Do you want to live in a Green Heart Town, where there is a sense of health, community, and legacy? This kind of town can only be a product of community-wide sustainable development, which takes thoughtful planning and action. At the center of the effort, I see each one of our lives as a common thread skillfully used to create better places for everyone to live, work and play.
The transformation begins by loving our family and community well, caring for our neighbors, and becoming more future-minded. The wonderful paradox is that being future-minded also makes our lives better today, too!
The best way to determine your net positive impact for your community is to consider your relationship to each of the three realms that give your community, and subsequently you, a unique identity. What kinds of sustainability goals do you have for your home, neighborhood, and downtown? Each one of these realms offers different opportunities for your involvement.
Sustainability in the home begins by caring for ourselves and the others closest to us. The home also gives us a safe space to frame a paradigm for living equitably and in harmony with those under all the other roofs in our community. Of course, we all want to do this, but how do we make a concerted effort, and see progress?
When we were newlyweds my wife and I learned a valuable skill during a marriage course offered by our pastor and his wife. We learned how important it is to regularly challenge ourselves in each area of our personal lives and in our marriage by setting goals. The categories we have developed are Relationships, Health and Fitness, Financial, and Vocation. Then we divide these categories down into subtopics. For example, Relationships is divided into Marriage, Parenting and Friendships.
We relish our planning weekends twice a year, and look forward to celebrating what we accomplished in the past 6 months. It is also the time to see where we fell short and recast our individual and family goals. Even better, we get a time to reconnect (without the kids) and get into the process of building up our lives together. No, you don't have to be married to do this. It can be just as good!
My family has seen tremendous success in elevating the quality of our lives through this kind of open goal setting process. Six years ago, when we started these planning retreats, we began keeping track of the goals we accomplished. I am happy we took this additional step, because it is too easy to forget how far you have come without a record of it.
When I find success, I believe there is a principle at work. If this is something that you are considering starting, I would be glad to share more information with you. Just send me a message through the Contact page.
Our neighborhoods are the next logical extension of our influence on our community. As a common thread, we can reinforce the quilt-like connections around our home. We can make ourselves part of the neighborhood fabric by getting involved.
A good place to begin is introducing yourself to all your neighbors. Especially in more recently designed neighborhoods, we have become deprogrammed to the base need for neighborly relationships. There is a good chance that your neighbors are a lot like you. We all like to have someone know our name, take an interest in what we are doing, and extend a hand in times of need.
While not everyone may be a model neighbor, the closer we can become with those around us the more we can see things from their point of view. Talk about the neighborhood with your neighbors. Inevitably, you will discuss some of the shortcomings that you are seeing with the neighborhood. Maybe there is a shut-in that does not have many visitors, a dog-barking issue, or a broken slide at the nearby park. Noticing, and more importantly, discussing these concerns is key to inspiring change and progress.
At a higher level a neighborhood association can offer a democratic platform for voicing concerns. It can also be a tool to serving those in need and making improvements that improve vibrancy and quality of life. There are also other model programs that help with incremental, full-scale neighborhood revitalization, like the Pennsylvania Downtown Center's "Elm Street" program. I am sure we will dive deeper in to some of the strategies later, but for now just realize that it only takes your action to become involved in neighborhood concerns.
Downtown places truly belong to everyone. Because they have been the center of community life for so long, they transcend time and have a unique character in every town. In each generation, lots of people have made downtown business and interaction part of their lives, while leaving something behind for posterity. Maybe they left a historic building in great condition, helped hang the annual Christmas lights, or still bear the brunt of a funny story that happened downtown. Every town has its own unique set of characters.
History is important, but please realize you are also a part of it today. What can you do to play a role in your downtown and leave something positive behind for the next generation? What you leave is up to you, but figuring it out is an exercise we can make together.
If you are not already involved in your downtown’s life and ongoing sustainable development, take a moment to list out the things you love the most about it. What are your earliest/fondest memories of life (in any) downtown? Is it the memories of shopping with your mother for school shoes, taking your child for their first haircut, or the restaurant that is still the community's hitching post?
It is my opinion that we are moving into a time of rebirth in our traditional downtown Main Street districts. With the loss of The Greatest Generation we also witnessed the near death of our downtown Main Street districts. Now along with an aging group of Baby Boomers, the future belongs to Gen X'ers (like me) and the much larger Millennial generation.
Through the currents of Main Street America, we are seeing a reinvention of downtown as a place for people to be together again. The idea of Placemaking developed by the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) has been able to put a new spin on time tested principles. Even many Baby Boomers are seeing downtown living as an attractive option. So, how can you be a part of those things in your community today?
Under the surface, in your community, there is a greener paradigm waiting to be discovered and we all play a part. Together we can all live fuller lives today and leave a better world to our children. At the root of a green heart town we just need to realize that we are the common thread holding it all together. Get some ideas and make a plan for improving your home, neighborhood, and downtown. With a little effort, others will notice and you will inspire progress before you know it.
Next time I want to share an interactive method of planning called a charrette.
- What do you think about the idea we connected to all 3 realms (home, neighborhood & downtown)? Can you think of any others?
- Do you think this holistic approach is the best way to make the biggest impact for your community, or should we spend the majority of our time dedicated to the part(s) we love most?