Gathering for Greatness
Creative spaces that push for progress
Tahrir Square in Cairo
Tahrir Square, or Liberation Square, has become the center of Egyptian revolt and progress. In 1919, it was in Tahrir Square that Egypt demanded independence from British rule. In 1952, the square saw the monarchy overthrown. In 2011, gatherers in the square forced President Mubarak to relinquish power, and they did it again for President Morsi in 2013. At the height of the protests in 2011, more than one million protesters gathered peacefully in and around the square, communicating through social media to create a mini city of power within Cairo.
Photo courtesy of Jonathon Rashad
Café Procope in Paris
Since 1686, the Café Procope has been serving coffee and attracting famed notables within the arts, politics, and literature scenes. Its location across from the Comédie-Française, earned it the moniker “theatrical café” and made it the post-show hotspot for actors and audiences. Others followed until Procope became the meeting place of the intellectual establishment, novelists, and artists alike. Not all drank as many cups of coffee as Voltaire (who downed up to 40 cups per day), but all (including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) came to share ideas and create. The café maintains its literary cache still today.
Theatre Nowy in Krakow
In Podgoórze, a newly bohemian area in Krakow, Teatr Nowy (or New Theater) beckons those who love education, community, the arts, and the forbidden. Best known for Anna Grodzka, the theater’s famously transexual patron and sometimes director, it aims to open public discourse about taboo subjects, boasting works devoted to the problem of pedophilia in the Catholic Church or the life of homosexuals in Poland. Teatr Nowy was founded by young artists who say it’s “more space than theater, more passion than job, and more niche than mainstream.”
Photo courtesy of Ewa Dryjanska
Our School at Blair Grocery in New Orleans
Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG), an alternative classroom in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, uses an experiential curriculum with the goal of empowering at-risk youth to make New Orleans the “City that Ended Hunger.” They also aim to teach sustainability and build a profitable community food enterprise within what the USDA has named a food desert. OSBG students learn to run a fully-functioning profitable farm by growing bananas, okra, strawberries, lettuces, melons, and figs.
Powai Valley in Mumbai
India found its answer to Silicon Valley in an eastern suburb of Mumbai. Nestled around a picturesque lake, Powai Valley (a name given affectionately by venture capitalists), is home to over 50 startups and, as a result, a smattering of new pubs and restaurants. Most of the talent comes from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, giving them an edge. The several cafés that line the Powai streets are home to daily business transactions, smartly-dressed entrepreneurs, and brilliant startup ideas, about which you’ll be reading any day now.
CCA in Lagos, Nigeria
Lagos is the new Hollywood. Currently the third largest (and still growing) film industry in the world, Nigerians and foreigners alike are flocking to Lagos to create film, fashion, and business. The Centre for Contemporary Art is a hub for the passionate, providing a space and platform for “the development, presentation, and discussion of contemporary visual art and culture.” The hope of the CCA is to reprioritize the arts, which have been previously underrepresented in Nigeria.
Photo courtesy of Ndidi Dike
BRIC House in Brooklyn
In the heart of Brooklyn’s cultural district, there is a home for artists and audiences. Since 1979, BRIC has been providing opportunities for the Brooklyn arts and free access to cultural programming, which the city of New York gave a nod of approval to in the form of funding an expansion. The BRIC House will soon include performance spaces, artist studios, galleries, gathering stoops, a café, and a classroom. The BRIC house will be open every day and free to all.
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Yu
Avid traveler Emily Doerr had grown accustomed to opening her Detroit condo doors to couch surfers every weekend, often cringing at the rumors they had heard before arriving in her home city: “It’s like a war zone, a third world country.” She opened a hostel to both dispel the rumors and give travelers a taste of the real Detroit—the Detroit she loves. The hostel shows visitors urban farms, locally-owned boutiques and eateries, the city’s festive atmosphere, and offers specialized tours.
Mentors can change the world. And they’re setting out to do just that in Iceland. Partnered with Arion Bank, StartupReykjavik runs a 10-week program that helps startups get on their feet. Founders receive top-notch mentorship from successful entrepreneurs as well as $16,000 in seed funding, workspaces, and the chance to pitch to angel investors at the end of the program. Among a string of successful alumni is EcoMals, a set of playful products that educates children about using moderate amounts of technology. EcoMals raised a total of $128,000 from investors thanks to the Reykjavik program.
As the world is growing, so too is the deep human desire to be better—to do more, to learn, and to progress within ourselves and in our cities. But where does this progress happen? It’s occurring all over the world in places that call forward like-minded folks who share this common desire for advancement. Whether it begins in a coffeehouse or an urban garden, certain spaces become magnetic hubs, attracting a crowd that doesn’t settle for status quo. A public square becomes a gathering space that demands political change. Or a small theater becomes a city’s beacon for transgender rights and art. Whatever the initial goal, the end result is often much more than that, culminating in the encouragement of self-expression, ideas, art, community, and action. With these hubs popping up in cities everywhere, humanity is advancing, people are learning, and those who dedicate their time to such noble causes are rewarded with the knowledge that they’re helping change the world.
How are you moving your city forward? Tell us or show us on Twitter and Instagram with #goodcitiesproject.
The GOOD Cities Project is a five-month collaboration with Ford, exploring how we make our cities and how our cities make us. As part of the project, GOOD and Ford have commissioned cultural creatives across the country to help illuminate and celebrate the rich and vastly diverse points of view that make up each city's individual character. Each week, we will be exploring attributes that we believe are fundamental to living meaningful urban lives.