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Build Roads for Fish: Last Week’s Call on Designing for Vision and Values

This post, written by CommunityMatters Fellow Caitlin Horose of the Orton Family Foundation, recaps the second in a series of capacity building calls offered free of charge to the public and to four host communities by the Orton and the CIRD.

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Ready to kick off a new community planning or design project? Want to make sure it’s successful? Projects that have the greatest impact are those that reflect your town’s vision and values. That’s easy to say, but it takes work to understand what your community cares most about and what they want to see in the future.

On last week’s conference call, Peter Flinker and Dave Hohenschau shared great tips for how to identify community values and work them into a project vision.  Our favorite bits of advice are below (including some odd ones!), but you can catch the full call by listening to the recording below and accessing the call notes.

Maybe it is All Fun and Games:  Make your visioning process fun!  Want to see how people really feel about new development? Try the Growth Chip Game. Interested in getting feedback on your guiding principles? Use candy corn or marbles for polling. Ready to talk about the places people love in town? Go on a walking tour or use a photo scavenger hunt to identify the best parts of your community.

Love fun? And games? Look for our CommunityMatters fall conference call series on play, starting in September!

Ask “WHY?”: The process of identifying values starts with a simple conversation - ask someone what matters to them in your community.  (Say, family friendliness.) But don’t stop there. Encourage people to articulate why something is important to them and you’ll have a much better sense of what they value.  Ask “why?” (Umm… because I want my kids to be safe.) And, don’t stop there either: keep going until you understand what is at the root of the value, and how it manifests itself locally. Ask “what does that look like?” (Oh! I mean the way all the business owners on Main Street know my kids and watch out for them, and the fact that there are wide sidewalks for them to ride their bikes.)

Build Roads for Fish: When the visioning phase of your project is complete, don’t throw your values to the wayside.  Find opportunities to incorporate values throughout all aspects of your community’s design and decision-making processes. Once you start looking, you’ll see unexpected ways to design for values: many places in the Pacific Northwest value salmon, for example. That means creating policies to restore rivers, but even details like the size of pea gravel used for new roads. 

Make the Hard Choices: If you’re in politics, you can thank us for this one. You know that making choices is one of the toughest things to do, and referring to established community values is a great way to help your community make decisions about how to set priorities and where to allocate resources. If your community values its history, you’ll be putting more energy into saving old buildings.  In places that care most about active living, you’re likely to see more bike lanes and bike racks.  Using values to guide activities will make your project and its outcomes more relevant to the community, and make it more difficult for anyone to object. 

Think Big, Start Small: Small is so underrated.  There are many ways to start small with a visioning project to create big change.  Work on small wins to gain momentum.   Use values to source ideas for small interventions. Encourage small actions that offer a way for everyone to get involved.  Stick to a small number of goals that have real ownership.

Clear visions are one characteristic of successful communities.  Curious about the rest? Don’t miss our next free call on Thursday, August 22nd, when Ed McMahon will talk about his seven “secrets” of successful communities.

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Caitlin Horose is a CommunityMatters Fellow with the Orton Family Foundation.

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