Cornerstones Blog

If Your Community Were an Orchestra...

petridish_blog_225x225.jpgIf your community were an orchestra, what would it sound like?

This is a question the Brooklyn Philharmonic seems to be asking as it roamed the boroughs of New York City this summer. Led by a new artistic director, Alan Pierson (better known for his work with Alarm Will Sound), the Philharmonic has decided to take the show on the road—a nomadic impulse you wouldn’t expect from an orchestra. And the program changes to reflect the culture of each neighborhood they visit. From a New Yorker article on the subject:

“In the Russian-speaking precincts of Brighton Beach, the orchestra played Soviet-era cartoon scores. In the sleek enclave of Dumbo, the orchestra featured pop-based musicians who are trying out classical techniques….”


The Value of the Mini-City

One of my top priorities in choosing where to live this summer was the convenience and walkability of the neighborhood (second to actually finding a job, of course). Now that about a month has passed and I’m feeling settled in, I’d say the place I chose meets those desires.

Every day I walk to work in about four minutes. On my way out the door, I pass the most popular local bar on the ground floor of my apartment building. I shop for all my daily needs within a five minute walk. And, perhaps not so ideal, I hear the constant roar of traffic and sirens as they whiz by my window.

So, take a guess, where do I live? If you imagined New York, Boston, or any other city, you’re wrong.

What I didn’t mention is that my commute takes me over Otter Creek via a pedestrian bridge, that the local bar on the ground floor of my building is the only local bar, that those stores I shop at fill the few blocks downtown, and that noise outside…well, that’s only there because my apartment happens to be right next to one of the few traffic circles in town.


The Place Where We Live

farmers-market_flickrcc_BevSykes300x200.jpgIf I have learned anything from my career in community planning, it is this: change is inevitable, but the destruction of community character and identity is not. Progress does not demand degraded surroundings.

A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics—visual, cultural, social, and environmental—that provide meaning to a location. Sense of place is what makes one city or town different from another, but sense of place is also what makes our physical surroundings worth caring about.


Relationships: The Key to the New Economy

money-origami-dress-and-suit_300x225.jpgEarlier this month I attended the New Economic Institute’s (NEI) Strategies for a New Economy Conference at Bard College in New York.

I listened to inspiring speakers and met thoughtful participants, all who are re-imagining a stronger economy and doing creative projects on the ground to prove it.

The common thread running through much of this work is the power of relationships—the relationships we have with each other and to the communities in which we live and work.


The Power of Partnership: CommunityMatters Bulks Up

CMPartnersHandsSlider_blog_325x225.jpgThis is an exciting month for the Orton Family Foundation and CommunityMatters®. To help you understand the significance, bear with me as I hit the reverse button.

In 2007 the Foundation held a national conference in Burlington, VT, which we named CommunityMatters. The new name reflected an important principle underlying our work—that is, the need for people across divides to come together to pursue change collaboratively. The Foundation was developing its Heart & Soul approach and others had their own ideas and methods, but CommunityMatters was about achieving greater change collectively than we could individually.


Got Tech?

cartoon_idea_tony-dowler_300x210.jpgDigital hangers can now indicate the “like” rating of items.

Restroom breaks can be multi-tasked with twitter feeds dispensed on toilet paper.

And you can now be fully apprised of the carbon footprint of your food selections; a restaurant in Sweden displays the CO2 emissions associated with menu options.

All of this innovation begs the question: How is technology revamping the way we interact with and shape our local places? 


So Long, Farewell

HeartandSoulOrton_audrey-heller_330x220.jpgPhoto: ©Audrey Heller

When I was in grade school, my best friend and I performed piano duets for our families and at school talent shows. Our pièce de résistance was Heart and Soul, the quintessential duet for young piano students. We spent hours practicing and improvising new ways to expand the melody and accompanying chord progression.

As we got older, we moved on to other pursuits but to this day, we can still sit down and tickle the ivories with the best of ’em.


Stewardship: Partnerships and Core Values

Note: This post is section five of a five-part series highlighting excerpts from the study Stewarding the Future of Our Communities by Steven C. Ames, the Foundation’s 2012 Craig Byrne Fellow. This paper addresses the challenges of stewarding local community engagement and planning in order to ensure its ongoing success and impact. Featuring case studies of five exemplary community engagement and planning experiences in small towns and cities around the country, Ames highlights specific stewardship approaches the communities have used to carry the success of their efforts far into the future. This blog post examines how communities can use relationship building and storytelling to understand shared values.
Portsmouth_Students_Dalogue_350x233.jpgThe overarching theme that arises from this study and its culling of stewardship approaches is collaboration: Successful stewardship ultimately depends on the cultivation and promotion of communitywide, cross-sector collaboration to achieve its goals.

In an era of major economic restructuring, reduced local budgets, increasing challenges to the integrity and viability of small towns everywhere, and the ascendancy of flexible new tools for sharing information and ideas, it is community collaboration that offers the greatest hope for stewarding community engagement and planning over time. Community collaboration in this context means residents working together to articulate and achieve their community’s core values and long-range visions.