Although the world stood up and took notice, the architect’s friends were totally baffled why a man of his stature would have taken on such a seemingly mundane project. After all, this was a man who had designed some of the world’s finest museums. This was a man who had designed more than 20 celebrity mansions and a yacht club on the French Riviera. Why he had chosen to design an inner city housing project was absolutely inconceivable to them.
But not to him.
As the son of immigrant parents, he had grown up in a two-room, cold water flat. His bedroom was actually the hallway. He had no TV. In college, he had to work two jobs to pay his tuition and in graduate school, three. Housing was always an issue for him — a mix of couch surfing, rat infested tenements, and ridiculously small studio apartments.
So when he heard about the inner city housing project, his ears perked up. To him, this was an opportunity of a lifetime, a message from God, a chance to give back.
With great delight, he threw himself headlong into the project. It took every ounce of energy he had, what with the corrupt labor unions and the crazy New York politics, but he pressed on and, in 18 months, had created something so extraordinary that the press was calling it “The Taj Mahal of Inner City Housing”.
When the big day came to officially dedicate his creation, everyone was there — the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, the Assistant to the Deputy Mayor, the Assistant to the Deputy Mayor’s Assistant, his parents, wife, kids, therapist, and 500 housing project residents.
Wine was plentiful. So was the cheese and crackers. There was even a reggae band. The Mayor, as you might expect, was the first to speak. Then came the Deputy Mayor and then the Head of the Tenant’s Association. Finally, it was the architect’s turn. At the end of his talk, he raised a magnum of champagne high over his head and, in the grand tradition of sea captains christening sailing vessels, smashed it on the corner of Building #1.
People were cheering. Flashbulbs were popping. Champagne was guzzled. Everything was as upbeat as humanly possible. That is, until the architect noticed a very large woman, in the back of the crowd, pacing back and forth. She wasn’t clapping. She wasn’t cheering. She wasn’t drinking champagne.
“HEY!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Something is wrong here — very wrong. And with that, began hurriedly making her way forward.
The architect, tapped his mic, quieted the crowd, and invited her to join him on stage.
“Yes, my good woman?” he began. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Please don’t get me wrong, sir”, she began. “I love what you’ve created here. And I love that I now have a beautiful home I can afford. But…”
“Yes?” the architect replied.”But what?”
“But..” she continued, with a dramatic sweep of her hand in the direction of the courtyard. “There are no sidewalks! Where are the sidewalks? Millions of dollars have been spent on this place and I don’t see a single sidewalk.”
“Ah…” the architect replied, “a most astute observation. Yes, you are absolutely right. There are no sidewalks. Not a single one. And do you know why?”
“No sir, I don’t,” she replied.
“There are no sidewalks, because I don’t yet know where people walk. So, I’ve decided to wait a season, notice the paths people naturally make when walking from building to building — and then pave over them.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Path Is Made By Walking On It
In what ways does the architect’s choice to wait a few months before adding sidewalks relate to a project of yours? What patterns or feedback do you need to pay more attention to? Where might you need to let things organically unfold rather than making an arbitrary decision that has no correlation to the real needs of the people you are serving? Where might improv be the path to improvement?