Aharon Varady is an urban planner and planning historian. His major interests are preserving habitat and conserving open space through the planning and redevelopment of poorly planned and neglected neighborhoods, creating recreational and wildlife corridors in urban greenways, and in general, applying innovative green solutions to traditional planning problems. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. Besides serving as a planner, Varady has worked as a nonprofit technology consultant and freelance editor, with a stint as the program director for the student Hillel at Louisiana State University and as a volunteer for Obama for President in southwestern Ohio. Since 2009 he has served as the director and hierophant for the Open Siddur, a Jewish free culture and open source project he founded that bridges book craft, scholarship, and spirituality. In 2010-2011 he taught ecology and Jewish environmental ethics at the Teva Learning Alliance. Besides his work on the Open Siddur Project, Varady is pursuing a Masters degree in experiential education at the Davidson School, a teacher's college in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Since 2008, an increasing focus of Varady's work has been in researching open source religion in general, and in particular, how the free culture movement can aid in bridging individual creativity and meaning making with tradition and cultural relevance. His work is founded upon a desire for a cultural system that effectively promotes historical, aesthetic and environmental awareness, sustains compassion for all forms of life, and fosters creative expression and genius. Promoting these virtues with cultural tools is, in Varady's estimation, a social design challenge. Religions and other intentional communities can maintain these virtues and can do so without compromising the individual freedom and creativity of their participants. Varady believes that empowering communal participants with the freedom and knowledge to design, craft, and share their own educational and spiritual tools is a necessary component for the maturation of emotional and creative intelligence of communities as a whole. In turn, the vitality of cultural conventions, exercises, and habit forming practices conveyed through particular wisdom traditions is maintained through empowered creative participation. So long as the tools and designs of intentional communities are shared, the cultures fostering this creativity will remain vibrant. The Open Siddur Project is a realization of this philosophy for Jewish communities.
In the summer of 2009, he participated as a fellow and Josh and Rena Kopelman Chair of Online Community Organizing at the PresenTense Institute developing the Open Siddur Project. Following this, he was in the first class to study in the full year program at Yeshivat Hadar, a pioneering traditional yeshiva, the first ever wholly egalitarian yeshiva outside of Israel.
Varady received his Masters degree in Community planning from DAAP at the University of Cincinnati in 2004. While in Washington, DC, he served as a researcher and program assistant to Peter Harnik at the Center for City Park Excellence, a think tank of the Trust for Public Land that provides basic research on urban park systems. Following the hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Fall of 2005, he worked in Louisiana providing planning support for city (Port Allen), parish (FEMA ESF-14, Vermilion Parish), and regional planning initiatives (Louisiana Speaks, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Resoration Authority).
In graduate school, Varady published a book based on the subject of his thesis, the planning and environmental history of Bond Hill, a neighborhood of Cincinnati. The book was published under an Attribution-ShareAlike creative commons license and is available as a free pdf download. The book can also be ordered in print from the online, on-demand printer, lulu.com.
Prior to his work in planning, Varady toiled as an open source computer programmer at Datarealm, an Internet company, and in IT Support for the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. While in Philadelphia he directed the Philadelphia Ambient Consortium, a community arts organization devoted to connecting artists and listeners of ambient, space, and other minimalist, mostly electronic, music. He enjoys bicycling, canoeing, cloud watching, hammock sailing, practicing the dérive while exploring new cities and towns, and learning more about urban planning.
Varady, Aharon, "The Manifesto of the Open Siddur Project" (PDF), as presented as a kirigami brochure at the Academy for Jewish Religion Spring Intensive 2010/5770.
Harnik and Varady, "Learning Virtually Everything About Your Park," (PDF) Parks & Recreation, National Recreation and Parks Association, September 2005.
Varady, Aharon. Bond Hill: Origin and Transformation of a 19th Century Cincinnati Railroad Suburb. Cincinnati: Henry Watkin Press (2005). (Also available as a free PDF.)