Oh my, it’s three months since I’ve written. Amazing how time flies, especially in the summer, and especially when we take on huge projects and a multitude of tasks. Such has been the case for me since early June. With the waning of summer, I find myself wondering where on earth the time has gone and must realize that the answer likes squarely with my inability to say “Thank you, no.” I’ve taken on too much, I realize, and yet now that I’m in the thick of these efforts, I am unable to leave, unwilling to walk away from commitments to good community work.
One of the efforts I’m working on has to do with community visioning and planning. Designing, if you will, a new future for this community I’ve called home for the better part of my adult life. This small city, once a bastion of wealth, beautiful homes and a thriving business community, has suffered for several decades now from a lack of foresight, a lack of looking ahead to the future, thinking through possible scenarios, planning for what could occur and what we might be. Life is, to paraphrase John Lennon, what’s happened to us while we weren’t busy making other plans.
And it shows. Our downtown commercial district is tired – too many empty storefronts, too little investment over time in capital improvements, precious little youthful energy and talent stepping up to take the reigns in retail/restaurant/entertainment venues.
Too many of our beautiful homes and neighborhoods, boasting grand Queen Annes, Italianates, Four-Squares, Federals, Greek Revivals, Bungalows and 20th Century Moderns, suffer from deferred maintenance and the disrespect that comes from a lack of responsible ownership and pride.
Much of the wealth has drained away – siphoned off by multi-nationals who’ve left us, taking with them their investments in worthwhile causes like United Way along with their executives and their spouses who spent their disposable incomes on things like ballet classes for their kids and support for the schools, the arts, and recreation. Collective wealth has been reduced by years of dis-investment in new business and industry and the employment they offer, all the while we were somehow unable to see it all coming, to plan ahead, to take some risks and invest.
It’s not too late. Over the course of this summer, hundreds of citizens have come together to begin anew. We’ve drafted a new vision, and are setting a new course for this community. It has been at turns, exhilarating, exhausting, puzzling, challenging, joyful, luscious, and collaborative. There’s been a noticeable lack of mean-spiritedness, and an amazing amount of gratitude and positive thinking. We, many of us, realize this just might be our last chance to design the community in ways that feed us – all of us – for many years to come. Feeds our souls, our bodies, and our spirits, and fills our pocketbooks and our government and community coffers too.
As a process designer and facilitator, this feels like a shining example of Margaret Mead’s famous quote:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
It’s a small group that started this process we’ve entitled "Prospering Together" but it grows every day with good folks coming together to listen, learn, grow, and craft a new future for our hometowns.
It is a truism: Design is everywhere and means everything to how we live, everyday. Design is tactile, visual, yes. But design is also invisible, impactful in ways we are often unaware. This particular design promises a lot; the end results are up to us – use the design to prosper, or ignore it at our peril.