Democratic meeting places: How sharing stories can bring us closer together

The International Day of Democracy is a yearly opportunity to review democracy in our country, cities and neighborhoods. International days such as this are occasions to address global problems and to celebrate achievements.

Social distancing and colliding worldviews

We live in a culture overwhelmed by information, where polarized worldviews are colliding and technology helps tear us apart rather than bring us together. Algorithms distort newsfeeds and serve each of us curated stories about what is happening in the world.

Accelerated by the pandemic, technology is redefining and reshaping our relationships, access to information and the way we make a living.

In a connected world, where urbanization has us living physically closer than ever, it seems we have never been further apart.

On top of it all, we are a social species that is coping with social distancing.

Are we in this together?

We have to work out how to reclaim togetherness and find ways to come together, based not on ethnicity or religion, but on shared values, curiosity, understanding and compassion.

We could start by asking ourselves: “How do we get back that sense of common purpose?”

A former president’s advice

According to former US president Barack Obama, one crucial way we can maintain and increase a shared identity, where citizens view themselves as part of a nation first, rather than members of a particular tribe, is by sharing stories.

The more we can do that, he says, the more we will see each other as fellow human beings, rather than caricatures representing some other tribe.

If you would sit down and talk, there is only we

One way to do this is to build more arenas for inclusive fellowship: places and spaces where people can share life experiences, exchange ideas, sit down over a coffee and get to know each other.

Measures like travel restrictions and social distancing have forced us to spend more time in our local neighborhoods. What better time to innovate and turn places that people usually cannot wait to pass through into somewhere they never want to leave?

Our task at Vestre is to help you create such places in your projects – caring meeting places where people meet across social, cultural, and economic divides.

When people get to know each other, share life experiences and exchange ideas, we suddenly discover that there is no us and them; there is only we.

The best weapon draws us closer together

Last year, Vestre unveiled a peace bench commissioned by the Nobel Peace Center.

In collaboration with Snøhetta, we designed it as a partial circle that touches the ground at its lowest point. The gentle arc of the bench pulls those sitting on it closer together.

The design is an antidote to the division we see in many places today, and the installation’s singular design gesture embodies an invitation to conversation.

Nelson Mandela’s quote, “The best weapon is to sit down and talk”, is engraved on its surface, from which the piece derives its name, “The Best Weapon”.

Adding everyday democracy to your projects

We believe that creating caring meeting places is the best way to prevent a polarized society and avoid antagonism and conflicts. So in a way, you could say that our furniture has a prominent social and inclusive purpose, which is to help create arenas for everyday democracy.

“Some people may find it naive to believe that a bench can change the world, but we have seen it work – time and time again. It proves that everybody can do something. As more companies realize this, it will create a compelling and global movement for positive change.”

– Jan Christian Vestre

In close partnership with leading architects, landscape architects, interior architects, contractors, municipalities, and developers across the world – we help strengthen our democratic future, one neighborhood at a time.