The Power of the Individual

aucmen_300x169.jpgSeveral weeks ago, Middlebury College opened the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, a new program encouraging students to take an active role in their education while accomplishing good at the same time. For its inaugural symposium, the Center brought a number of people to speak and teach.

I had the good fortune to attend two of the talks. The first was by Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka-Innovators for the Public. Bill focused on the need to develop systems that can adapt quickly and effectively, vital in our rapidly changing world. He argued that traditionally structured systems need to give way to teams and teams-of-teams as a way to unleash individual creativity and remain nimble and responsive to challenges and opportunities. He also shared a few inspiring examples of work by Ashoka Fellows.


When Saying No Is the Way to Go

Golden arch_300x201.jpgI nominate Golden, Colorado “Poster Child of the Month” for Heart & Soul Community Planning—and for every stripe of values-first visioning and planning across the country.

Congratulations Golden! You know what you’ve got and you want to keep it. And that makes you confident enough to keep saying NO to the Denver Beltway, 201-mile darling of the transportation/development establishment, and underway in fits and starts since the late 50s.


Art Walks: Fueling the Creative Economy

kingfieldpeople_300x226.jpgFirst Friday, Second Thursday, Third Saturday… Cities and towns all over are claiming days to celebrate local culture with “Art Walks”.

For a few hours each month, galleries, stores, hotels, restaurants and small businesses open their doors to display local artwork free of charge. People walk around, sip refreshments, snack on hors d’oeuvres and take in the local talent.

From Los Angeles, CA to Portland, ME, Burlington, VT to Fort Lauderdale, FL, art walks are popping up everywhere.

They’re becoming more and more common in small towns as well. These art-oriented events are a new way to promote civic pride, celebrate local culture, and boost economic development.


“If You Don’t Have It, You Don’t Need It”

WaldenPond_cc_400x267.jpgPhoto: Walden Pond, Creative Commons

I saw a girl today wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan, “If you don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

My first thoght was, Probably true. My second thought was, Only in this country would a shirt like that read like a poignant insight. My third thought: If that’s the case, so much for capitalism and the market economy. And then with a smidgen of sarcasm, What are we all so worried about?!


Not Letting “The Moment” Get Away

hand-reaching-soap-bubble_300x182.jpgWhile I would love to see the economy bounce back to what it was, I believe any further thinking along these lines is tantamount to the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand.

I don’t mean to suggest we should just give up; what I do mean is that if we expect things to return to the “old normal,” we’ll miss key opportunities to proactively prepare for the “new normal.”

With our life, culture and society transforming in fundamental ways, it behooves us to embrace this paradigm shift and challenge our old assumptions.


Building Civic Capacity

rosie-the-riveter_civiccapacity_300x389.jpgAs part of our Heart & Soul Community Planning work with towns in the Northeast and Rocky Mountain regions, we at the Orton Family Foundation work to train residents in facilitation, story gathering, outreach and communication, scenario planning, implementation and stewardship.

We know our time with a community will end and the long-term success of our collaborative efforts depends on the community’s ability to carry on the challenging work of navigating change.

Many foundations and non-profits share this goal, but the difficulty of achieving it cannot be underestimated. Building sustained civic capacity requires immense dedication, awareness, encouragement and stewardship, and it is the linchpin to a community’s long-term success.


Time to Get Stuck

A stop sign near a community health center in Ouje-Bougoumou in English, Cree syllabics and French: “Stop Stop Stop” (Photo by Dave Hoheschau)

Last year, my little family was relieved to finally settle down and buy a house in a small town in Vermont. I guess this was poor timing, since I just found out that Americans who settle down nowadays are ‘stuck’.

Being stuck means your prosperity is at risk—you can’t move for a new job or even the possibility of a job. Coined by urban theorist Richard Florida (“The Stuck and the Mobile”), he goes on to tell us that

“Many more people – if things continue as they are – will have to join the ranks of the mobile if they want to prosper or even survive....I’m saying it because it’s an economic fact.”


A Tale of Two Visions: Growth, Sustainability and ‘Living Cities’

Image: A boundary of the Living Bend site, transformed into a “linear greenstreet” with urban agriculture, native landscapes and an “integrated greenshade” featuring water catchment, solar PV and UV protection.

BendLCD_GreenwoodAve_Before-After_500x333.jpgFifteen years ago, Flagstaff, AZ, a small city perched on the edge of the Colorado Plateau, launched a community visioning project: Flagstaff 2020. It was the largest public dialogue ever conducted in Flagstaff, and the hot topics at the time were rapid growth and urban sprawl.

The result was a sweeping 25-year vision for the city, leading the way to some notable accomplishments:
completion of an Open Space and Greenways plan; institution of new logging practices in surrounding national forests; and a new downtown public square.