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While 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.More
A stop sign near a community health center in Ouje-Bougoumou in English, Cree syllabics and French: “Stop Stop Stop” (Photo by Dave Hoheschau)
Last year, my little family was relieved to finally settle down and buy a house in a small town in Vermont. I guess this was poor timing, since I just found out that Americans who settle down nowadays are ‘stuck’.
Being stuck means your prosperity is at risk—you can’t move for a new job or even the possibility of a job. Coined by urban theorist Richard Florida (“The Stuck and the Mobile”), he goes on to tell us that
“Many more people – if things continue as they are – will have to join the ranks of the mobile if they want to prosper or even survive....I’m saying it because it’s an economic fact.”More
Photo: Michael Dorausch
I recently tuned in to our local KBCO (World Class Rock) radio station and heard Death Cab for Cutie’s new song “You Are a Tourist”. These lyrics grabbed my ear:
And if you feel just like a tourist
In the city you were born
Then it’s time to go
And define your destination
There’s so many different places to call home
Music has the power to touch people, wherever they are in their lives. Given the right moment with the right mix of experiences, lyrics can be powerful “shifts in the context of community.”
In Community – The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block writes about shifting the context of community and creating an alternative future through transformation. He claims that all “transformation is linguistic, meaning we can think of community as a conversation” (p 31).More
Two summers ago my wife Kate and I caught the cycling bug.
After years of ignoring our rusting bikes, something made us buy new road bikes (a terrific sale at a local shop) and begin riding around Addison County, Vermont, where we live.
Maybe it was friends, often couples, extolling the virtues, sheer fun, excitement and satisfaction of cycling. Maybe living in Vermont’s Champlain Valley influenced us: we are surrounded by world-class bicycle touring country.More
You hear a lot of talk about sustainability and the Green Revolution, about shrinking carbon footprints and maximizing solar gain, about new, innovative methods for building energy efficient homes using local or renewable or recycled materials.
You also hear a lot about how these methods can be prohibitively expensive, sensible only for those with large expendable incomes that afford them the luxury to consider their impact on the environment—unlike most other, average, working Americans.
Well, here’s a story about a young couple of Annapolis, Maryland, who have neither expendable incomes nor much “luxury” in the way of resources, time or connections, let alone cash. They have three children, ages 11, 6 and 1. One, Carri Beer, is an architect at Brennan + Company Architects, the other, Michael Hindle, a Passive House consultant who works out of their small home in Catonsville while also caring for their youngest. Read their bios here at INDRAlogic, a passive house and holistic sustainability architecture firm they co-founded.More
Visit any local planning office and you’ll find an abundance of plans addressing housing, transportation, open space, economic development, etc. These issues are important building blocks of community planning and development, but do they really express what makes our communities special? Did the process of creating them tap into a shared community vision? Did that process help people take action and achieve tangible results?
If we are to fight off the spread of “Anywhere, USA” and help people take ownership of the future of their towns, we need a planning process that embeds community values in decision-making.
So, what are community values? They are what people care about in their community—the customs, characteristics and places that create a town’s unique identity. They are what connect people to their community and to each other. They are a community’s heart and soul.More
If you answered “yes” or “no” to any of these questions, then you should keep reading.
Engaging young people can be seen as both an obligation (they are stakeholders) and a boon. Young people can expand your talent pool; they can diversify and broaden participation; and they can identify new issues and new solutions that will offer a welcome departure from your town meeting regulars.
Beyond this, the effort to engage young people can force you to reconsider what you think you know about planning. In reaching out to young people, you will find that you are doing a better job of reaching out to everyone. Your message becomes more straightforward (not dumber), your answers less circumspect, and your communications more accessible.More
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.More