Ethical Redevelopment Principle #4 - The Indeterminate

Contending with the unknown is part of the unorthodox thinking underlying Ethical Redevelopment. The Indeterminate, Principle #4, makes space for free-thinking and welcomes intuition and faith as guides. Traditional development projects and funding structures demand certainty, and seek to fully crystalize the end product before development begins. The Indeterminate takes its cue from the way many artists create work—observing the unfolding process, responding to the needs of the moment, and rerouting as necessary. Beginning with a vision and an open mind about the path forward may reveal moments you couldn’t have imagined.

Humans believe themselves free of fear
when there is no longer anything unknown.
— "Dialectic of Enlightenment," Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno

This unfettered method of making employed by artists is most evident in Dadaism, an art movement that embraced uncertainty, promoted collaboration, and championed chance. The horror and chaos of World War I gave rise to the Dada movement and its adherents, artists who raged against what they saw as the destructive intellectual rigidity of everyday society. Dada arts, literature, happenings, demonstrations, and philosophy spread a strong message against the carnage and cruelty that could result from inflexible rationalism. The Indeterminate echoes the sentiment that the pursuit of perfect knowledge, of certainty, is an enormous obstacle to redevelopment efforts.

Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.
— -Toni Morrison, from "Song of Solomon"


Eventually becoming the largest community art project in the world, the AIDS Memorial Quilt began as an activist gesture in 1985 at the end of the annual march in San Francisco that commemorates slain city Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. On the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building, marchers taped cards bearing the names of friends and loved ones who had died of AIDS, numbering over 1000 in that city alone. The display immediately resembled the patchwork style of a quilt and organizer Cleve Jones soon teamed up with friends to make 3-by-6-foot fabric panels to commemoration victims of the disease.

As word spread, panels arrived from across the country and, in 1987, the first showing of the quilt on the National Mall in Washington, DC covered a space larger than a football field. As the death toll increased, so did the quilt, which not only served as a memorial, but as a tool for awareness and understanding of the devastating impact of the disease, as a visual representation of the number of lives taken, and as a fundraiser for AIDS service organizations. In 1989, the Quilt was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, project chapters and affiliates exist across the globe, an archive collects the images and stories, and, in 2005, it won a “Save America’s Treasures” Federal Grant for conservation and sustainability planning.


By asking his fellow marchers to write names on cards, Cleve Jones couldn’t have foreseen where this action would go. What idea do you have that feels like a beginning without an end? Try it out in the comments below.