Size Matters

Photo: Martina Rathgens (Flickr: size matters) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons], via Wikimedia Commons" href="//">Size MattersThis morning on my way to work, I heard John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Born in a Small Town” on the radio. I cranked up the volume, rolled down the windows, and joined right in: “I was born in a small town, and I can breathe in a small town…”

As the words came out of my mouth, I felt a little hypocritical—I wasn’t born in a small town, I was born in Denver. (Incidentally, I am also able to breathe here in Denver, which is quite the feat.) What’s strange is, Denver feels like a small town. Each neighborhood has its own character, there’s intense loyalty to place, and it’s darn near impossible for me to go somewhere without running in to someone I know.


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.”


Bicycling Toward Community

RecreationBiking_300x206.jpgTwo 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.


Unlocking H&S: Engaging Youth

GardenGateProject_300x300.jpgLet’s start with some yes or no questions.

  • Does your community have any one under the age of 21 in it?
  • Does your community devote any public resources to young people?  
  • Does your community involve young people in making strategic decisions about your community’s resources?

If you answered “yes” or “no” to any of these questions, then you should keep reading.

Obligation or Boon? (answer: Both)

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.


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.


Youth Voice = Youth Action

biddo_students_worldcafe_400x250.jpgPhoto: Biddeford students share stories they gathered for a class designed by Carolyn Gosselin.

I’m not sure at what age it happens, but at some point, you find yourself saying something about “Kids these days...” and it’s rarely the start of a compliment about the younger generation.

I routinely hear people complain about how teens are apathetic, consumer driven and that they would rather text with their friends than have a real conversation.

I’m writing today to share three stories from Maine that fly in the face of that common sentiment.


Urban Pioneers and the Rust Belt Renewal

urbanpioneers_blogpost_300x200.jpgYou’ve probably heard of Braddock, Pennsylvania given the attention it’s gotten for its rising-from-the-ashes, against-all-odds resurgence over the past decade or so.

Much of the credit for this renewal has gone to Braddock’s Mayor, John Fetterman, who has committed his own money to projects ranging from an at-risk youth program to a church-turned-community-center to a non-profit called Braddock Redux, which puts up money for community revitalization projects and advances what Fetterman calls his “social-justice agenda.”

Susan Halpern recently wrote a story for The New York Times about Fetterman called “Mayor of Rust”. She lauds Fetterman and his folk-hero status—“a Paul Bunyan hipster of urban revival.” And this seems appropriate given his demonstrated commitment to Braddock, where poverty is the norm and 27 consecutive months without a homicide is really astonishingly good news.


Un-rooted in Place: Planning for Nomads


Stephanie Joyce in Juneau, Alaska. Photo: Kevin Elliott

I live life on a fairly short timescale. At 22, a year still seems like a long time, a decade almost interminable.

The idea of planning 30 or 50 years down the line borders on laughable. I don’t even know where I’ll be next year, after I graduate from Middlebury College. So I struggle with the idea of long-term community planning. In such a rapidly changing world, long-range vision strikes me as a tall order.