They often do at this monthly lecture circuit, which is hosted at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium in Hill House’s Kaufmann Center, and is presented by Green Building Alliance and its partners – Hill House Association, GTECH Strategies, and Chatham University. Last Thursday’s event kicked off the third season of the Inspire Speakers Series, which Green Building Alliance developed to bring national and local experts together on topics of healthy and sustainable communities. At this most recent lecture (watch the highlight video here), Pittsburgh’s sustainability manager, Grant Ervin, invited the audience to dig deep and uncover the talents and ideas we can share to make our city the envy of the world. Then Dr. Antwi Akom brought a national perspective by sharing hard-won wisdom and insights from his work in Oakland, California. Building from the theme for this season’s Speakers Series, “Creating the Most Livable Places for All,” Dr. Akom challenged us to “forget about livable…Let’s build smarter, more sustainable, more compassionate, more equitable, let’s call it thriving!” For a third season in a row, it seems that the Inspire Speakers Series has managed to live up to its promise of delivering true inspiration to our region, and I can’t seem to get enough of it. Indeed, I’ve been lucky to work as a filmmaker and “fly on the wall” at every single Inspire Speakers Series event since they began in October of 2012. I have witnessed an abundance of fresh ideas sink into audience after audience, month after month, conveyed by luminaries including Majora Carter, Bob Berkebile, David Orr, and many more. I’ve watched young and old get hooked on the “high” that comes from getting their minds blown by the power and beauty of expansive possibilities–all the while grounded by the knowledge that our relationship to the planet requires immediate attention. Thursday night was no exception. Akom and Ervin’s presentations challenged us to actively engage the “for all” portion of the theme “Livable Places for All.” What is our duty to this place? What is our duty to each other? And how can we solve our biggest sustainability challenges without repeating the patterns of racial and economic exclusion so prevalent and damaging to our communities? Fortunately the evening wasn’t entirely composed of questions, and I suspect that an abundance of answers could be found in Dr. Akom’s insightful comment, “We all need to be vulnerable if we’re going to make that systemic change.” The words rang in my head as I considered how often an aversion to vulnerability, an unwillingness to be dependent on our neighbor, has stifled honest efforts to resolve the roots of our greatest struggles. This aversion can also get in the way of sharing our wildest, most passionate and wonderful visions for a future that truly works well for everybody. Knowing that it can be difficult to reach everybody with monthly a lecture series, however, GBA created the Green and Healthy Schools Academy (GHSA) to extend the inspiration from the ISS events deep into our communities. The visiting speakers frequently stay in town for a second day of intensive work with regional GHSA school teachers and administrators, and the results of that collaboration are at least as powerful as the speakers themselves! Meanwhile the new partnerships formed this year will allow these conversations to penetrate deeper into our communities, thanks to Hill House, GTECH, and Chatham University. There isn’t an easy answer for how to transform “livable” into “thriving,” but fortunately there’s a place to engage in that struggle. Will we find the courage to take on a bit of vulnerability in our own lives for the sake of a better future for all? Will we take a risk by sharing our wildest visions for a bright future? Or do we need a little more inspiration first? All these questions and more will be explored in the coming months at the Inspire Speakers Series, and I look forward to experiencing–er, filming as much as possible. You can learn more about the Inspire Speakers Series at www.go-gba.org/inspire.
Mark Dixon is a filmmaker in Pittsburgh, and one of the creators of the award-winning eco-docu-comedy, “YERT - Your Environmental Road Trip,” which has delighted audiences at festivals, colleges, and community gatherings worldwide. In 2011, Mark received PennFuture’s “Citizens Choice Green Power Hero” award for his work on the YERT film, and he currently serves on the boards of the Thomas Merton Center and Communitopia.