Cornerstones Blog

Compromise and Community

This post was co-written by John Elder and Kris Perlee, two residents of Bristol, Vermont, who were tasked with finding a compromise to a ten-year-old land use debate. Here is the story of how they found common ground.

For the better part of a decade our town of Bristol, VT was up to its axles in controversy about a proposed new gravel pit. One casualty of this situation was the Planning Commission’s ability to come up with a Town Plan that the voters would support.

Some of our fellow residents strongly supported the rights of the landowner to develop the property as he wished, especially given the increasing scarcity of gravel in our region. Opponents of the new pit were equally adamant, fearing that noise and traffic from this site near the Town Hall and Main Street would seriously disrupt both the commerce and the neighborhoods of our village.

The full range of opinion in Bristol was appropriately represented on our Planning Commission, but this in turn made it challenging for us to advance toward a clear consensus.

More

Slow Democracy: Citizen-Powered Communities for the 21st Century

This is the first of 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 “slow food” movement began in the mid-1980s with protests against the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome, but it has since inspired untold thousands of supporters across the globe.

Slow food argues that fast food symbolizes much of what’s wrong with the world today. We’ve taken the goal of “efficiency” too far, advocates argue. We need to slow down and understand where our food comes from, and recognize our connection to agriculture, to communities, and to our natural systems. We have a responsibility to do so, for human, economic, and ecological health.

I was thinking about slow food while thinning carrots in my garden one weekend, listening to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma on my ear buds. That’s when it hit me: the work I had been doing in community development was perfectly aligned with the efforts of the slow food movement. Local, human-scale, interconnected…the metaphor was inspiring, and it brought a wave of fresh, exciting ideas to mind. Slow Democracy!

I ran inside to test the idea out on my husband Mark. He seemed impressed, saying enthusiastically, “Slow Democracy? Great idea! Hey, I bet you could even get the domain name—SlowDemocracy.org!”

More

Heart & Soul Principle 2: Explore Local Culture

This is the second 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.

It has been said that only 10 percent of the culture of a place is seen, while the other 90 percent is unseen but expressed through habits and networks and how people interact.

This Principle is about paying attention to that 90 percent—to the peculiarities and richness of a singular place. It’s about taking time to question whether you’re really examining the culture of the whole community and not just the parts you already know (or thought you knew), and then applying that understanding to your project.

Here is the Principle:

More

Reimagining America’s Streets

Americans’ expectations of our streets are changing. While we once saw streets exclusively as a means to move cars from one place to another as quickly as possible, we are increasingly recognizing them for what they are—our largest public space—and for what they can become—an opportunity to promote economic development, build community and even improve public health.

The Open Streets Project is leading this revolution in how we view and use streets. Also known as Ciclovias, Sunday Streets, Viva Streets (to name a few), Open Streets temporarily closes busy streets to automobiles so that people may use them for any activity but driving—walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing…name your physical activity—bringing thousands of people together to experience their city in a way that is normally forbidden.

More

Building Community, One Slice at A Time

In celebration of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, Cornerstones is hungry to present a special pie post, by pie enthusiast and community artist, Josh Schachter.

I’m often late, though not for pie. But two seconds was all it took for me to miss the cut off for pie judging at the 32nd Annual Pie Festival in Pie Town, New Mexico, this fall.

My efforts to sweet talk the pie judge officials must not have been very discrete, as Pie Judge #15 immediately offered to give up her coveted spot to me. Knowing that she was about to enter Pie Heaven, I couldn’t bring myself to deprive her of this opportunity. Her kind offer reminded me of the generosity of spirit that pie instills in people and communities every day. After all, pie has slices for a reason; it is meant to be shared.

More

Heart & Soul Principle 1: Engage Everyone

This post is the first of a nine-part series that shows how the Heart & Soul Principles are being applied and coming to life on the ground in communities across the country. The first three Principles fall under the theme Tap Local Wisdom.

The first Principle is first because engaging everyone is the essential ingredient—the bedrock, the soil, and the roots—out of which everything else in Heart & Soul Community Planning grows.

Here is the Principle in full:

“Go directly to the people, and go early and often—do not expect them to come to you. Create relevant, compelling and continuous opportunities for participation that reach all parts of the community.”

That may seem intuitive, even obvious, at first. But for most, it’s easier said than done. Typical public hearings are considered a success when a couple dozen of the usual suspects show up at City Hall. Heart & Soul engagement means many more and many different sorts of people participating, often, and in places other than City Hall.

More

Bringing the Heart & Soul Principles to Life

When the Foundation was first developing its Heart & Soul program back in 2007, we convened a group of thought leaders from various disciplines to help us define how to improve community planning in America. People who have dedicated much of their lives to change-making in their fields, including social ecologist Jim Kent and landscape architect and sociologist Randy Hester, joined us one late-September day to wrestle with this question: How could we build a radically different chassis for driving community decisions—one that is citizen driven and based on what residents value most?

More

Imagining North Adams

Every year, 120,000 people make a pilgrimage to the Northwestern corner of the Berkshires in Massachusetts and head for MASS MoCA.

They park next to the concrete channels of the Hoosic River and walk into a complex of historic brick mill buildings, repurposed as a world-class museum.

They spend a few hours, or a few days, exploring the cavernous galleries, and they collectively spend millions of dollars on tickets, souvenirs and gourmet food in the museum cafés.

What they usually don’t do is spend much of that time or money a block or two away—on Main Street. And it shows. While North Adams has made many efforts, and admirable progress, to reinvent itself as a vibrant arts community, its Main Street still struggles to fill up storefronts, local businesses struggle to stay afloat, and many residents struggle to find jobs and rise above the poverty line. (Check out this 2012 piece from NPR for the full story.)

More