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A citizen’s approach to community planning is being tested in small towns and rural communities throughout New England and the Rocky Mountain West. The Heart and Soul Community Planning approach begins by asking as many residents as possible what makes their town special; why they choose to live there; and what makes it stand out from other communities. This approach is unique in small town New England, where all too often citizen engagement gets put on the back burner due to limitations of town budgets and professional expertise.
The Orton Family Foundation of Middlebury, Vermont, is helping communities pursue this bottom-up approach and implement visions and land-use regulations based on broadly held values and a strong community identity. The Borderlands Village Innovation Pilot project, focused on Exeter, Rhode Island, and Killingly, Connecticut, is a test run of this innovative process.
Towns across the country are struggling with how to maintain their identity. Betsy Rosenbluth of the Orton Family Foundation states: “How does a community change while still holding on to its heart and soul, or its unique community identity? Rather than be run over by or reactive to development, communities are trying to come together to decide what they want to be. Instead of saying no to a particular development, they're determining what they’re saying yes to.” (Fillisko 2011). That is what Heart and Soul planning is all about.