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The Orton Family Foundation helps small cities and towns describe, apply and uphold their heart and soul so that they can adapt to change while maintaining or enhancing the things they value most.
Every town has authenticity, character, spirit—its own heart and soul. One-size-fits-all development means that many towns in America are losing what makes them unique, those special qualities and distinctive characteristics that keep a place from becoming Anywhere, USA.
Land use planning in America has yet to engage a broad base of local citizens to define and shape the future of their communities. Attempts to involve people in community planning often fall short because the process doesn’t convey how citizens’ day-to-day lives and livelihoods will be affected. Meanwhile, incremental change occurs, yet its cumulative effects are hard to imagine or predict. Growth and change creep up on a community, and the consequences are born by future generations.
The Orton Family Foundation works with people in small cities and towns to counter such consequences, first, by asking citizens what they value most about their communities and, second, by placing those shared values at the center of the planning process.
We are committed to helping towns steer and embrace growth and change while enhancing the cultural, social, environmental and economic qualities that are the essence of what makes a place a valued home to its citizens. The Foundation promotes inclusive, proactive decision-making and land use planning by offering guidance, tools, research, capital and other support to citizens and leaders.
The essence of the Foundation’s Heart & Soul Community Planning process and its outcome can be understood through asking three questions of every citizen:
Why did you come here?
Why are you still here?
What will keep you here?
We believe that engaged citizens drive innovation, take action and create enduring successes—that they are the key to healthy, enduring communities. Through Heart & Soul Community Planning, the Orton Family Foundation encourages broad citizen engagement and offers ways for townspeople to contribute their energy, talents, stories and legacies to planning for their future.
Most people know or sense their community’s heart and soul. It’s why they live there and choose to stay, but the aspects of place that give a community its special character are often absent from the plans, ordinances, regulations and budgets that flow from decisions about change, growth and development.
The Foundation believes that if communities explore and identify their special economic, natural, physical and human attributes—their heart and soul elements—then these clearly articulated elements will guide and sustain them through the difficult processes of decision-making, implementation and monitoring, and will improve their chances of building successful and sustainable futures.
Each of those benefits is part of a continuing, inclusive community process. The benefits describe a community characterized by participation, understanding and collaboration around a commonly held sense of identity or character. The result is strengthened social fabric and capacity, and the implementation of a plan that lets the community realize its citizens’ vision and promote their shared quality of life into the future.
To achieve its Mission, the Orton Family Foundation partners with communities and organizations across the country to learn about and explore new models for citizen engagement, community visioning, implementation and stewardship. We share our experiences on our website, at COMMUNITYMATTERS® conferences and through publications.