setting: the garden, the sidewalk

eggs, seeds, flowers, babies, mothers

questions: how do you wonder? how can you be a better citizen? what do feet do for you? how can you observe? what does walking feel like? what makes a good neighbor?  how do you care for your place?

rabbit, cat, bee, robin

walking, digging

This spring’s research question, “How might wonder make our city better?” began as part of an effort to “re-enchant” the city – Cambridge – for ourselves.  We wanted to love not only Practice Space, a place we were making, but also the city that surrounds and informs it.  “We are interested in the city as subject matter,” Nicole often says.  But interest and enjoyment are not always synonyms, and we wanted to find ways to feel truly at home here.

In her book On Beauty and Being Just, which I picked up for the PS library at the beginning spring as part of my ongoing investigation into how ethicists make arguments for the value of aesthetics (and vice versa – incidentally, the word “enchantment” came into my vocabulary also via an ethicist, Jane Bennett – more on that later), and because the many hand-drawn eggs on the cover seemed just the thing for the season, Elaine Scarry argues that beauty is always experienced in the particular: this tree, that face, this performance, while lack of beauty is experienced generally.  When something specific is truly experienced and appreciated in all of its particulars, one might infer, its beauty can be found.  It occurs to me that this is the promise of wonder: the inspiration to look closely, so that you can find the beauty in what you’re presented with.

“Wonder” as a word is potent and versatile.  It’s both a noun and a verb.

As the dictionary defines it:  wonder (n.) a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.  wonder (v.) to desire to know something, to feel curious.  To feel wonder, to wonder, means both that you inhabit both a state (noun) and to perform an action (verb).

Someone recently said to me, “wonder is a solitary experience.”  At the time, I agreed.  This is the way we think of wonder.  We connect it to the sublime, we connect it to nature, we connect it to beauty.  Wonder is when we experience something wonderful, and register its wonderfulness.  Wonder is when we become curious, and pursue an independent passion based on our personal questions.

But later I thought, really?  What about the turkeys in Cambridge, which everyone has a different imagined legend about, and stops to discuss whenever they cross our paths? What about watching a child at a playground, or joining a child – and any other nearby children -- to point at a passing fire engine or garbage truck?  Or the experience of public artwork, or the sound of an ice cream truck?  It is precisely the social dimension of wonder, I think, that is important for us when we think about cities.

what makes wonder different from surprise?

wonder and care

watching someone else’s wonder –landscapes of wonder

a city with wonder is a better city in and of itself