Cornerstones Blog

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 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.”


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


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?


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.


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.