3 Key Lessons from Encouraging Communities to Generate Change

By Katharine Czarnecki

Katharine Czarnecki is the Senior Vice President of Community Development at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which markets Michigan as the place to do business, assists businesses in their growth strategies, and fosters the growth of vibrant communities across the state.

Apr 22, 2019 | Society | 3 comments

What makes a place great?

This is the age-old question for community development. At first glance, it seems nearly impossible to pin down a single answer. But consider some of your favorite places; what about them makes you want to go back? Is it the connectivity of the place’s design? Or maybe the unique shops and gathering spaces it holds? Or perhaps it’s the feeling that when you are there, you are part of something bigger than yourself – a true community and team.

At Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), we considered this question and decided to take it a step further by sharing the responsibility for creating a great place with the community members themselves. Instead of relying exclusively on an outside perspective to determine which projects to support in a community, we wanted to make sure the people themselves had the opportunity to be involved in the changes happening around them – a practice commonly referred to as placemaking.

Placemaking is a community development approach that centers itself on the people, providing them an opportunity to come together and support their community’s assets while at the same time strengthening their bonds with one another and creating a place where people want to live, work and play.

Adopting this approach as we assist communities throughout Michigan is how our Public Spaces Community Places program was born.

Public Spaces Community Places (PSCP) is a combined effort between the MEDC, the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan-based Patronicity where local residents can use crowdfunding to be involved in the development of strategic projects in their communities. Projects successfully funded through these grassroots efforts are then backed with a matching grant from MEDC.

The success we have experienced with this initiative since it began in 2014 has been incredible. Because of the truly collaborative nature of this program, we are proud to have a 97 percent success rate for projects achieving their crowdfunding goals.

MEDC has used a modest budget of $1.4 million to generate more than $10 million in private investment to improve communities throughout the state. During this journey, we have learned some important lessons about the tremendous impact placemaking can have on any community, regardless of its size or ZIP code; applied anywhere, these lessons can help make a place great.

1. Community buy-in is vital.

When people are brought in at the beginning of the decision-making process — when a community has discovered the need for a new park, a hiking trail or a food kitchen — they will naturally buy into the project’s success. Rather than operating in a silo to identify a project that could benefit the community, community members work together as co-creators to share in the development, transformation and success of a project, from start to finish.

The culture of inclusion that forms by valuing the input and involvement from community members throughout the process not only makes ultimate success more realistic, but it helps guarantee people will become invested in the space and be motivated to care for it long after it’s completed.

A perfect example of this coming together of a community is in the city of Portland, Michigan in 2015. The town originally planned to apply for a $10,000 matching grant through the Public Spaces Community Places program to build a gathering space for local residents to meet up and host events. But after a community meeting took place to discuss the potential of the project, that crowdfunding goal skyrocketed to $50,000. At the end of a dedicated fundraising and grassroots efforts, a quarter of the town’s 4,000 people had contributed funding to the effort. The final result was the Red Mill Pavilion, which today serves as not only a gathering spot for community events, but is a crown jewel of the town.

2. Great ideas come from within.

When people in a community are given an opportunity to step up and take ownership of the quality of their place, they will. Placemaking programs like Public Spaces Community Places not only challenge people to be responsible for the change they want to see, but it empowers them to see their ideas as being achievable.

Instead of looking around and thinking to one’s self about what could be done to make a certain place better, our program urges folks to share their ideas and begin building support from the ground-up. That’s how a group of neighbors and volunteers in Brightmoor, Michigan, succeeded in transforming their neighborhood’s food desert back in 2015.

Located near the northwest border of Detroit, the neighborhood of Brightmoor long existed without any grocery stores nearby, despite local residents having limited access to transportation. The need for increased availability of fresh, healthy foods could not have been clearer. What’s more, the group already acquired the building and the equipment needed for the project; now all they needed was additional support to update the space to meet the community’s needs.

Enter Public Spaces Community Places.

Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group called the Brightmoor Artisans Collective, the community was able to exceed its target goal of $30,000 to create a true farm-to-table experience for the Brightmoor community. By having the opportunity to not only share their idea for eliminating the food desert in their neighborhood, but to see the Brightmoor Community Kitchen become a reality, this grassroots, citizen leadership helped to bring their neighbors together over fresh, homegrown food.

3. Philanthropy is for everyone.

All it takes is a quick internet search of “philanthropist” to find a collection of billionaires like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffett either boasting of their good deeds or being showered in praise for them. But philanthropy does not require riches. This is perhaps one of the most heartening lessons learned form our Public Spaces Community Places program; whether you can contribute $10, $25 or $100, every single dollar matters. You don’t have to hire an expensive grant writer or have a fancy title to play a part in improving your community. Philanthropy can be for everyone.

PSCP democratizes public funding by making it accessible to everyone, and encouraging members of the community to play a part in securing that funding to improve their shared quality of life.

Ultimately, putting people at the center of community development efforts not only benefits the end result, but it helps strengthen the bonds between those people and their place, as well. Our PSCP program is a testament to the incredible things that can happen when a community makes the choice to invest in itself and works together to be the change it wants to see. At the end of the day, what makes a place great can include many things, but they all stem from a fundamental core: the people who call that place home.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

3 Comments

  1. The true philanthropist is the one who invests his time and attention in matters of the community, it is not on the other hand who leaves his money in his own benefit, such as elution of taxes in those who use his attention and time in others.

    Reply
  2. This write-up gives an idea of how to change the attitude of residents of the community because the major problem then execution of a project is citizen attitude towards the projects.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Read more from the Meeting of the Minds Blog

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Rethinking Coastal Property in an Era of Climate Change

Rethinking Coastal Property in an Era of Climate Change

The country has provided hundreds of billions of dollars to recover from recent coastal storms but done little to rethink the existing policies and programs that contribute to coastal property losses, or to define new measures that account for the new realities of more damaging storms and rising sea levels.

A key first step toward smarter policies is to improve disclosure of risk associated with coastal properties. This will require better mapping of areas at risk of both storms and rising seas. National standards are needed for disclosure of coastal flood risk prior to sale. Lenders and supporting agencies need to evaluate and disclose coastal flood risk.

How Cities Can Engage with Mobility as a Service

How Cities Can Engage with Mobility as a Service

By incorporating multiple transport modes into a single application, users can benefit from personalised services which recognise individual mobility needs, easier transactions and payments, and dynamic journey management and planning.

A fully comprehensive MaaS offering could mean the ownership of private vehicles is no longer necessary for people. As mobility needs begin to be provided by a range of services through a single platform, usership could replace ownership.

The potential of MaaS has been recognised around the world. In the UK, the government has included MaaS within its transport strategy. An expert committee of Members of Parliament concluded that MaaS has the “potential to transform how people travel” by boosting public transport, reducing congestion, and improving air quality.

Four Cornerstones for Integrating Water and Energy Systems

Four Cornerstones for Integrating Water and Energy Systems

The water-energy nexus is not new. The concept that our water and energy systems are reliant on each other is sometimes paired with a third issue, like food security or public health. This can make it more relevant to our daily lives. Despite a basic understanding of resource interdependencies, city and utility leaders still allow planning and implementation processes to remain predominately separate. A common local scenario finds the water utility facing system upkeep alone, the energy utility not considering other utility issues or city goals as they operate, and city leaders generally focused on more visibly troublesome urban systems, like housing or transportation.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

The Meeting of the Minds email list includes tens of thousands of urban practitioners, city leaders, heads of agencies, CEOs, executive directors, start-ups, decision makers, and budget holders. Keep up-to-date with the future of sustainable, equitable, connected cities by joining this list.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This