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Bringing life to the streets ... with yogurt?

Photo by Annie Lambla

Annie Lambla, a former MPC research assistant, is bringing life to public places by biking across the Midwest this summer, teaching people how to make homemade yogurt.

Like all former MPC research assistants, Annie Lambla has moved on to even bigger and better things. In 2009 and 2010, Annie worked closely with me on our Placemaking Chicago project, learning what it takes to activate public spaces. Inspired, Annie decided to build a bike, pack her bike trailer with camping gear and supplies, and cruise around the Midwest teaching people how to do one of her favorite things: make homemade yogurt. During her month-long journey, which includes stops in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, she's stopping at family-owned dairy farms along the way to replenish her supply of fresh milk.

We're reposting Annie's latest blog update with her permission. Check out the rest of her story and follow her journey at YogurtPedaler.com.

Street Life

by Annie Lambla

One of the goals of this project is to encourage street life, and it’s something I feel very strongly about but which often gets overlooked in posts about headwinds and cows. So I will dedicate a post to just that – why I love street food and want to see more people out on the streets in their towns and cities.

Riding the ferry in Istanbul is the setting of one of the best “meals” possible, anywhere in the world:

On a glorious spring day, buy a simit (a sort of crunchy sesame bagel) and a packet of cream cheese from one of the dozen vendors yelling “Simiiiiiit!!! Buyurun!!” outside the ferry dock. Once on the ferry, choose a seat outside – my favorite is along the side, on the benches where you can put your feet up on the side of the boat, just feet from the water splashing up in the wake. Then, buy a glass of tea, served in real glass glasses, with a spoon and a lump of sugar. There is really no better way to experience Istanbul than eating a simit and drinking a glass of tea surrounded by others crossing the Bosporus for myriad other purposes. 

Eating outside is the first essential part of my love for street life and street food. The best meals are often summer feasts at a restaurant with a beautiful terrace on a busy pedestrian street, but they are also just as often picnics in the park with nothing more than a watermelon and a good hunk of cheese. Simply being outside during a meal makes me feel like I am experiencing my environment completely. More important , however, is the inexplicable joy I find in eating outside — when the trees and fireflies and passing neighbors and friends are invited to partake in the feast of the senses. 

Then there’s the element of those passing neighbors and friends. I’m riding my bike through the Midwest right now, and I’m meeting so many amazing people. Without these new friends and acquaintances – even the fleeting ones who question my destination or purpose in the parking lot of the library or gas station – I would most certainly have given up by now. It is for these people that I battle the headwinds and creep painfully up the hills, because my goals are always to inspire curiosity and communion with our environments. And by “environment” I don’t mean the trees and rivers and smog-filled air, although that’s a part of it. I also mean the human and built environments; who are our neighbors? How can they support us, challenge us, make us laugh? What are these streets and buildings that we live in? What stories have they seen, what events will they stage, what actions do they encourage, and what character do they lend to our communities?

Without populating these environments, and engaging others in them, we can never truly know the answers to these questions.

Holly Whyte wrote in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, “If you want to seed a place with activity, put out food…Food attracts people who attract more people.” And this is why I am so passionate about the Yogurt Pedaler inspiring street life; because bringing people together on the street, over food, is the best way to inspire new encounters with neighbors and visitors, to discover new uses for our built environment, new ways for cities to create spaces that nurture the people and businesses and homes that communities so need in order to survive and flourish. 

We all recognize the spaces we love in our towns – they’re not parking lots, or tiny sidewalks next to busy roads, or dirty alleyways. Perhaps they’re tree-lined residential streets where children play on sidewalks and neighbors mingle on front porches. Or busy urban plazas where businessmen and tourists eat lunch, and perhaps there’s a concert in the evening. They’re neighborhoods where friends meet at the local coffeeshop, ramble down the street to the park, or up the block to the bookstore, and can buy their groceries or visit the post office along the way. They’re places where people feel safe, because they are familiar with the landscape, because there are other people around, and because there are spaces to do the things we like best. And doesn’t everyone love to eat?

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