Project Details

A development site in the heart of Charlotte becomes a dynamic gathering place every Friday, but sits empty 164 hours per week. I will lead residents through the process of envisioning a "neighborhood living room," then seed a crowdfunding campaign to enhance this underutilized space with temporary amenities like flexible furniture, bike racks, and WiFi. This project will engage a new generation of millennial Charlotteans and show them what is possible when they work together to implement lighter, quicker, cheaper solutions in their community.

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Varian Shrum's Biography

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Think Big, Act Small

Think Big, Act Small

While boarding my flight from Charlotte to the K880 Emerging City Champions studio in Toronto, I experienced the first of many pinch-me moments. How was it even possible that a few weeks ago I was meticulously finessing my big idea to fit a "100 words or less" application, and now I was buckling up for an international flight that would take me to meet the other winners?

The second of these moments occurred when the Customs guy gave me a fist bump upon arrival. Oh, Canada. You and your friendly ways.

My week with the 8 80 Cities staff, Knight Foundation representatives, and countless mentors was nothing short of transformational. 25 Champions from around the country were challenged to think big and act small. "Think big" by understanding the important role livable cities will play over the next 50 years. "Act small" by realizing that it starts with me, right where I am, with the skills I currently have. I don't need a certain expertise to shape my community, simply the passion to start the conversation.

The scope of my project evolved almost as quickly as my pen could transcribe every motivational speech uttered by Gil Penalosa. Turning an empty lot into a "neighborhood living room" where people can gather and connect is a noble cause in itself, but could it be more?

There is an ongoing discussion in Charlotte about "sterilizing development" and how the city desperately needs to address weak building ordinances that lead to a disregarded public realm. My mentors have pushed me to magnify my impact by tapping into this conversation and inspiring the community to demand better from the public and private sectors that shape our built environment. With the support of K880, I feel excited and empowered to potentially influence broader change!

If the studio had only consisted of exploring a new city and studying at the feet of experts in the field, that would have made the trip worthwhile many times over. However, two quotations from the studio ultimately defined my greatest takeaways:

"The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story." - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"A lot of the trouble in the world would disappear if we were talking to each other instead of about each other." - Ronald Reagan

Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Macon, Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose, and St Paul are eight very different cities, each with a completely unique set of challenges and opportunities that affect the people who live there. And yet when this epic mash-up of millennials interacted, incomplete stereotypes were challenged in every direction. The more we talked to each other, the more we transcended our differences and discovered our commonalities. On the last night we fought back tears (some more successfully than others) and marveled at how we had arrived as strangers but were departing as family.

K880 has been a powerful example of what is possible when we prioritize space that fosters connection between people. Now it's time to show Charlotte what it's all about!

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