Time and Paradigm, Part 1

I saw the decade in, when it seemed
The world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything then there’s your sign of the times
I was alive and I waited
I was alive and I waited for this

I am indebted to the band Jesus Jones for those lyrics, from a song that was popular in maybe 1991, but feels viscerally appropriate for today. Eighteen years ago we were in a war with Iraq, in a recession, but it was clearly still so twentieth century.

A decade later, there was another tectonic shift in our culture when we were attacked on our own shores by a shadowy, amorphous enemy, who strategically took out our most lofty architectural symbol of global hegemony.

Nearly a decade that has passed since then. All of my senses tell me that only this year, 2009, marks the true beginning of the twenty-first century. As I have often said recently to my (much) younger colleagues: “Do you hear that moaning, grinding sound? That, my friends, is the sound of the paradigm shifting.”

The ruthless, global de-leveraging juggernaut of the last eight months has left us as breathless as a firm punch in the gut. In our dizzy observation of the real-time re-calibration of the universe, it seems anything might be possible, doesn’t it?

Suddenly, more people are contacting me than in the semi-recent past. My LinkedIn notices are multiplying like bunnies. While we may all be looking for a path to the next project, there’s something bigger happening. “Into the great wide open.” (Thanks, Tom Petty.)

Folks are seeking collaboration; and it will be different than in the past. Over and over again, I hear searching going on for new models of “sustainable development.” As I observe this, it becomes clear that in the future (that is, now) there will be “NBAU”, or “no business as usual.” Public, private, NGO, not-for-profit, all concerns will likely need to pull together to shape the future we are seeking in our hearts. Everything is becoming more connected than ever before—the “cowboy” model may be finally riding into the sunset.

Our leaders may help; it is equally likely that like-minded individuals and wild-eyed optimists will pull together to make the conceivable the literal. In the development business, we are all already acquainted. Who will set the table at which we will all sit, and honestly assess the opportunities, constraints, realities, tragedies, and triumphs of a shared vision for a better future? I’ve practiced as an architect for more than twenty years; yet the future will require much more: I’m learning to be a broker, a yentl, an entrepreneur, and a clairvoyant. These may not be the best of times, but I can’t remember a time when I was more excited about the possibilities for new ideas and models of cooperative efforts propelled by authentic leaders, private and public, who have dreamed a future and itch to inhabit it.

Let’s keep talking, searching, dreaming, ranting, loving, and believing.

Right here, right now
There is no other place I want to be
Right here, right now
Watching the world wake up from history

Thank you, Jesus Jones. Don’t let me sleep through the revolution.

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects)