Stewarding the Future of Our Communities

Case Studies in Sustaining Community Engagement and Planning in America’s Small Cities and Towns

By Steven C. Ames

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“Stewarding the Future of Our Communities” presents the results of a major research project conducted for the Craig Byrne Fellows Program of the Orton Family Foundation. It addresses the challenges of stewarding local community engagement and planning—that is, building greater sustainability into citizen-driven, values-based community engagement and planning—in order to ensure its ongoing success and impact.

The paper presents case studies of five exemplary community engagement and planning experiences in small towns and cities around the country, highlighting specific stewardship approaches they have used to carry the success of their efforts far into the future. In a framework developed specially for this study, it examines five discrete elements of community stewardship:

  1. Honoring local values
  2. Sustaining citizen engagement
  3. Achieving visions and plans
  4. Holding leaders accountable
  5. Responding to a changing world

The five communities highlighted in this report represent the diversity of small-town America, reflecting a range of populations (generally smaller cities and towns), community types (rural towns, suburban cities, and even urban neighborhoods), political jurisdictions (counties, cities, towns, neighborhoods, districts, and unincorporated areas), and geographic regions (New England, the Southeast, the Great Lakes, the Upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest). The communities are:

  1. Covington and Oxford, Newtown County, Georgia
  2. Hastings, Barry County, Michigan
  3. Hillsboro, Oregon
  4. Portsmouth, New Hampshire
  5. West Duluth neighborhood, Duluth, Minnesota

Over the past two decades, each of these places has faced challenges to its core values and local identity, quality of life, viability as a community, and long-term sustainability. Each of these places has succeeded in developing and implementing different types of foundational community engagement and planning efforts to address challenges.

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