Stewardship: Sustaining Citizen Engagement

Note: This post is section one of a five-part series highlighting excerpts from the study Stewarding the Future of Our Communities by Steven C. Ames, the Foundation’s 2012 Craig Byrne Fellow. This paper addresses the challenges of stewarding local community engagement and planning in order to ensure its ongoing success and impact. Featuring case studies of five exemplary community engagement and planning experiences in small towns and cities around the country, Ames highlights specific stewardship duluthbanner_350x388.jpgapproaches the communities have used to carry the success of their efforts far into the future. This blog post examines how communities keep residents engaged and participating in important local decision-making. 

The ongoing engagement of a community’s residents is the lifeline of its community plan and is essential to its successful future. No vision or plan, however eloquently stated or thoughtfully constructed, will endure long enough to be realized if the townspeople are not continually engaged in its achievement.

Beginning in the mid-2000s, the Duluth Local Initiative Support Corporation (Duluth LISC) and its At Home in Duluth collaborative, a program focused on five inner-city neighborhoods, intensified their efforts in West Duluth, an older, established neighborhood in need of revitalization. Since then, more than 40 major initiatives addressing housing, income, economic activity, education, and health have been implemented, resulting in a catalogue of achievements and a reenergized sense of community.


Participation by Design: Using Story in Community Planning

This post is the fourteenth in a month-long series hosted by PlaceMatters on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. The series covers the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. Along with PlaceMatters, we welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

biddo_storybooth_300x200.jpgEveryone has a story to tell about his or her community. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, native or newcomer; we all have personal experiences that connect us to our city or town. Stories tell us a lot about what we value most—the customs, characteristics and special places that make our community unique.

There are many examples of how stories have been used to understand community, such as Why Here Why Now or Saving the Sierra, and there is also great potential to apply personal story in community planning efforts.

The Orton Family Foundation’s Heart & Soul Community Planning approach uses personal stories to identify what people value in their community. We rely on personal stories for three key reasons:


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.