Politics

Slow Democracy: Power – Do We Talk About It In Polite Company?

This is the last in a four-part series adapted from the book Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout (Chelsea Green, 2012).

Power-O-MeterSome people are uncomfortable talking about power. While power is the currency of political activists, it’s a dirty word to many of us—like “money,” it is not mentioned in polite company. But listen for words like “influence,” “impact,” “authority,” and “control,” and notice how often they come up. Ultimately, power is a crucial element of democracy and something we need to acknowledge and discuss in community decision making—early and often.

It would be helpful if every decision-making process came with its own “power gauge.” Imagine a dial like an old-fashioned speedometer that would tell us how leaders answer the question, “Who makes the decision?” At one end, the dial reads “Me”—the leader holds all the power. In the center, “We”—decisions are made together. At the far end, “You”—citizens make the decisions. Exactly where the needle quivers on this dial should be clear to every leader who plans to engage the public, and to every citizen before he or she commits time to the process.

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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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Relationships: The Key to the New Economy

money-origami-dress-and-suit_300x225.jpgEarlier this month I attended the New Economic Institute’s (NEI) Strategies for a New Economy Conference at Bard College in New York.

I listened to inspiring speakers and met thoughtful participants, all who are re-imagining a stronger economy and doing creative projects on the ground to prove it.

The common thread running through much of this work is the power of relationships—the relationships we have with each other and to the communities in which we live and work.

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Stewardship: Holding Leaders Accountable

Newton_Rolling Out 2050 Plan_350x261.jpgNote: This post is section three 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 approaches the communities have used to carry the success of their efforts far into the future. This blog post examines how communities keep local leaders involved in the process, ensuring continued support for future projects.

Ultimately, if a town is to secure the achievement of community-based visions and plans, it must have the continued support of local elected and appointed officials, government staff, and other key community and business leaders. In effect, it must insert the process of developing community-based visions and plans into more-formal governmental and related decision-making processes. Given that local governments, in particular, often have a poor record of responding proactively to citizen input, this can be a daunting task.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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