The original goal for my work in Civita was to consider its sustainability from a different point of view. Not obvious metrics, such as its Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) profile or average carbon footprint per resident — or, better said, not in the way that others might consider these measures.
My interest rests in uncovering the sustainability of this lifestyle in terms of relationships, affordability, connectivity, culture, economics, resilience, health and happiness. Measuring energy load or water consumption may reveal a building’s performance, and life cycle cost analysis can speak to the economics; considering air quality or transit service are important to health, safety, and quality of life. However, if we ignore human emotional complexity –such things as contentment, which can appear difficult or too “soft” to bother measuring– we’re missing the boat.
As stated in my proposal, my intent is to promote an understanding of these measures through a personal, experiential first-hand account that speaks to people in an emotional rather than technical way. In short, I seek to effectively reach an audience by painting a illustrative story rather than extolling pages of data.
Last night, I began to address one topic area, a rather broad question: What makes great urban places timeless?
Sitting in the piazza listening to live jazz music echoing around the stone buildings, the answer –people– seemed obvious. The life and vitality of Civita or any great urban place always comes back to people and their desire to layer new on top of old.
By nature a striking venue, Civita provides a compelling stage for the marriage of old and new. It is exactly that rich, contextual palimpsest that calls people here; still, I felt surprised and touched to hear modern music –my American music, no less– performed in a truly ancient place, yet enjoyed by Italians young and old.
With such thoughts, I considered how ancient music itself is; humans have always found ways to make joyful noise through singing and playing instruments. It was true of the Etruscans who created Civita (they played pan-flutes, strings, and drums) and it was true of last night’s ensemble, who played the blues with electric guitars on the dirt floor of the piazza in front of the church.
Watching the crowd, mostly from Bagnoregio (which means they made a long, dark, steep trek home afterward), I thought of the human need to gather, not just families or friends, but also strangers. Being a social species is what has helped us to survive for thousands of years; separation is not only a punishment, it can depress us and destroy our very nature.
While being apart can tear us down, one thing that never fails to cheer us is dance. Moving in between the warm yellow and cool blue stage lights that illuminated the late-night darkness, the Italians swayed and danced together as if jazz was their own. Two tots sitting on the stone step next to me jumped up when encouraged by the lead singer, reminding me that there’s no escaping the human need for expression through physical movement; it’s bred into our DNA.
I greeted Gaia and Ilauria after the concert, finding warm hugs and cheek kisses from both. It felt good to be known. The desire to settle in one place depends on our human relationships there; without ties, we move on. As humans, we have a deep-seated need to matter and be able to affect the world — we desire to be seen.
After I dropped them off at their door, I enjoying walking through the pools of amber lamplight, exploring the quiet that suddenly fell. There were only the sounds of my shoes on the stones and the cool, sweet-smelling air on my skin…and Nerone who meowed at me, welcoming me home. Other human needs -fresh air, privacy and a little feline companionship- are equally as ancient as Civita itself.
To me, sustainability boils down to time: how long can any resource –food, money, oil, clean air, cities…love– sustain us? The reinvigoration of any resource, whether it’s a foodshed or a relationship, is part of its sustainability. That, partnered with its perception in terms of human enjoyment (the feeling that makes us continue doing or protecting something), is what defines how long that resource exists. And, with time is also necessary the ability to grow, change, adapt, rebuild, and love — or die.
Say, isn’t that what jazz is all about?