On August 28, 2011, US Route 100 leading into the mountain town of Rochester, Vermont simply ended. And so did every other road leading in and out of town. That was the day Tropical Storm Irene washed away roads and bridges and homes throughout the region, leaving 13 towns cut off from the outside world. It was hours before anyone managed to get in or out of Rochester, and even then only by ATV and on foot. It was days before most people could communicate with anyone outside of town. It was weeks before power was restored and roads were passable to anyone other than emergency crews.
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).
Some 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.More
This post was first published in April 2013 on the Citizens’ Institute for Rural Design blog.
Residents in Exeter, RI used a “Places of the Heart” map to identify
parts of town that they value most as well as areas of concern.
Have you ever been at a meeting about a community issue and heard the statement, “We don’t need some outsider coming in and telling us what to do.”?
I know I have. This phrase points to a common challenge I see when working in rural communities—balancing the value of community input with expert knowledge in community design.
Too often community projects favor one of these approaches over the other; the design team who drops in for a week with the solution to a town’s traffic woes (i.e. roundabout) or the community workshop that recycles the same, old idea for its downtown’s redevelopment (i.e. more parking).
So, how do we move off of this dynamic towards a more effective model? By recognizing the best of what both sides bring to the equation and designing a process that leverages both strengths.More
This is the third 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).
The scene at the public hearing is all too familiar. A tired-looking panel sits in front of the auditorium at a table cluttered with documents and microphones; although the room is full of chairs, most are empty. Citizen questions and discussion are not encouraged, testimony is polarized and tempers flare.
The “public hearing” is one of the most-used citizen participation processes in the United States, with many local and state governments legally mandated to use it. But leaders and citizens are often frustrated by the format.
While originally devised to improve participation, hearings are too often framed as contests between points of view. They’re not structured to seek common ground or collaboration, and occur too late in a process to be taken seriously.More
CommunityMatters®, a partnership of seven national organizations including Orton, share the belief that people have the power to solve their community’s problems and direct future growth and change.
As leaders in the fields of civic engagement and community and economic development, the partners believe that by strengthening civic infrastructure, communities can become more prosperous, vibrant places to live.
Why is civic infrastructure key? Because, like the physical infrastructure that supports a community’s built environment, civic infrastructure supports the social sphere. It consists of the opportunities, activities and arenas, both online and face-to-face, that allow people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions and celebrate community.More
This is the second 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).
A great example of “outside-the-box” thinking actually comes in a box.
In Essex, Vermont, “Essex Heart & Soul” is working to engage the community in dialogue about the future.
Rather than beg busy residents to attend yet another 7 p.m. meeting, leaders brought the conversation to living rooms and other gathering places across the community with—you guessed it—a “Meeting in a Box.”
It’s an actual box full of printed materials: a discussion guide, priority-setting tools, clipboards, nametags, and more.More
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.”More
Guest blogger Hannah Orcutt is a former Orton intern now based in the Teton Valley. She recently got in touch to let us know that the impacts of the Heart & Soul approach are still making a difference in Victor.
Victor, Idaho (pop. 1,500), one of the Foundation’s early Heart & Soul project towns, is home to the Teton Valley Community School (TVCS), where I currently work. A central tenet of the school’s philosophy is that community involvement is important.
The Victor community serves as a dynamic classroom for our Pre-K through 6th-grade students. TVCS’s unique project-based curriculum lets teachers harness regional expertise and events as learning tools. The community benefits from our projects, and students learn to be engaged citizens.
It’s a win-win that has resulted in a young generation of active movers and shakers in the Teton Valley.More