father Admiral William Penn was actually an admiral in the British army — led a campaign against Spain to take over Jamaica, which was one of the most profitable slave colonies. So, all this background was never ever mentioned to me as a child and I wondered what to do with that.

DAVID:
Yeah. So, upon your investigation what have you found?

CARL:
Well I want to tell you one point of accelerated interest was I went to an exhibition when I was in the third grade in downtown Philadelphia — called the Better Philadelphia exhibition. And in this city fathers had put forth a vision for how the city of Philadelphia would grow. And they built models and made aerial photographs and took over two floors of this very prestigious department store. I went there and saw this wonderful exhibition — the whole downtown part of Philadelphia. It really inspired me and I said that’s the kind of work that I would like to do. And then I also saw that there was a need in Philadelphia among the African-American and other communities of color to begin to articulate what is our vision for the city? That’s the point when ideas about becoming an architect and serving the community really took hold.

DAVID:
OK. Thank you.

With your work of planning and designing with the communities of African-American and also people of color communities what type of ways do you design and what is it you are designing itself? Are you designing transportation or are designing the intellectual idea of what transportation is of getting bus stops to people or getting routes to people? Or is it food based or is it educational setting. Can you just tell us what it is that —

CARL:
Well I think you — I think you really touched on all of the things. On the one hand you have experience of urgent needs that people in these neighborhoods and communities have. And also, the insight they have built over many years of trying to solve the problem of our communities in a hostile environment. And so, we saw both the environment — the hostile environment, but also the inspiration that came from communities being able to invent solutions to their own problems.

And as we worked on this, we began to see the solutions for many of our neighborhoods and many of our communities were actually much broader than just our neighborhoods and communities. So we were learning to really look for hidden traditions and actually recalled in our book The Hidden Narrative of Race — we look for the things that have been largely hidden or obscured because of the dominance of the racism that has really erased much of the story of people of color descent in the public arena. So I’ve had — I turned 80 years old just last February and a good part of 70 years of working through this to try to see what there is to offer and what there is to learn in our experience to make it really valuable and useful not only for the African-American communities, but everybody else as well.

DAVID:
Yes, that’s beautiful. So, one question I had was what are these hidden traditions? What are some things that you’ve discovered while doing this research?

CARL:
Well you know I — every 15 or 20 years has been a breakthrough. And when I was in my 20s, I joined the young people who had started dissidents in the south. I actually was very interested in the initiative taken by these young people. People were 16, 17, 18 years old up through the early 20s. And I was really startled to find in many cases that we met with these young people and discuss with them how we could really make changes in our society. And then the next day when I was at Columbia University — when I first started at Columbia University, I pick up the New York Times and see them quoted on the front page. And I said, my God it’s really amazing.

DAVID:
That is.

CARL:
But I learned as 20 year oldÕs — it being 20 years old was that if we made an effort — if we try to be authentic and be ourselves, we can also make a contribution to the whole community. And that’s what happened during the 1960s. And that’s what’s also beginning to happen in 2020 and forward in the whole struggle for climate justice.

DAVID:
Yes. Ok. I was actually curious so when it comes to city planning and designing, preparing and also community organizing how much of it is actually sitting down drawing lines with a ruler and designing the city, getting the stats of the flow of traffic or whatever compared to actually engaging with the community and hearing their concerns and their comments like how much of it is based in dialogue with others and how much of it is based in actually designing with like shapes and colors and sound.

CARL:
For me it’s been different points in my life there have been more inspirations from one direction or another. And it’s really important to realize that there are 40 million black people — African-Americans in this culture. And we are now working with Latino, Asian-American and Native American communities and a growing Islamic community as well as our partnerships and friendships with people of European heritage. And so, at some point the issue of making drawings and making designs was a dominant element in my own investigation. And then there was also something that I really noticed that has been a huge source of inspiration for me was a profound void — lack of information about what African-Americans and Africans have been for the global evolution that needs to be the foundation of our work in the 21st century.

DAVID:
Yes. So, when it comes to the different communities and the different cultures amongst the communities — do these cultures — do they need different things or are they usually asking for the same thing?

CARL:
Well I think one of the things that is an illustration of how this kind of diversity works — when we had an opportunity 10 years ago when new legislation was prepared to develop what we called Sustainable Communities Initiatives under Senate Bill 375 to come up with a new approach to how we would begin to develop our society in such a way that we would mitigate the impact of a terrible influence of our way of life on the environment and the air quality and various other things — we went to a large public meeting describing this initiative. And there were about 300 people at that meeting and many people expressed their points of view. And at that meeting there were 26 organizations — so 26 speakers from African, Native American, Latino, many of the poor white communities that gave speeches that indicated that they were interested in issues of social and racial justice. And we called a meeting of all of those speakers who had spoken up for social and racial justice and we found out just how diverse our communities were. And we were committed to being able to build an approach that would take into account all of what they had to offer and put that forward as a vision that was much larger than any of us could imagine.

