October 25, 2006 – Seven Big Ideas by 2011

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-wide Wireless
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.

October 24, 2006 – Community Seminar

I’ve rearranged my week to be able to attend a seminar on sustainable community development sponsored by a local group tonight and all day tomorrow. The speaker tonight was from the Rocky Mountain Institute (environmental/business think tank published “Natural Capitalism” and “Winning the Oil Endgame” among others).

Micheal Kinsley from RMI led the discussion that basically boiled down to a advocating a new type of collaboration about community development instead of five rich white guys making decisions in a back room and to improve resource use and instructed on the virtues of self-directed, often small-scale, often local enterprises.

It’s a lot of the stuff I spend a lot of time thinking about, but hasn’t hit mainstream thinking yet. So it was good for him to present to 100 or so community leaders.

October 23, 2006 – Guard Geese

These ladies are our chicken protectors! At one time we were losing a chicken about every other night – it would be partially eaten in the coop overnight. Nothing too big could get in the building, so we are guessing unless some animal learned to unlatch the door, it was most likely a mink or weasel.

A neighbor suggested to get a goose, since the geese are fairly alarmist when it comes to new creatures in their space. So we did, and whether by luck or design – we have not lost a single chicken to predation overnight since the geese have arrived.