The Language of Heart & Soul

language_300x137.jpgI was recently chatting with Lyman Orton, founder of the Orton Family Foundation, about the difficulties of describing Heart & Soul community planning.

The Foundation’s Heart & Soul Principles describe the process as tapping local wisdom through broad engagement, articulating shared values, and taking action to enhance those values.

But how do we delve into what that means specifically in a community? We live in such a charged ideological and political environment that it can be difficult to find words to describe a community process that doesn’t feed into political divides.


Lessons from the Ground

Demonstration Towns Begin their Heart & Soul Journey


traininggroup_350x210.jpgThe Orton Family Foundation recently held a training for its new Heart & Soul towns focused on helping people get their projects off the ground. Each community sent members of their Community Advisory Team (CAT) to the training where participants learned some basics on project design, facilitation and communications. Equally as important, they got to know each other and develop a sense of connectedness to a larger group—gaining an understanding that while each town is unique, sharing challenges can lead to quicker, better solutions.

During the training, participants shared some of their early successes and challenges. These lessons are relevant for all of us as we initiate new projects in our own communities.


What the “Bean” Can Teach Us About Community Planning

Portal to another dimension?  Nope, just standing  underneath Cloud Gate. Have you seen the “Bean”? It’s incredible. Cloud Gate, as it’s officially named, is a public work of art that resides in Chicago’s Millenium Park. This giant, metallic, smooth sided sculpture draws you in at first glance. On the chilly winter Saturday that I happened upon the Bean (nicknamed for its shape), throngs of people were standing all around and underneath the sculpture taking it in from every angle.

As I walked away from the crowd I began to think about what lessons the Bean could teach about community engagement. Public artists and practitioners can give you a long list about the power of art in community work as can the upcoming CommunityMatters Call on the topic, but I was thinking about the question on a more fundamental level. Here is what I came to:

1. Try something new:

The power of art rests, in part, in its novelty. It’s different than what people have seen before and they are curious. We can capture that interest by designing projects that offer a fresh look at the questions and challenges facing our communities today. This is one of the reasons Orton uses storytelling to lay the foundation for planning.


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.


Making Do

iceharvest2_300x168.jpgOn the last weekend in January, a small crowd of onlookers gathers at the edge of Brookfield Pond in central Vermont for what is – these days – a most unusual spectacle. An odd contraption of wooden beams and iron hardware stands on a patch of ice surrounded by rusted old saws and oversized tongs. A local historian narrates as two men move to the center of the ice and begin sawing. After a few minutes they use a strange fork to pry loose a block more than a foot thick. An ingenious lever system easily lifts this 300-pound block of ice off the water and lands it safely on the surface, frozen before it hits the ground.


Maintaining a Civil Conversation

Authentic Participation When Civic Discourse is Highly Polarized 


By Ken Snyder of PlaceMatters

The greater Chattanooga region has embarked upon an impressive effort to engage three states and 14 counties in a regional conversation about the future of the area. In November they invited the public to hear presentations from three consultant teams competing to provide technical and planning support for the overall process.

Over 350 people attended the session. During Q&A the meeting got confrontational at times. It was clear a fair number of residents had come to the event with concerns and questions about the project and to what extent there would be strings attached to Federal funds being pursued to support the initiative.


Want Safer Streets? Put your Road on a Diet

speedlimit_300x369.jpgLast winter I gained a new appreciation for speed limits. During a month-long internship at the New York City Department of Transportation, I spent a lot of time working on safety initiatives to reduce speeding. I learned that 30 mph, the speed limit in most cities, is not arbitrary. A pedestrian hit by a vehicle going 40 mph is 3.5 times more likely to die than one hit at 30 mph. An entire campaign, “That’s Why It’s 30,” is built around this fact.

Coming from rural New England, speed limits have always been more of a nuisance than anything else. Slowing to 25 mph through an empty town, on a wide road with no crosswalks or sidewalks, sometimes feels silly. We do it to avoid a ticket, but I don’t often think about the real implications of speeding in these areas.


Down With Plannerisms

Mega-Mouth-Hand-Puppet_cc_300x200.jpgSeveral weeks ago while checking out the latest discussions at Wayne Senville’s Planning Commissioners Journal, my eye was drawn to the headline: “Plannerisms we can do without!”

Why is it, I’ve wondered, that planners and a myriad of other professionals rely on their own ingrown jargon to communicate with the rest of the world?

And, professional jargon aside, have you ever noticed that the more formal or professional the situation, the less direct the language? It’s almost that simple.