Whatever your ideological persuasion, our time has no doubt given you more than a few reasons to fear for the future of civilization, not least because bad news sells. Musician, artist, and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has certainly felt the effects: “It seems like the world is going to Hell. I wake up in the morning, look at the paper, and go, ‘Oh no!’,” he writes. “Often I’m depressed for half the day.” But he writes that on the front page of his new project Reasons to Be Cheerful, which began as a quasi-therapeutic collection of pieces of “good news that reminded me, ‘Hey, there’s actually some positive stuff going on!'” and has grown into an online observatory of world improvement.
What kind of positive stuff has Byrne found? He identifies certain common qualities among the stories that have caught his eye: “Almost all of these initiatives are local, they come from cities or small regions who have taken it upon themselves to try something that might offer a better alternative than what exists.” These adjustments to the human condition tend to develop in a “bottom up, community and individually driven” manner, they happen all over the world but could potentially work in any culture, all “have been tried and proven to be successful” and “can be copied and scaled up” without the singular efforts of “one amazing teacher, doctor, musician or activist.”
The stories collected so far on Reasons to Be Cheerful fall into several different categories. In Civic Engagement, for example, he’s found a variety of effective examples of that practice in his travels back and forth across the United States. In Health, he writes about efforts to end the war on drugs in places like Vancouver, Colorado, and Portugal. As anyone who’s followed Byrne’s writing and speaking about cycling and the infrastructure that supports it might imagine, this side also includes a section called Urban/Transportation, whose first post deals with the global influence of bike share systems like Paris’ Velib and bike-only street-closure days like Bogotá’s Ciclovia.
In Culture, Byrne writes about the rise of a form of music called AfroReggae that offers an alternative to a life of crime for the youth of Brazil’s favelas, the distinctive libraries established at the end of Bogotá’s rapid bus lines and in poor parts of Medellín, and even some of his own work related to the recording and tour design of his own upcoming album American Utopia. American Utopia in the year 2018? That might sound awfully optimistic, but remember that David Byrne is the man who once went on an artistic speaking tour about his love of Powerpoint. If he can see the good in that, he can see the good in anything.
Visit Byrne’s Reasons to Be Cheerful site here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.