This morning we heard of two approaches similar towns have taken towards improving their communities. One was Austin MN, which had 5 million dropped in its lap for projects. Successful initiatives were 24×7 day care for all shift workers, a welcome center for new residents to point them towards community resources schools, utilities, driver’s license, English classes, summer education programs, housing, and bus routes at shift change time from major employers to neighborhoods. In retrospect, the biggest amount was spent on the biggest perceived need (2 million on new affordable housing) when in fact some of the other initiatives had greater impact at lower cost.
Then we heard from Dubuque, IA which has transformed itself from a national joke in the mid 80’s (will the last one out of Dubuque please turn off the lights) to a town with strong growth in riverfront development and employment. One thing Dubuque did was a community-wide initiative named “Envision” which called for 10 great ideas by 2010. The process was simple, amazing and very effective.
First, a group of folks conceived a way to gather input from the entire community, not just econ dev’t folks. They created a series of “wish meetings” with handouts where the participants would write down ideas for things or programs that would make their town a better place to live. They handed these meeting kits out to churches, neighborhoods, unions, social sororities, civic groups, at major employers, clubs, – wherever and they could think a wide range of residents would gather.
The groups could fill out the idea forms with no involvement from the community, or have a member of the Envision team facilitate. From this process, 2500 ideas were generated. Then the organizing committee had applications for a selection committee (so the group running the campaign would not be selecting the ideas) and they had requirements for a committee that mirrored the community it terms of gender, income, race, neighborhood, etc. These 21 people then by eliminating duplication and other means, narrowed the list to 100. Then they held a series of community meetings to announce the 100 and narrow the options to 30. From these 30 ideas, the selection committee of 21 people narrowed the ideas to 10.
It was not a government initiative, nor was money promised to complete the projects. The thought was that once the community could galvanize around the projects with the broadest community support, it would bolster efforts to complete. If I remember right, they’ve raised over 9 million for these 10 initiatives after the announcement.
Just for kicks, here are the 10 projects that came out of that process:
America’s River Museum Phase II
Bilingual Education Curriculum
Community Health Center
Indoor/Outdoor Performing Arts Center
Integrated Walking/Biking/Hiking Trail System
Library Services Expansion
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Passenger Train Service
Warehouse District Revitalization
I was impressed at the range of ideas and could recognize many of them as ideas that could work in any community. Ultimately, Marshalltown will undergo a similar process to get 7 ideas by 2011.