DAVID:
Yeah. Yeah. So, I can see all these communities having specific needs according to the cultures they are in. But also, it seems like there would be a lot of similarities when it comes to education, traffic, food, climate, pollution and just like proximity to different areas. And it’s really interesting how these are — they’re all needs of everybody. But yet the people making the decisions are the ones making those needs get closer to them and benefit them and not benefit everybody.

CARL:
Well I think you’re right. And what we found is the government proclamation if this we’re going to ask our communities to contribute to a solution or series of solutions to deal with sustainability in metropolitan regions across California. The solutions that were being put forth by the government was an inspiration, but it only went partway. Then reached into our own communities and found out that people have been working on these issues for at least a generation. And so, we found that there were groups that had been working on issues of homelessness and high prices of housing people who were working on — interested in the transportation system and how inequitable it was. People working on pollution and environmental health and opportunities to make healthier neighborhoods. Folks that were really interested in integrating the most privileged communities that had access to jobs and also access to good educational facilities. We wanted our communities to get access to those things.

So, all those things were put together. We saw a cross-section of what each of the communities had to offer. And we had a large community meeting. We invited all the people that we could in our own let’s say trajectory of influence. And we sort of decide on six themes that went through all those diverse constituencies. And we created a coalition that was called the six wings coalition. And we debated whether we supposed to — whether it would be in the best interests to oppose this government entity education or whether there would be a way that we could actually use initiatives to maybe further the outcomes — it would be more beneficial to our neighborhoods.

DAVID:
Yeah, okay, so like the idea of seeing what is available in the moment and either being like let’s scrap it and define something new that serves us and or let’s reform it because there are some particulars in there that are beneficial, but there are some parts that don’t serve us.

CARL:
Exactly,

DAVID:
OK.

CARL:
Exactly. And by the way, at this particular point I had the pleasure — having worked with Dr. Pavel for almost — well, at least 12 years before this initiative came to our attention and she had developed this idea of a compass and we noticed in the tradition of many of our social movements that we had gotten kind of stuck in saying no to things that we didn’t really like. And we had very — not flexed our own imagination of things that we really could gravitate toward.

So we used the thesis — the format of the concept of a compass to really develop alternatives for this proposal and we really decided to take this 7 million people who lived in the Bay Area and work with the communities who were in that area to develop something that we called the six wings collaboration and really embodied the best solutions for communities that had been working on these for 10 or 12 years before their proposals. The request came from the — from the government for our participation and we saw this as a great opportunity to put forth the wisdom… in the communities.

DAVID:
Yeah. Wow. Ok, so I just had this thought. Did these other entities working on these like public issues and public concerns did they know of each other already?

CARL:
Some — some did. And quite frankly they were often in competition with one another. And so, what we realized is that we don’t need — we don’t need another round of arguing is it better for us to focus our attention on education or should we get hou — affordable housing or stopping the imprisonment of many of our populations. So each of these things have an important role to play and those people who are closest to each of these part — these challenges have an opportunity to educate the rest of us about that challenge and therefore we created a multiracial coalition called the six wings collaboration and worked on the proposals for about three years.

DAVID:
That’s amazing because then you get to find people who are engaged and active in a certain pursuit that someone else might be pursuing something else that benefits everyone. And I really love — I love hearing about that it sounds really great.

CARL:
And I would say also we had done some preparatory work when I had started the Urban Habitat program. We had a Journal called The Rage Poverty Environment Journal. And each issue that we publish focused on a different aspect of things. So, we focused on air quality or the contribution of Latino communities or food security or many, many issues that we put out in a journal. Each one — each publication of a journal became a kind of collector’s item working on those issues. So, we had a good base to start from. And then we also had the work of each of the coalition’s members that had already been working for a decade or so on these issues. And this really became an opportunity for them to bring forth the proposals that they have had which educated the whole community.

DAVID:
Awesome. I love this idea and my next question actually speaks to this organization you’re talking about — the six wins where why is it important for communities to have a diverse and United Voice when they’re inputting on future city development and also being in the public forum. So, why is it important for us to have a diverse and united voice?

