Cornerstones Blog

Maintaining a Civil Conversation

Authentic Participation When Civic Discourse is Highly Polarized 

 

By Ken Snyder of PlaceMatters

The greater Chattanooga region has embarked upon an impressive effort to engage three states and 14 counties in a regional conversation about the future of the area. In November they invited the public to hear presentations from three consultant teams competing to provide technical and planning support for the overall process.

Over 350 people attended the session. During Q&A the meeting got confrontational at times. It was clear a fair number of residents had come to the event with concerns and questions about the project and to what extent there would be strings attached to Federal funds being pursued to support the initiative.

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Want Safer Streets? Put your Road on a Diet

speedlimit_300x369.jpgLast winter I gained a new appreciation for speed limits. During a month-long internship at the New York City Department of Transportation, I spent a lot of time working on safety initiatives to reduce speeding. I learned that 30 mph, the speed limit in most cities, is not arbitrary. A pedestrian hit by a vehicle going 40 mph is 3.5 times more likely to die than one hit at 30 mph. An entire campaign, “That’s Why It’s 30,” is built around this fact.

Coming from rural New England, speed limits have always been more of a nuisance than anything else. Slowing to 25 mph through an empty town, on a wide road with no crosswalks or sidewalks, sometimes feels silly. We do it to avoid a ticket, but I don’t often think about the real implications of speeding in these areas.

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Movement Storytelling

stonewallcelebration_300x291.jpgLike other gay bars of the 1950s and 1960s, the Stonewall Inn in New York City was subject to regular police raids. Mostly, patrons were so afraid of being exposed and losing their jobs, livelihoods, families and reputations that they suffered silently through the raids. But that would only go so far.

Denizens of the Stonewall included lesbians, gay men and transgendered people, some of whom had little to lose, and for whatever reason they had reached a breaking point. When the police raided the bar on June 28, 1969, patrons fought back. The riots that took place marked a confrontational new tack in the fight for LGBT rights. And in the years since, annual marches—now known as Pride Parades—have taken place the last weekend of June in cities around the world.

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What Brown Can Do For You

UPS_brown_258x195.jpgAs I race around this holiday season, pulling late nights wrapping and boxing up countless gifts to friends and relatives far and wide, then lugging said packages in great heaps to the post office for ground or priority or rush shipping, depending on the day and my state of mind, I have to take a moment to acknowledge the efficiency and simple industry of the cardboard box.

So basic. So useful. So ubiquitous. So kind of boring. But what would we do without them? Really. They come in all sizes. They’re pretty sturdy. They’re basic in that clean, no frills, Dwell Magazine sort of way. They come equipped with various flaps, slits and tucks for easy transformation into the squares and rectangles that we fill with stuff.

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Art Walks: Fueling the Creative Economy

kingfieldpeople_300x226.jpgFirst Friday, Second Thursday, Third Saturday… Cities and towns all over are claiming days to celebrate local culture with “Art Walks”.

For a few hours each month, galleries, stores, hotels, restaurants and small businesses open their doors to display local artwork free of charge. People walk around, sip refreshments, snack on hors d’oeuvres and take in the local talent.

From Los Angeles, CA to Portland, ME, Burlington, VT to Fort Lauderdale, FL, art walks are popping up everywhere.

They’re becoming more and more common in small towns as well. These art-oriented events are a new way to promote civic pride, celebrate local culture, and boost economic development.

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Detatching From the Single-Family Home

drawing_loganpost_300x190.jpgI taught a class on the American Dream while student teaching last year. I gave students markers and giant pieces of paper and asked them to draw whatever popped into their minds when they thought of the “American Dream”.

Nearly every student’s paper included a simple drawing of a house—a square with a triangle roof attached, four little windows and a front door. This should not have surprised me; my drawing also had a house. But this caused me to wonder: is single-family home ownership the ultimate expression of the American Dream?

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Down With Plannerisms

Mega-Mouth-Hand-Puppet_cc_300x200.jpgSeveral weeks ago while checking out the latest discussions at Wayne Senville’s Planning Commissioners Journal, my eye was drawn to the headline: “Plannerisms we can do without!”

Why is it, I’ve wondered, that planners and a myriad of other professionals rely on their own ingrown jargon to communicate with the rest of the world?

And, professional jargon aside, have you ever noticed that the more formal or professional the situation, the less direct the language? It’s almost that simple.

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A Town Heralds Art as Its Catalyst for Change

turner_elder_ganley_300x230.jpgIn a room filled with artwork, news clippings and photos, interested citizens spent the evening of November 15th celebrating Starksboro’s Art & Soul Civic Engagement project, which used art and storytelling to identify and enhance the community’s shared values.

The event, hosted in Bristol, Vermont’s Town Hall, aimed to share the stories and successes of the project, thank the key movers-and-shakers, acknowledge valuable partnerships, and inspire other communities to start their own creative community explorations.

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