Cornerstones Blog

Stewardship: Sustaining Citizen Engagement

Note: This post is section one 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 duluthbanner_350x388.jpgapproaches the communities have used to carry the success of their efforts far into the future. This blog post examines how communities keep residents engaged and participating in important local decision-making. 

The ongoing engagement of a community’s residents is the lifeline of its community plan and is essential to its successful future. No vision or plan, however eloquently stated or thoughtfully constructed, will endure long enough to be realized if the townspeople are not continually engaged in its achievement.

Beginning in the mid-2000s, the Duluth Local Initiative Support Corporation (Duluth LISC) and its At Home in Duluth collaborative, a program focused on five inner-city neighborhoods, intensified their efforts in West Duluth, an older, established neighborhood in need of revitalization. Since then, more than 40 major initiatives addressing housing, income, economic activity, education, and health have been implemented, resulting in a catalogue of achievements and a reenergized sense of community.


“Infinite Vulnerability” (for Maurice Sendak)

max_wildthings_279x180.jpgThe death of Maurice Sendak this week has gotten me thinking about why his books have made such an impact, and why as a nation we are registering his passing as a significant cultural loss.

I think, in large part, it’s because his books are not about a world in which there is obvious good or obvious evil, where the bad guys get outwitted and it all turns out okay in the end. His heroes are often misbehaving misfits of one sort or another who do what they can to escape the confines of their particular reality.

In short, he writes from a place of difference or disadvantage. We are invited to sympathize, and even root for, those least acceptable to society. For children, who are so often misunderstood, there is something very gratifying about this.


Honoring Local Values

Note: This post is a brief excerpt from the study Stewarding the Future of Our Communities by Steven C. Ames, the Foundation’s 2012 Craig Byrne Fellow 

Newton_Mapping_350x268.jpgHow does a community remain connected to its core values, those widely shared beliefs and ideals that define the community, who it is, and what is important to its residents? How does it ensure that important future decisions and directions are aligned with its values?

Core values provide the touchstone and foundation for any community’s planning and engagement effort, because, in the language of the Foundation, they connect to the community’s heart and soul.

According to Doug Zenn, a public participation specialist affiliated with the International Association for Public Participation: “Values are essential in finding common ground upon which further conversations can be built. The outcomes of any planning process always work best when they are aligned with core values. The more contentious a public involvement process, the more we rely on up-front identification of values.”


Community Character 201: A Lesson from Italy

roman-bakery_ropepost_300x400.jpgWhen I go traveling to another country, I always take a book that helps me get in the right mindset. Oftentimes I choose fiction that takes place in that particular country. But this time as I packed for Italy, I made room in my suitcase for a fabulous collection of Paul Bowles collected writings entitled Travels.

While none of this book takes place in Italy, focusing more on Tangiers, where he lived for most of his life, and Morocco, in which he traveled extensively, it’s a book about exploring foreign lands. Bowles regales the reader with hilarious tales of near disasters, describes wonderful characters he meets along the way, and reflects on what it means to be traveling in a country other than one’s own.

In a re-published piece entitled “Windows on the Past” written in 1957 about his travels in Europe, Bowles argues that Americans travel to Europe to regain their connections to the past. We get lost, he claims, in the vast American melting pot, in a society always transforming and remaking itself, focused more on techniques and gadgets than something deeper and more meaningful. So we go to Europe seeking something else, something he labels “culture”.


Participation by Design: Using Story in Community Planning

This post is the fourteenth in a month-long series hosted by PlaceMatters on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. The series covers the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. Along with PlaceMatters, we welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

biddo_storybooth_300x200.jpgEveryone has a story to tell about his or her community. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, native or newcomer; we all have personal experiences that connect us to our city or town. Stories tell us a lot about what we value most—the customs, characteristics and special places that make our community unique.

There are many examples of how stories have been used to understand community, such as Why Here Why Now or Saving the Sierra, and there is also great potential to apply personal story in community planning efforts.

The Orton Family Foundation’s Heart & Soul Community Planning approach uses personal stories to identify what people value in their community. We rely on personal stories for three key reasons:


The Language of Heart & Soul

language_300x137.jpgI was recently chatting with Lyman Orton, founder of the Orton Family Foundation, about the difficulties of describing Heart & Soul community planning.

The Foundation’s Heart & Soul Principles describe the process as tapping local wisdom through broad engagement, articulating shared values, and taking action to enhance those values.

But how do we delve into what that means specifically in a community? We live in such a charged ideological and political environment that it can be difficult to find words to describe a community process that doesn’t feed into political divides.


The Good and the Bad of Boston Sports Fans

celtics_fans_350x219.jpgThere’s no doubt that Boston sports fans are a community. For every season and every sport complete strangers come together to support their beloved teams. Stadiums and arenas undulate with greens, blacks and golds, navys, and the iconic reds. All Boston sports fans revere the names Bird, Orr, and Williams just as much as today’s Brady, Garnett, and Pedroia.

And like any community, this one has its own legends rituals, heroes, and adversaries celebreated in numberous museums, books and movies. While sports communities have obvious benefits like creating camaraderie that crosses formidable social lines, there is something amiss. The fervent and vocal expression of animosity towards a shared enemy struck a chord, especially in light of my recent experience with Orton’s community work.


Lessons from the Ground

Demonstration Towns Begin their Heart & Soul Journey


traininggroup_350x210.jpgThe Orton Family Foundation recently held a training for its new Heart & Soul towns focused on helping people get their projects off the ground. Each community sent members of their Community Advisory Team (CAT) to the training where participants learned some basics on project design, facilitation and communications. Equally as important, they got to know each other and develop a sense of connectedness to a larger group—gaining an understanding that while each town is unique, sharing challenges can lead to quicker, better solutions.

During the training, participants shared some of their early successes and challenges. These lessons are relevant for all of us as we initiate new projects in our own communities.