The football coach is finally smiling. We’ve negotiated to convert the pavement at the end of his field into an urban farm and solve his storage problem at the same time. He's the last puzzle piece in a process we mapped out to engage the community, students, the permitting authorities, volunteers and contractors. With their input, we created schedules, and budgets and plans, and now there’s a beloved farm and a lot of vegetables where there used to be asphalt.
One of the hardest conversations we aren’t having is about mass incarceration. How do you talk when the people you need to talk to are going slowly insane in solitary confinement?
I’ll never forget that first meeting with the neighbors. “We don’t want anything to change.” He said gruffly. My heart sank. “Is there anything that would improve the place?” I asked. “Well, bathrooms...” I took notes and nodded. “and a place to get coffee, and to get out of the wind…” Before I knew it, they were talking animatedly about their vision for a new building. One that aligned with what we then heard from the National Park Service (“a new model of visitor center that you go in to go out again and experience the park”) and from the Conservancy (“financially self-sustaining, generating enough revenue to cover the operating costs.”) These ideas became the touchstones, and generators, of the project.
How do you create a new kind of institution? When there are no precedents, it’s hard to convey an idea... and to know if it will work. To test the idea of the Presidio Exchange we held a two-day facilitated workshop called “The Power of Place”. Representatives from innovative cultural institutions around the country came. Having solicited input from hundreds of people – partner organizations, current visitors, potential new audiences – we spent this concerted time clarifying the challenge we were hoping the PX would solve. Then we spent months trying to describe what it was and how it would work.