The Good of Getting on the Ground

Photo: Workshop participants take advantage of Belfast’s public art chairs while doing fieldwork.
Heart & Soul Community Planning
is rooted in the idea that people share common values when it comes to what makes their cities and towns unique. Although the language people use may be similar across communities, the specifics of what people mean by that language can be quite different from place to place.

So how do you get beyond nebulous conversations about “sense of community” to a shared understanding of the specifics of your town? You get on the ground and figure it out.


“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.


Midd’s “Self Reliance” on the National Stage

Much More than an Eco-Bachelor Pad

selfreliance_exterior_360x240.jpgAfter spending ten days competing in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition in Washington D.C. with the Middlebury College team, I’m convinced that the family unit remains the strongest force in our communities today.

Nineteen international collegiate teams participated in the competition, designing, building, and operating houses completely powered by the sun. These houses were displayed for ten days in a public exhibit at the West Potomac Park, educating people about solar energy, while exhibiting that highly efficient, livable homes are sensible and affordable in the domestic realm.


Size Matters

Photo: Martina Rathgens (Flickr: size matters) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons], via Wikimedia Commons" href="//">Size MattersThis morning on my way to work, I heard John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Born in a Small Town” on the radio. I cranked up the volume, rolled down the windows, and joined right in: “I was born in a small town, and I can breathe in a small town…”

As the words came out of my mouth, I felt a little hypocritical—I wasn’t born in a small town, I was born in Denver. (Incidentally, I am also able to breathe here in Denver, which is quite the feat.) What’s strange is, Denver feels like a small town. Each neighborhood has its own character, there’s intense loyalty to place, and it’s darn near impossible for me to go somewhere without running in to someone I know.


Awakening Community Creativity

painted_labyrinth_300x93.jpgThere is no shortage of artists using the tools of their trade to create social change. But each time I run across a story about Lily Yeh, acclaimed visual artist and founder of Barefoot Artists, I am humbled and inspired by her work, using the power of art to revitalize impoverished communities.

lily_yeh_184x215.jpgAs Lily describes in a recent interview with David Kupfer, “Making art in destitute situations is like making fire in the darkness of a winter’s night. It gives out warmth and light; it beckons and rekindles hope. It does not directly solve problems but it creates a fresh, nurturing environment in which new possibilities and methodology can emerge.”

“My work engages people, whose participation ensures its sustainability. This is why I call my art living social sculpture. It usually begins with making art with people; it then expands to include other activities such as storytelling, education, construction and economic initiatives. The living fabrics of communities become the canvas of my work, creativity its fuel, people’s talent and imagination its palette and tools. In the poor communities where I have worked, this process often leads to an improved environment, a better quality life, and a sense of joy and hope for the future.”


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.


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.