Unlocking urban kindness with the City Astronaut

communities / Article

Binsen J. Gonzalez recently won a Knight-funded K880 Emerging City Champions fellowship to create a project that builds community. Below, Gonzalez writes about the effort, City Astronaut, launching today in Miami.

I’ve learned that so much of our lives is controlled by our intentions, our thoughts and our beliefs. What we believe matters, what we as a community believe matters. Our intentions become thoughts, our thoughts become beliefs, our beliefs become ideas and actions. From inception, our intentions and beliefs carry great power. What we believe is often what shows up in front of us. It’s what will become of our reality.

What do you believe - and what do we as a collective believe we can share to make the lives of our neighbors better?

I want to know and capture this, to document these insights. It’s why I created City Astronaut, an emblem and graphic which will enable anyone to speak their truth or share their wisdom through micro-storytelling. It will allow us to learn what we as individuals and as a community believe, to see what it is  we are manifesting in our city, our lives, and the lives of others.

Here’s how it works:

A team of City Astronauts ambassadors will give strangers small pieces of paper – what we’re calling Keys to the City - that ask them to give a tip or advice on living a better life in their neighborhood. Sharing your favorite coffee shop or park could be a great act of urban kindness, as could providing a quote on ways to survive everyday life. It's up to you.

Across Miami-Dade County, on nine Miami Dade College campuses, colorful doors will be installed with the City Astronaut artwork. On the back of the doors will be small hooks where you can hang your finished Key to the City so all can read and explore your thoughts. Users will not only be part of the installation, but will become artist and storyteller.  

The City Astronaut emblem and graphic is designed to inspire a moment of mindfulness outside of everyday life. The hanging keys on the back of the doors are a collection that will invoke an internal and external conversation: Should I express kindness to strangers and would strangers express kindness to me? The goal is that in pondering this, the keys will enhance our understanding and deepen our appreciation for our community through written acts of urban kindness and knowledge sharing.

I created City Astronaut with the idea Jaime Lerner used to impact his city, that “changes don’t need to be large scale and expensive to transform.” One block, park, or person can have an outsized powerful effect on everyday life. Lerner was so impactful in his role as an innovator, architect and urban planner, he was elected as mayor of Curitiba, the capital of Paraná, Brazil three times. In 1994, he was elected governor of Paraná, and was reelected in 1998. To this day he continues to inspire urban innovators across the globe.

I have been inspired and deeply believe we need to heal as a society. Hate and fear are never the answer to peace and growth. City Astronaut was born and lives in that utterly powerful narrative that motivates tolerance and further acts of kindness between people, to create meaningful relationships between those we fear and hopefully teach us all of a different paradigm other than our own.

I believe my partners and collaborators in the effort to bring City Astronaut to life understand why this dialogue is important and timely. Wolfson Campus President José. A. Vicente put it best when he said: “It makes sense that City Astronaut’s launch and journey begin at Miami Dade College, an institution that continues to impact the lives of most Miami-Dade residents, in a time when the world is in need of kindness and compassion.”

With a total of nine doors installed across Miami Dade College’s campuses, from Homestead to Miami Gardens to  Hialeah and one traveling with me all over Miami — and the City Astronaut emblem’s approachable quality, I hope we will create a safe space to unlock urban kindness.

I invite all of you to visit one of these doors at any of MDC’s campuses, and partner with us to bring a door to an event, your office, or a public space. Most importantly create a “key” yourself. If you can’t make it to one of our doors, then create and key yourself and upload it to Instagram or Twitter tagging it with #CityAstronaut or #KeystoMiami.

Imagine what we will capture, how much kindness we can spread, City Astronauts!

Keep up with all the updates on our website and follow me on instagram @CityAstronaut.

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