Storytelling

Stewardship: Partnerships and Core Values

Note: This post is section five 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 can use relationship building and storytelling to understand shared values.
Portsmouth_Students_Dalogue_350x233.jpgThe overarching theme that arises from this study and its culling of stewardship approaches is collaboration: Successful stewardship ultimately depends on the cultivation and promotion of communitywide, cross-sector collaboration to achieve its goals.

In an era of major economic restructuring, reduced local budgets, increasing challenges to the integrity and viability of small towns everywhere, and the ascendancy of flexible new tools for sharing information and ideas, it is community collaboration that offers the greatest hope for stewarding community engagement and planning over time. Community collaboration in this context means residents working together to articulate and achieve their community’s core values and long-range visions.

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“Infinite Vulnerability” (for Maurice Sendak)

max_wildthings_279x180.jpgThe death of Maurice Sendak this week has gotten me thinking about why his books have made such an impact, and why as a nation we are registering his passing as a significant cultural loss.

I think, in large part, it’s because his books are not about a world in which there is obvious good or obvious evil, where the bad guys get outwitted and it all turns out okay in the end. His heroes are often misbehaving misfits of one sort or another who do what they can to escape the confines of their particular reality.

In short, he writes from a place of difference or disadvantage. We are invited to sympathize, and even root for, those least acceptable to society. For children, who are so often misunderstood, there is something very gratifying about this.

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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:

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The Good and the Bad of Boston Sports Fans

celtics_fans_350x219.jpgThere’s no doubt that Boston sports fans are a community. For every season and every sport complete strangers come together to support their beloved teams. Stadiums and arenas undulate with greens, blacks and golds, navys, and the iconic reds. All Boston sports fans revere the names Bird, Orr, and Williams just as much as today’s Brady, Garnett, and Pedroia.

And like any community, this one has its own legends rituals, heroes, and adversaries celebreated in numberous museums, books and movies. While sports communities have obvious benefits like creating camaraderie that crosses formidable social lines, there is something amiss. The fervent and vocal expression of animosity towards a shared enemy struck a chord, especially in light of my recent experience with Orton’s community work.

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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.

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Cheezborgers, Blues Tunes and a Billy Goat

billygoat_AO&Montanafriends_300x400.jpgThe things you learn when you go out with new friends – about local places and discovered history - open your eyes. After heading out, dizzy, from an intense day of Heart & Soul Community Planning training, a group of us found ourselves at Buddy Guy’s Legends Blues bar in Chicago. The local crowd was mixed, with some people in suits and others in denim jackets and long beards.

Our group was geographically diverse and included friends from Montana, Vermont, Colorado, and Maine. Some of us danced, but not me. I felt like I could blend in more with the locals if I just sat there among them, watching my out-of-town group single-handedly dominate the dance floor. As I considered the interactions between visitors and locals, I was reminded of the words of a professor I had in college: “Man is man’s favorite subject to watch.” Indeed, I even took a quick video on my phone for posterity.

We stayed for an hour or so, and then, as if the energy of Buddy Guy and devoted Blue’s fans wasn’t enough, a few of us ventured into the rainy night to find the Billy Goat Tavern of Saturday Night Live fame, and so much more as we later realized.

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Movement Storytelling

stonewallcelebration_300x291.jpgLike other gay bars of the 1950s and 1960s, the Stonewall Inn in New York City was subject to regular police raids. Mostly, patrons were so afraid of being exposed and losing their jobs, livelihoods, families and reputations that they suffered silently through the raids. But that would only go so far.

Denizens of the Stonewall included lesbians, gay men and transgendered people, some of whom had little to lose, and for whatever reason they had reached a breaking point. When the police raided the bar on June 28, 1969, patrons fought back. The riots that took place marked a confrontational new tack in the fight for LGBT rights. And in the years since, annual marches—now known as Pride Parades—have taken place the last weekend of June in cities around the world.

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Detatching From the Single-Family Home

drawing_loganpost_300x190.jpgI taught a class on the American Dream while student teaching last year. I gave students markers and giant pieces of paper and asked them to draw whatever popped into their minds when they thought of the “American Dream”.

Nearly every student’s paper included a simple drawing of a house—a square with a triangle roof attached, four little windows and a front door. This should not have surprised me; my drawing also had a house. But this caused me to wonder: is single-family home ownership the ultimate expression of the American Dream?

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