CARL:
Well I think that we — we need to think about a new quality in our organization where we are not only protesting against the things that we are really hurting our communities and neighborhoods, but we’re also really cultivating expertise on ideas and visions that we might have for the neighborhood and community. And finding ways that rather than having these issues come forth in competition — that we can actually have a big enough solutions put forth that incorporate. And one of the reasons — one of the areas that we have been specializing in is something called Movement for Regional Equity and what that basically means is that the decisions that are made at a — at a regional level are taken up by the community and our metropolitan region, for example, in the Bay Area is 7 — 7 million people — 98 different jurisdictions. The scale is large enough to have — understand the impact of let’s say on transportation on our watershed and our relationship to the wilderness. And also, the relationship of individual neighborhoods to each other. And it’s large enough to be able to be visible in the global context. And yet small enough to be able to reach out and find some kind of a niche for each community to work in.

DAVID:
Yes, I really do resonate with what you’re saying is we can protest and shine a light on what isn’t working for the groups and communities and the cultures that we are in. You know that still — that just shows the light of like what’s going wrong. But once we get into power and we get in local governments and we get into like bigger decision making settings and with the idea of representing what we are connected to — then we are able to plan and organize and research and actually take action other than still protest and then the people deciding are still the people that aren’t making the best decisions for us.

CARL:
Right. I think that’s absolutely, right. And the thing that we learned is that we don’t want to stop the protests because it’s an engine that helps to drive the kind of progress.

DAVID:
Yes.

CARL:
But we have to put along side of this effort that Dr. Pavel has called “getting grounded” and reaching for new opportunities. And finally saying yes. So, we have to be able to develop each of those element as we go along so that there are many things that we find in many of the proposals that are put forth by the dominant culture are things that we might want to say no to.

DAVID:
Yep.

CARL:
But there are things in there that could be really an inspiration for us to also say yes to. So, it’s by kind of a strategic approach that really takes the best from all the different elements that are available to us to create a vision that works for the whole community that actually can help us move the work that we’re doing together.

DAVID:
Mm hmm yeah. Yeah, protesting can be like the introduction chapter to the forward movement book.

CARL:
Exactly. Exactly.

DAVID:
But like you said it starts with there because then you’re resonating what’s not working. But then also showing up with a solution, with some action plans, with some steps and strategic research because then you’re not allowing the people who are making the bad decisions and or decisions that aren’t relevant in power — they get to hear your voice because it’s a really important movement to say what we need to speak our needs.

CARL:
Exactly.

DAVID:
Yeah.

CARL:
You know and a very good example of this is the whole Native American protest at Standing Rock. We’re protesting the development of infrastructure — we’re attracting more out of the you know whole North American continent was something that we need to be able to stand up and say no we’re not interested and we’re not interested in the fracking and various other things like that. But we also have to find ways to build the kind of positive energy that exists in our neighborhoods and communities and many of direct people living in reservations and also living in cities of found things that they would also be in favor of.

So, we have to be able to sort out the things that we opposed and make that stronger opposition. But at the same time things that we can really support and I think this is also where the kind of consciousness expansion and developing meditation and so forth also contributes a new dimension to our work at the moment.

DAVID:
Yeah beautiful.

CARL:
What we found — what I found in my own career is to also understand that we — I need to go deeper into African-American culture. And at both as a contribution and a gift to people from other communities including Native American and Latino and Asian American Pacific Islander and also even the European culture because one of the things that we’ve noticed in European culture is that it’s not all privilege. It’s not all bad. And that there are many parts of our traditions that we need to lift up as an important contribution to the solutions that work for everybody.

DAVID:
Yeah, I fully agree with that coming in celebration with each other because then we can celebrate together.

CARL:
Exactly.

DAVID:
Yes. I’m actually kind of curious what are some creative and initiative, innovative ways communities and groups are coming together to find and figure out solutions to represent their needs? Is there anything that just blew your mind really like wow that’s really creative?

CARL:
Well I’ll tell you this particular session in Congress has been enormously contribution — the new congressional representation — the largest and most diverse part of congressional representation of all the people in America has been happening in the last couple of years. And you know one of the things that came out — that has come out of that is this idea of the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is to take the most important and progressive ideas that were around during the Roosevelt administration and also attached them to the challenges of climate justice and climate change and come up with a pattern for the whole country that actually would incorporate the great strengths. And we know as we begin to reinvest in our neighborhoods and communities investing dollars in a new economy that investment needs to go to the communities that are most in need, as well as, other creative parts of our society. So that they can actually be a shining example as we emerge in the latter part of the 20th century, which solutions that actually help us to close the gap of income inequality and also put a lid on some of the exploitative growth of the economy that is benefiting the top 1 percent and destroying the basis of life for all of the rest of the society. And also pre-empting the potential for investing in biodiversity and other dimensions of planetary exploration that can benefit everybody.

