Cornerstones Blog

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.)

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FUN: The Key to Community Participation

Our atmosphere’s getting all gunky.
And climate change makes us feel funky.
But we’ll change our fate!
Play Vermontivate!
And celebrate with Chunky Monkey!

Even if you don’t have a clue what Vermontivate! is, there’s a good bet that an initiative that plasters this limerick on their homepage has got to be fun.

Read on and you discover that Vermontivate! is a community energy game—an interactive way to get people to conserve energy. Players compete to earn points for their town. Change an old tungsten bulb to a compact fluorescent, collect points. Start composting, more points. Reduce your household consumption of paper products by half...total pointfest. Install solar panels and you’ve hit the point equivalent of the carnival strong man bell. Basically, do anything you can think of to lessen your dependence on fossil fuels to compete for the grand prize: a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream party hosted in a local gathering place.

Why play Vermontivate!? The website makes it clear: “(W)e believe that by having fun and building community, we stand a good chance of helping each other reduce the impacts of our energy consumption AND bring hope and infinite possibility to the beautiful land of Vermont. And the world.”

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Laying the Groundwork for Heart & Soul

What have residents in our Heart & Soul towns been up to this year? Here is a taste:

While Orton staff visited North Fork, Essex, Polson, Gardiner and Cortez on training and capacity building trips this year, we set up a camera and let it run. What we came away with was hours of footage of energized residents getting together and talking about what matters most and how to begin planning in ways that reflect the things that matter most.

But this is just a slice, the tip of the old iceberg. To learn more about the impressive early progress these communities have made, check out our latest newsletter online, and then follow your nose to each town's own website for more detailed information on partnerships, events, achievements and stories.

And, as always, feel free to share your own!

Keeping it Civil in Social Media Land

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Social media (blogs, social network sites and comment forums) has transformed and democratized the way in which we both receive and provide information and opinion. It has shifted the control of news and opinion away from a limited number of professional reporters and news agencies and turned it over to the public. In 2010, there were nearly one million new blog posts a day.

Given this rapid spread and its indiscriminate nature, social media has been touted as a way to revitalize public discourse and engage new voices. In the Middle East, we have seen it inspire the transformation of political systems. Yet, here at home, has it actually lived up to expectations and improved how we engage in public discussions?

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Celebrating the Re-opening of Doors

shickshinny_blogpic_400x300.jpgSara Grier is External Relations Manager for ShickshinnyForward.

Natural disasters bring a level of destruction to communities that is difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it.

While the physical ruination of shops, schools, homes and businesses takes an enormous toll, it is often the devastation of the emotional “soul” of a community that makes re-building such an uphill effort.

For the cities and towns along the Susquehanna River, the flood of September 2011 surpassed anything experienced in over 100 years. Shickshinny, PA, population 800, was one of the hardest hit communities. Since the flood, the town has not only drained basements and repaired roads; it has taken this opportunity to make itself “home” once again.

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