Jill Kiedaisch's Blog

Heart & Soul Principle 3: Build Community

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.”

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Compromise and Community

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.

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Heart & Soul Principle 2: Explore Local Culture

This is the second 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.

It has been said that only 10 percent of the culture of a place is seen, while the other 90 percent is unseen but expressed through habits and networks and how people interact.

This Principle is about paying attention to that 90 percent—to the peculiarities and richness of a singular place. It’s about taking time to question whether you’re really examining the culture of the whole community and not just the parts you already know (or thought you knew), and then applying that understanding to your project.

Here is the Principle:

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Heart & Soul Principle 1: Engage Everyone

This post is the first of a nine-part series that shows how the Heart & Soul Principles are being applied and coming to life on the ground in communities across the country. The first three Principles fall under the theme Tap Local Wisdom.

The first Principle is first because engaging everyone is the essential ingredient—the bedrock, the soil, and the roots—out of which everything else in Heart & Soul Community Planning grows.

Here is the Principle in full:

“Go directly to the people, and go early and often—do not expect them to come to you. Create relevant, compelling and continuous opportunities for participation that reach all parts of the community.”

That may seem intuitive, even obvious, at first. But for most, it’s easier said than done. Typical public hearings are considered a success when a couple dozen of the usual suspects show up at City Hall. Heart & Soul engagement means many more and many different sorts of people participating, often, and in places other than City Hall.

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FUN: The Key to Community Participation

Our atmosphere’s getting all gunky.
And climate change makes us feel funky.
But we’ll change our fate!
Play Vermontivate!
And celebrate with Chunky Monkey!

Even if you don’t have a clue what Vermontivate! is, there’s a good bet that an initiative that plasters this limerick on their homepage has got to be fun.

Read on and you discover that Vermontivate! is a community energy game—an interactive way to get people to conserve energy. Players compete to earn points for their town. Change an old tungsten bulb to a compact fluorescent, collect points. Start composting, more points. Reduce your household consumption of paper products by half...total pointfest. Install solar panels and you’ve hit the point equivalent of the carnival strong man bell. Basically, do anything you can think of to lessen your dependence on fossil fuels to compete for the grand prize: a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream party hosted in a local gathering place.

Why play Vermontivate!? The website makes it clear: “(W)e believe that by having fun and building community, we stand a good chance of helping each other reduce the impacts of our energy consumption AND bring hope and infinite possibility to the beautiful land of Vermont. And the world.”

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Laying the Groundwork for Heart & Soul

What have residents in our Heart & Soul towns been up to this year? Here is a taste:

While Orton staff visited North Fork, Essex, Polson, Gardiner and Cortez on training and capacity building trips this year, we set up a camera and let it run. What we came away with was hours of footage of energized residents getting together and talking about what matters most and how to begin planning in ways that reflect the things that matter most.

But this is just a slice, the tip of the old iceberg. To learn more about the impressive early progress these communities have made, check out our latest newsletter online, and then follow your nose to each town's own website for more detailed information on partnerships, events, achievements and stories.

And, as always, feel free to share your own!

If Your Community Were an Orchestra...

petridish_blog_225x225.jpgIf your community were an orchestra, what would it sound like?

This is a question the Brooklyn Philharmonic seems to be asking as it roamed the boroughs of New York City this summer. Led by a new artistic director, Alan Pierson (better known for his work with Alarm Will Sound), the Philharmonic has decided to take the show on the road—a nomadic impulse you wouldn’t expect from an orchestra. And the program changes to reflect the culture of each neighborhood they visit. From a New Yorker article on the subject:

“In the Russian-speaking precincts of Brighton Beach, the orchestra played Soviet-era cartoon scores. In the sleek enclave of Dumbo, the orchestra featured pop-based musicians who are trying out classical techniques….”

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“Infinite Vulnerability” (for Maurice Sendak)

max_wildthings_279x180.jpgThe death of Maurice Sendak this week has gotten me thinking about why his books have made such an impact, and why as a nation we are registering his passing as a significant cultural loss.

I think, in large part, it’s because his books are not about a world in which there is obvious good or obvious evil, where the bad guys get outwitted and it all turns out okay in the end. His heroes are often misbehaving misfits of one sort or another who do what they can to escape the confines of their particular reality.

In short, he writes from a place of difference or disadvantage. We are invited to sympathize, and even root for, those least acceptable to society. For children, who are so often misunderstood, there is something very gratifying about this.

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