Processes & Nature
Vision for the Waterfront

Catherine Overhauser

In April 1999, I got a call to go look at the feng shui of a waterfront development project on behalf of a group of concerned citizens. I said I would have a look, but since feng shui is generally discussed with the people who are actually planning or building, probably the most meaningful contribution I could make was to do Perelandra processes. I recommended land cleaning (with permission from the city) and a calibration for the group itself. We negotiated a fee, and they sent me a plane ticket. One month later, I flew in to meet them.

One of the people in the group worked for the city planner and had gotten permission for me to clean the land — specifically the bike path/road that ran alongside the waterfront — which I did on the first afternoon. I also looked at their sketches and made some feng shui comments. But the real action began at breakfast the next morning, where we calibrated for this group to "participate with the city planners in an appropriate, meaningful, functional, helpful, co-creative way."

The first funny thing was that several members did not show up, even though we had scheduled this one month before. The bomb dropped, though, at the end of the calibration, when the person who was a co-founder and financial backer for this group walked out. She didn't just walk away from me; she quit the entire group right then and there.

There was a general level of mild panic. Several people quickly had a closed-door meeting. Sensing dissent that may have been inspired by my contribution, and feeling grateful that I had asked for and received my check the day before, I went to cash it while it was still good. I returned to the hotel lobby and hoped that someone would remember to drive me to the airport as we had agreed.

Two women sat with me in the hotel lobby, one real estate developer and another who worked for the city. They were happy, shiny people who were thrilled about the whole thing. It seemed that they had been concerned about conflicting agendas as well as a general lack of understanding and experience with a project of this magnitude.

They felt that, while they were all talented individuals, the group had gotten bogged down. These two were about to say something to that effect at the next meeting, pending today's results. They found the meeting to be extremely helpful, not to mention great fun, and thanked me profusely. The woman from the city gave me two pins in the shape of buildings — one was the town hall, and the other was a railroad depot turned visitor center, which, in relief and in the spirit of the moment, I attached to my jacket.

Finally, the little meeting broke up, and the two group leaders came out to find me for the trip to the airport. It turned out that Phyllis (who just quit) was driving and Colette (who hired me) was accompanying us. This was a very long 45 minutes, and I did my best to provide some assurance that it could still be okay for everyone. I initiated several conversations with Phyllis — mainly to support her in doing whatever she wanted, including leaving the group. She still seemed less than thrilled.

At the airport, Colette got out to see me off and said, "Thank you. You were wonderful. Don't worry about anything; it will be all right. But by the way, her name is Florence, not Phyllis."

On that note, I headed for the plane. As soon as the last person was buckled in, the pilot came on the audio system and said, "Heavy winds in Chicago are preventing us from leaving. We estimate 45 minutes to departure." There was a collective moan from everyone except me, as I was happy, safe and, most of all, on the plane. Still, after 10 minutes of drumming my fingers, I opened a magazine, looked down and noticed the pins on my jacket. I thought, "Hmm. These cannot possibly be 'helping'," so I took them off and threw them in my bag. Then, in the time it took to finish the one page and turn to the next, the pilot announced "We just got the word from Chicago. Sit down and buckle up. We are on our way!" I took this as a little feedback that they were in fact bogged down, so this wasn't just about me bringing upset and discord to this happy little group of people.

Sixteen months later, the phone rang. It was Colette. We chatted for a while, and then she offered an update. The waterfront development was under way, and it was becoming a reality. The group was still intact, but they were no longer focused on the city's job, but rather on their own meaningful contributions. They no longer needed to be on the same project as one another.

They had evolved to where they supported one another's individual efforts with their own connections and expertise. For example, the lawyer in the group reviews everyone's contracts. Everyone was offering backup support to everyone else.

Colette's own project, a poster featuring a vision for the waterfront that remembers the city's history — the reason this group got together in the first place — continues to soar and to branch out into new territory.

Florence has developed her own municipal project, which is to turn the empty lot across the street from her house into a "pocket garden." She's got a city grant along with 4,000 manpower hours commandeered from the Master Gardener program and has decided to open part of her home as a meeting space for them.

The Native American woman in the group has worked out speaking engagements for Native Americans in the school system. Another person pitched a project for the third grade that got picked up by the school system for the entire K-12. Somebody else is pioneering the pedestrian/bike path waterfront art projects with sculpture and historical learning stations along the way and including homage to the original Native American culture of the area.

During the press conference to announce the project, dozens of white swans showed up and swam around the lake behind the reporter.

"Oh my God!" I exclaimed. "It sounds as though everybody got what they asked for at that calibration — even the one who quit!"

"Yes, dear, that's right," said Colette. "I just thought you'd like to know."