DAVID:
Mm hmm, yes. Wow, that’s some powerful stuff right there. I almost just want to give a round of applause. Ok, so Carl I’m on your team — I’m with you. Let’s do it. I’m actually curious how do we mobilize as a group and as a community to make our voices heard? What are some steps that you may know? What are some steps that you’ve been witness to that we can implement change in forward movement?

CARL:
Well first of all I think we need to encourage the creativity. Every single person — that people have ideas and things that we ought to be doing. And you know it is a potentially very harmful thing when a person comes up with inspiration to say no don’t do that. Rather than saying here’s a place where you can put that to great use. So, we need to be able to mobilize all of these communities to be able to work side by side. And one of the reasons that we think regional equity is such an important dimension of this is that the opportunities are large enough that we can find a place for almost everybody. And yet small enough to be able to be manageable and capable of helping us to think about this in ways that our inspiration can be — and imagination can be developed in a larger way.

DAVID:
Yes. Thank you.

When it comes to the work that you do and others do — how much of it is a visionary process — like an internal sort of manifestation compared to an external planned engagement, writing it down on paper, making sure you send me that e-mail schematics type of thing —

CARL:
So, let me change — can I answer that with a simple question?

DAVID:
Sure.

CARL:
How much of your breathing is breathing out and how much is breathing in? You can’t breathe in unless you breathe out and you can’t breathe out unless you breathe in.

And so, what is really critical is the balance of being able to know when you need to reach for new horizons and to know when you need to protest against what you don’t agree with. And also keeping alive the inspiration that allows you to be able to identify the things that you really love and care about so that we have more of a balance between all these things. And you know as we used to say we’re working on getting all our cylinders working together. Well we’re getting all the people working on the creativity. We have the potential for really developing a magnificent vision that we all hope to live in. And in each of our regions that will be quite different. So, we need have the flexibility to discovering what is unique about each place and what is unique about each segment of society. And at the same time how we can be working together?

DAVID:
Yes. I really resonate with that because there is this like 50/50 percentage about it because without vision there is no work, without work there is no vision. But you also have to practice both of them to be a sustainable person.

CARL:
Exactly.

DAVID:
Awesome. Ok, so I got one more question. So, we — you know we talk about community gathering and building things together and sustainability. So, when it comes to that what is exactly meant when we say sustainability amongst the cultures?

CARL:
Well I think it means mindfulness; it means paying attention in small detail for many different perspectives. But at the same time, we need to be able to cultivate a grand vision at the same time. And so, the sustainability encourages us not to think environment is over here is one thing to we’re for and now we want to focus on jobs and at the same time we really should be thinking about the poor people so let’s think about equity. We need to be able to do all of those things at the same time. And the more complex vision we can realize by producing the harmony that we need between each element in our society — better off we’re going to be.

DAVID:
Awesome. Wow. Thank you so much for just giving me your time, giving me your space and just shedding your like vast knowledge of what you’ve been doing in just like urban planning, community engagement and just the beautiful work you’re doing. I — I just feel so good and I just really appreciate that you’re able to share with our audience all the work you’ve been doing.

CARL:
Well I’ll tell you I think — you know I really wanted to say put out a shout out for Breakthrough Communities and my relationship with Dr. Pavel and what is particularly the contribution that we can make because you know this idea about eco-psychology put together with the idea of urban planning — this is an innovation in of itself where you have to be able to make places that really build up quality of life for individuals that live in vast different sectors of society. And being able to find that development opportunities that exist between an inner city kid who is 14 years old and an African-American or Latino who has to find a way in the world that doesn’t offer many opportunities. And also, the really great intelligence of people who are working on sustainability they can reach out and really say how can we use this opportunity to hear what the communities are saying that they need and really build a vision for what can be done that will help everybody.

DAVID:
You are so right. So, thank you so much. And I was so happy the Naropa community got to experience you. And it was such a beauty — so I just want to thank you again.

CARL:
Thank you very much for our being here.

DAVID:
Yeah. So, I’d like to thank my very special guest Carl Anthony. He is here speaking as a guest lecturer for the Earth, Justice week with his friend Paloma Pavel. Carl is an architect, an urban planner, co-founder of The Breakthrough Communities and he’s an educator and he is doing all the good work. And I just appreciate him so much for speaking with me today. So, thank you.

CARL:
Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to be part of this great experiment that you are also engaging in Naropa and inviting the communities to listen and make their contributions.

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On behalf of the Naropa community thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at http://www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

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