John Ruskin, says,
“We require from buildings two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well: then that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it.”
In today’s #MondayMotivation blog focusing on #WonderWomen segment, we present a woman who thinks along these lines and strives hard to implement this too. Meet, Architect, Lecturer (@University of California Berkeley), Urban Design Associate (@Alta Planning + Design), Blogger and founder of Joyful Urbanist, Arti Harchekar. Through Joyful Urbanist, Arti aims to spread awareness about charming and sustainable public spaces and how these impacts our overall happiness. What made Arti plunge into this unique way of life and how does she manage such a diverse work life? Let’s find out in her own words.
“I actually started off pre-pharmacy in undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin. I spent the first 3 years of college knowing I did not like pharmacy and struggling to find what I did enjoy. I randomly took a class about the death and life of cities by an inspirational architecture professor and found myself hanging on to his every word. I knew I loved living in downtown Austin, but this class started to help me see why. This launched me into a career in urban design which was followed by a Masters in City Architecture and Urban Design from the University of Notre Dame.
Today, thanks to that random decision of attending an architecture class, I wear so many hats related to the same field. I’m a lecturer of Architecture at the University of California Berkeley, an Urban Design Associate at Alta Planning + Design, which ultimately led to me being a blogger and an artist through Joyful Urbanist.
Even before Joyful Urbanist came into being, I have spent my professional and academic career advocating for the creation of walkable, sustainable communities by way of physical placemaking.
My biggest obstacle was in 2017-2018 when I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and major depression. There was no major life event that caused my mental health issues. It was simply a chemical imbalance that many women run into in their 30’s. Despite having a smooth professional and personal life, I fell victim to such a mental health issue, which made me wonder how it would be for others, who had to undergo physical as well as emotional breakdowns every day.
The numbers are actually staggering. 450 million people worldwide suffer from mild-to-serious mental health issues. Of this, women are disproportionately affected. 13.6 million Americans live with serious mental illness and 1 in 8 women can expect to develop clinical depression during her lifetime. It wasn’t really surprising then that I too was one of them. During this time, I was struggling to find my purpose. I thought that this is the end for me and my interest in life. My most difficult mental symptom was paranoia, and physical symptom was silence. It took a village of support to get me where I am today. And if not for my husband, I don’t think I don’t I would have stepped out and taken that first consultation, or even the rest that followed.
I took time off of work to test medications and get better. It was a dark time, and I thought that I was not passionate about urbanism anymore. During this time, I conducted my own Happiness Project without even knowing it! The authors of books and hosts of podcasts became my best friends. I wanted to figure out what I loved again, even if that had to be in silence. This lead to curiosity, experiments, and exploration with my husband Varun and my dog Mylo. I began to realize that the joy and happiness I experienced in walkable urban places are the moments that helped pull me out of my mental health issues. I wanted to further understand and help others see the physical attributes of our environments that enable us to form strong, emotional attachments to the places we love.
It was a time to reflect upon myself which led to wonderful self-discovery. I discovered that I love ice cream, city architecture, urbanism, travel, exploration,community, high intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga, other creatives, experimentation, food, wine, local farms, community gardens, urban farming and the cross-pollination of ideas.Besides Varun and Mylo, I drew motivation from reading, interacting with people and listening to what others in similar situations had to go through or how they overcame their mental issues. I was inspired by Ingrid Fetell Lee’s TED2018 Where Joy Hides and How to Find It which led me to launch Joyful Urbanist.
The learnings are continuous. I learn something every time I write a blog post, work on a new design challenge with junior designers, teach a group of students, and generate a presentation. I believe in a growth mindset and try to keep my mind open to experiencing and accomplishing anything new. Through this journey, I strive to maintain perspective and remember that my self-worth is not tied to my job or success defined by others. The most significant knowledge I have gained is from Stumbling on Happiness. Here, we learn that the brain remembers unhappy memories more vividly than happy ones. As designers, is it our responsibility to advocate for a public realm that triggers joyful memories? I think we all need a little help to outsmart our whirring minds.
In my quest to make people understand the importance of public spaces and their designs, besides Joyful Urbanist, I have given the following recent talks relating to urban design and physical placemaking:
- “Our Greatest Source of Joy and Happiness are the Vibrant, Walkable Public Spaces Around Us,” as Joyful Urbanist Oklahoma Mayor’s Institute on City Design
- “Translating Community Character into Planning Practice,” CNU27
- “Art Room: Urban Spaces and the Design of Public,” as Joyful Urbanist CNU27
- “Bay Area Solutions to National Problems,” San Francisco National APA
To drop in a message to Arti, to read her insightful blogs or to buy one of her many creative wall-art pieces, follow the links below:
- Joyful Urbanist website (blog)
- Society6.com (link to buy wall pieces of Joyful Urbanist)
- Instagram page of Joyful Urbanist
- Arti’s personal Instagram handle
- Facebook page of Joyful Urbanist