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Call in Review: Secrets of Successful Communities with Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon’s Secrets of Successful Communities aren’t exactly secrets anymore. On last week’s CommunityMatters conference call, Ed spilled the beans to our callers, sharing inspiring examples of communities across the United States that have taken charge of their own success. Read on for some of his biggest lessons, as well as answers to four of the best questions we didn’t have time to answer on the phone.

Ed talked about places like Chattanooga, Tennessee that are transforming their communities with broad scale community visioning. He shared the story of Rockport, Missouri, a small town capitalizing on its natural assets to become the first town fully powered by wind energy.

Calling for a use of education and incentives (not just regulation), Ed told call participants about San Antonio, Texas and their use of a historic preservation tax credit to turn the vacant Lone Star Brewing Company building into a beautiful home for the San Antonio Museum of Art.

And, highlighting Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Ed advocated for partnerships and cooperation for mutual benefit in our communities.

You can find more about Ed’s secrets and stories of success in our call notes, by listening to the podcast at the end of this post, or by reading Ed’s series on PlannersWeb.

Speaking of the notes from our call, there were many great questions and we just couldn’t get to them all in an hour. Thanks to everyone who contributed thoughts to the Google Doc. With your help, we’re able to share the following answers to those lingering questions:

Q: How do you motivate busy community members to get involved with a project?

Rebecca in Vermont recommends a tactical urbanism approach. Motivate people by tackling something that takes very little time, effort or money but can demonstrate big potential and get people excited. Try a weekend pop-up store or café in an empty storefront, or install a temporary flower garden.

Offering a similar suggestion, Holly in Washington, D.C. shared resources on the Better Block project, where citizens and stakeholders plan and organize temporary, short-term activities in a declining part of town. When people see the area activated with local musicians, food vendors and storefront paintings, they’ll be more likely to invest time and resources to support larger revitalization efforts.

Listen to our call on DIY Community for more ideas of small scale projects to implement in your city or town.

Q: What are recommendations for really small towns (<20,000) that do not have significant staffing, tax base, or access to resources?

One strategy is to let your town’s design guidelines and regulations do some of the hard work for you. Form-based codes can help ensure that new development enhances unique community character and creates vibrant spaces, while also helping to promote revitalization of outdated buildings. And it’s increasingly working for small towns like Newport, VT and Dover, NH

And while small towns might miss out on some tax revenue and other resources, they also have access to some funding streams just for smaller places. The Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design works exclusively to help towns under 50,000 design better futures, and agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture have significant assistance available for rural communities.

Q: What is the role of the arts in building successful communities?

Every town has a story to tell. Use public art to build on local assets by tying the story of your community to the local landscape. In Ed’s town of Takoma Park, Maryland, shuttered windows were painted with murals of what people wanted to see around town. Faces of local heroes soon appeared, brightening the streetscape while telling a local story.

In North Carolina, Handmade in America builds on local assets by promoting craft and culture for community and economic development. The organization uses an asset-based approach to create craft clusters and grow the region’s craft economy. For dozens more examples, skim through the impressive winners of 2013 OurTown grants at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Q: What is the most important action a community can take to turn a plan into reality?

Following the completion of its 2004 Master Plan, Jon in Amesbury, Massachusetts reports two key actions: 1) The Town formed a Master Plan Oversight and Implementation Committee to bring focus to the implementation process and monitor progress toward plan goals. 2) Downtown businesses formed a coalition to work together to support revitalization and the local economy.

For more ideas on plan implementation, visit CIRD's new resources section, which is full of ideas and case studies on a variety of topics.

Q: Once we know the seven secrets of success, what are the seven secrets of failure?

Great question, but what fun would it be if we divulged all the secrets here?

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This post was cross-published from the CommunityMatters blog. The original, which also includes a recording of the conference call, can be accessed here.

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