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.


A Town Heralds Art as Its Catalyst for Change

turner_elder_ganley_300x230.jpgIn a room filled with artwork, news clippings and photos, interested citizens spent the evening of November 15th celebrating Starksboro’s Art & Soul Civic Engagement project, which used art and storytelling to identify and enhance the community’s shared values.

The event, hosted in Bristol, Vermont’s Town Hall, aimed to share the stories and successes of the project, thank the key movers-and-shakers, acknowledge valuable partnerships, and inspire other communities to start their own creative community explorations.


“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?!


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.”


Lessons from River Rats on Building Community

wrist-wrist_elbow-elbow_400x320.jpgWhile I am incredibly fortunate to love my work—helping communities to enhance the characteristics that make them great places to live—it is no secret that I am always plotting my next escape to a river.

My adventures have taken me to six states and three countries. On every trip I’m struck by how at home I feel on the river compared to any other place. So how is it that somewhere new and frequently with a bunch of strangers can I feel such a profound sense of belonging?

A river trip can be defined by the quality of the river itself: its length, the rapids, the water quality, and topography. The Grand Canyon, the Rogue, the Selway and Middle Fork of the Salmon are highly sought after for these very characteristics. However, great river trips are defined by something much less tangible—the social interactions of the group itself. Communities, whether it’s a group of river runners, a neighborhood, or a town, require careful cultivation.


Unlocking H&S: Storytelling, Art & Identifying Community Values

StarksFirefighters_laundryproject_500x333.jpg Storytelling and art can be powerful tools to help identify and act on shared values in a community planning process. The Foundation has been working with five communities in the Rocky Mountains and New England over the last three years integrating story sharing or art making into their planning efforts with great results. The process has built new relationships and bridges between divided groups; brought new voices to the project; revealed common values and connections; and built empathy and hope.

In a nutshell, it transforms the planning process.


Owning Your Future: The brass tacks of H&S

hands_logo_newsletter_320x267.jpgOn April 18, 2011 the Orton Family Foundation issued its second Request for Proposals seeking four new communities to undertake and evolve Heart & Soul Community Planning.

We selected our first round of experimental projects in 2008 as part of a $10 million Heart & Soul initiative, and have been working ever since with Damariscotta and Biddeford, ME, Victor, ID, Golden, CO and Starksboro, VT.

Our work is predicated on the belief that if a community initiates engagement based on what people value about their place (instead of in response to a crisis) and insists on citizen-led (instead of developer- or official-led) thinking and action, then the community will make wiser, more enduring decisions about planning.


In with the Old...and the New

youngoldhands_blogpost_300x225.jpg - Creative CommonsIn James Howard Kunstler’s provocative book Home from Nowhere, he wonders whether we “have the will to reimagine city and town life as a general proposition.” The phrase “will to reimagine” has stuck with me. It’s full of promise.

Residents of towns often feel constrained by existing politics or structures, and when they are given permission to claim the right to think differently, the resulting creativity and energy is remarkable. The most dramatic current examples are certainly found in Egypt and Bahrain. But closer to home, we at the Foundation have witnessed this kind of excitement in our projects.