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This post was first published in April 2013 on the Citizens’ Institute for Rural Design blog.
|Residents in Exeter, RI used a “Places of the Heart” map to identify|
parts of town that they value most as well as areas of concern.
Have you ever been at a meeting about a community issue and heard the statement, “We don’t need some outsider coming in and telling us what to do.”?
I know I have. This phrase points to a common challenge I see when working in rural communities—balancing the value of community input with expert knowledge in community design.
Too often community projects favor one of these approaches over the other; the design team who drops in for a week with the solution to a town’s traffic woes (i.e. roundabout) or the community workshop that recycles the same, old idea for its downtown’s redevelopment (i.e. more parking).
So, how do we move off of this dynamic towards a more effective model? By recognizing the best of what both sides bring to the equation and designing a process that leverages both strengths.
Let’s talk about what community members offer to the design process. Local people know their town best. Their insights will inform a project in many ways, from identifying community values to brainstorming and prioritizing possible actions. Research shows us that many minds lead to better results. So, the greater the diversity of people contributing to solving a problem, the more creative and effective are the solutions. This is particularly true for more complex issues that community design addresses like downtown revitalization or growth management. In addition, community members need to own the outcomes of a design process if those outcomes are going to be effectively implemented. There is no better way to ensure ownership than to be part of shaping the solutions.
When citizens are effectively engaged in a design process, designers and planners can be their most effective too; facilitating a process that synthesizes local experience and wisdom with design principles and technical expertise. Designers can help people uncover their common interests and work towards practical, creative solutions that build on local character and assets.
At the Orton Family Foundation we use an approach called Heart & Soul Community Planning, which strives to put community wisdom first in projects and uses design and planning professionals to help make the most of this valuable asset. This balance is also at the heart of CIRD’s approach to rural design, which is why Orton is excited to partner with Project for Public Spaces and the other CommunityMatters partners on this program.
What can you do to help find this balance in your own community’s rural design project? Here are three easy ways to make it happen:
Feedback loops can be created through in-person meetings like a large community forum or a pop-up open house, online portals such as MindMixer or Engaging Plans, or targeted conversations with key stakeholders or groups in town.
These three strategies bring the best of both sides to the table by allowing the community to define the design issue and the designer to respond to that challenge based on the specifics of a particular place. We look forward to the selection of this year’s CIRD workshop hosts (to be announced in early June) where we’ll work to achieve this balance in four rural communities across the US.
This is the third in a four-part series adapted from the book Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout (Chelsea Green, 2012).
The scene at the public hearing is all too familiar. A tired-looking panel sits in front of the auditorium at a table cluttered with documents and microphones; although the room is full of chairs, most are empty. Citizen questions and discussion are not encouraged, testimony is polarized and tempers flare.
The “public hearing” is one of the most-used citizen participation processes in the United States, with many local and state governments legally mandated to use it. But leaders and citizens are often frustrated by the format.
While originally devised to improve participation, hearings are too often framed as contests between points of view. They’re not structured to seek common ground or collaboration, and occur too late in a process to be taken seriously.More
CommunityMatters®, a partnership of seven national organizations including Orton, share the belief that people have the power to solve their community’s problems and direct future growth and change.
As leaders in the fields of civic engagement and community and economic development, the partners believe that by strengthening civic infrastructure, communities can become more prosperous, vibrant places to live.
Why is civic infrastructure key? Because, like the physical infrastructure that supports a community’s built environment, civic infrastructure supports the social sphere. It consists of the opportunities, activities and arenas, both online and face-to-face, that allow people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions and celebrate community.More
This is the second in a four-part series adapted from the book Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout (Chelsea Green, 2012).
A great example of “outside-the-box” thinking actually comes in a box.
In Essex, Vermont, “Essex Heart & Soul” is working to engage the community in dialogue about the future.
Rather than beg busy residents to attend yet another 7 p.m. meeting, leaders brought the conversation to living rooms and other gathering places across the community with—you guessed it—a “Meeting in a Box.”
It’s an actual box full of printed materials: a discussion guide, priority-setting tools, clipboards, nametags, and more.More
This is the third post in a series that shows how our nine Heart & Soul Principles are coming to life on the ground in small towns across the country.
Principle 3. Build Community—Build trust, seek common ground and encourage civil dialogue. Strive for a community where people listen to each other, understand each other, and embrace differences.
As Damariscotta, Maine’s Heart & Soul project was getting underway back in 2008, native Buzz Pinkham was invited to an event aimed at gathering community feedback on shaping the future of his town.
“When I was originally asked to be part of the process,” says Buzz, “I gave the regular native answer: ‘I don’t have time for that.’”
“Then I got a thing in the mail and it had all the names of people who did have time, and a lot of those people I didn’t recognize. I said, ‘There aren’t any natives in there…and these people are going to decide the future of this town? I can’t have that.’ And so I went to the next meeting.”More
Guest blogger Hannah Orcutt is a former Orton intern now based in the Teton Valley. She recently got in touch to let us know that the impacts of the Heart & Soul approach are still making a difference in Victor.
Victor, Idaho (pop. 1,500), one of the Foundation’s early Heart & Soul project towns, is home to the Teton Valley Community School (TVCS), where I currently work. A central tenet of the school’s philosophy is that community involvement is important.
The Victor community serves as a dynamic classroom for our Pre-K through 6th-grade students. TVCS’s unique project-based curriculum lets teachers harness regional expertise and events as learning tools. The community benefits from our projects, and students learn to be engaged citizens.
It’s a win-win that has resulted in a young generation of active movers and shakers in the Teton Valley.More
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and I know what you are probably thinking…it’s a holiday that has been overtaken by the greeting card industry, that is full of obligations and expectations, that is just no fun anymore. But this year, I’m asking you to give good ol’ V-Day a second chance.
You see, Valentine’s Day reminds me of the construction paper hearts from elementary school, the awkwardness of making eye contact with your first crush, and all those little magical interactions that remind us we’re alive.
Sometimes those heart-on-your-sleeve moments are just what we need. In fact, I’d like to think that such moments are ones to be celebrated by whole communities.More
This post was co-written by John Elder and Kris Perlee, two residents of Bristol, Vermont, who were tasked with finding a compromise to a ten-year-old land use debate. Here is the story of how they found common ground.
For the better part of a decade our town of Bristol, VT was up to its axles in controversy about a proposed new gravel pit. One casualty of this situation was the Planning Commission’s ability to come up with a Town Plan that the voters would support.
Some of our fellow residents strongly supported the rights of the landowner to develop the property as he wished, especially given the increasing scarcity of gravel in our region. Opponents of the new pit were equally adamant, fearing that noise and traffic from this site near the Town Hall and Main Street would seriously disrupt both the commerce and the neighborhoods of our village.
The full range of opinion in Bristol was appropriately represented on our Planning Commission, but this in turn made it challenging for us to advance toward a clear consensus.More