Cornerstones Blog

What the “Bean” Can Teach Us About Community Planning

Portal to another dimension?  Nope, just standing  underneath Cloud Gate. Have you seen the “Bean”? It’s incredible. Cloud Gate, as it’s officially named, is a public work of art that resides in Chicago’s Millenium Park. This giant, metallic, smooth sided sculpture draws you in at first glance. On the chilly winter Saturday that I happened upon the Bean (nicknamed for its shape), throngs of people were standing all around and underneath the sculpture taking it in from every angle.

As I walked away from the crowd I began to think about what lessons the Bean could teach about community engagement. Public artists and practitioners can give you a long list about the power of art in community work as can the upcoming CommunityMatters Call on the topic, but I was thinking about the question on a more fundamental level. Here is what I came to:

1. Try something new:

The power of art rests, in part, in its novelty. It’s different than what people have seen before and they are curious. We can capture that interest by designing projects that offer a fresh look at the questions and challenges facing our communities today. This is one of the reasons Orton uses storytelling to lay the foundation for planning.

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Cheezborgers, Blues Tunes and a Billy Goat

billygoat_AO&Montanafriends_300x400.jpgThe things you learn when you go out with new friends – about local places and discovered history - open your eyes. After heading out, dizzy, from an intense day of Heart & Soul Community Planning training, a group of us found ourselves at Buddy Guy’s Legends Blues bar in Chicago. The local crowd was mixed, with some people in suits and others in denim jackets and long beards.

Our group was geographically diverse and included friends from Montana, Vermont, Colorado, and Maine. Some of us danced, but not me. I felt like I could blend in more with the locals if I just sat there among them, watching my out-of-town group single-handedly dominate the dance floor. As I considered the interactions between visitors and locals, I was reminded of the words of a professor I had in college: “Man is man’s favorite subject to watch.” Indeed, I even took a quick video on my phone for posterity.

We stayed for an hour or so, and then, as if the energy of Buddy Guy and devoted Blue’s fans wasn’t enough, a few of us ventured into the rainy night to find the Billy Goat Tavern of Saturday Night Live fame, and so much more as we later realized.

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Clear Skies and Dry Trails

nosnow_300x238.jpgNow that it’s almost March, and officially “late winter,” it’s becoming nearly impossible to ignore the elephant in the room. Despite the storm this weekend that dumped more than two feet in the mountains, this winter has skiers and snow-sport enthusiasts of all sorts scratching their heads. January 2012 was the 3rd least snowy in the NOAA’s national 117-year record, and the 4th warmest.

Taking advantage of this weekend’s storm, I headed to the mountains. After a long ski through the first powder of the year, I ended at a small Inn and cross-country ski center where I had a chance to see first hand how the lack of snow is affecting the state’s winter economy.

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The Power of the Individual

aucmen_300x169.jpgSeveral weeks ago, Middlebury College opened the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, a new program encouraging students to take an active role in their education while accomplishing good at the same time. For its inaugural symposium, the Center brought a number of people to speak and teach.

I had the good fortune to attend two of the talks. The first was by Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka-Innovators for the Public. Bill focused on the need to develop systems that can adapt quickly and effectively, vital in our rapidly changing world. He argued that traditionally structured systems need to give way to teams and teams-of-teams as a way to unleash individual creativity and remain nimble and responsive to challenges and opportunities. He also shared a few inspiring examples of work by Ashoka Fellows.

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When Saying No Is the Way to Go

Golden arch_300x201.jpgI nominate Golden, Colorado “Poster Child of the Month” for Heart & Soul Community Planning—and for every stripe of values-first visioning and planning across the country.

Congratulations Golden! You know what you’ve got and you want to keep it. And that makes you confident enough to keep saying NO to the Denver Beltway, 201-mile darling of the transportation/development establishment, and underway in fits and starts since the late 50s.

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Making Do

iceharvest2_300x168.jpgOn the last weekend in January, a small crowd of onlookers gathers at the edge of Brookfield Pond in central Vermont for what is – these days – a most unusual spectacle. An odd contraption of wooden beams and iron hardware stands on a patch of ice surrounded by rusted old saws and oversized tongs. A local historian narrates as two men move to the center of the ice and begin sawing. After a few minutes they use a strange fork to pry loose a block more than a foot thick. An ingenious lever system easily lifts this 300-pound block of ice off the water and lands it safely on the surface, frozen before it hits the ground.

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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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