When I Grow Up I Want To Be…

Developing a vision for a community is a lot like dreaming about what we want to be when we grow up. We look to role models, we research what it takes to get to  a desired career and then we work at it- for years. Along the way, we tweak our path based on what we learn or what conditions change in our lives. That’s ok. But there is generally a goal- a desired outcome that fulfills a dream. Our identities are formed.

The path is long, painful at times, filled with arguments with parents and others who think you should do something else. But you push ahead because you are determined to reach your goals. There is no easy way out in this scenario. Some get very lucky and win the lottery- very few cross the finish line with this experience. Others try quick fixes and end up in jail. Then there are those that just coast, never really reaching any desired point because the work seems too hard.

Bringing back a city that has had a declining economy for decades is a very similar experience. However, it is harder because the vision is a collective vision. The leadership has to be committed to push forward collectively, accepting small victories at times, knowing that ultimately each small step builds momentum towards a bigger one.

About a year ago I began a list of 365 things I love about Springfield. I made some progress on this and I could continue the list. But I reflected today on why it is important to have such a list. In my vision for Springfield, each of the places I highlighted are things that I would look for in any city I live in. We need parks and food and ethnic treats. We need people who think outside the box and expose us to arts and technology.

One of the first things I learned as a planner was that cities steal ideas from other cities. Why not? If it works for one, why not emulate a cool idea with your own local twist? We do this in our society on a daily basis in many aspects of our lives.

Which cities does Springfield emulate? What have you seen in other places that you wish were here? If we dig in and fight for a new identity, what is it? Does anyone emulate us? Don’t we want them to?

I was recently at a meeting concerning our public libraries. Great questions were being asked and ideas were floating- but the vision for the libraries was isolated without connection to a larger context of the City’s broader identity. We know what we don’t want to be. I hear it at every meeting- we don’t want to be poor, uneducated or violent. ok- agreed.

But what do we WANT to be? Have we gotten so bogged down in fighting against who we are that we stopped dreaming about what we can be? Our neighborhood commercial districts are dying- shouldn’t we talk about this? Our absentee landlord problem is crowding out a conversation about what good mixed use housing looks like. Our neighborhoods don’t effectively organize anymore- and they need to.

So I will change gears over the next few months and highlight ideas that have taken hold in other cities. Ideas that have traction and are part of a larger collective vision for a city- part of its identity. If anyone has any ideas- let me know! I am happy to showcase any ideas. But I challenge you to think about an idea in a larger context. What is the bigger picture- the bigger impact? A vision cannot be an “if” statement. It has to be an “if/then” statement.

Detroit’s entire community is working hard on its vision for a gardening based economy- one facet of their long range planning.

Let’s go people! Why would someone vacation here and what would they “have to see or do” before they leave? Maybe they tour our amazing collection of gardens and attend master garden classes held by published local gardeners. Perhaps they attend a wellness retreat located on one of our kettle lakes and cruise art galleries and shops in Indian Orchard? Do they bike from Northampton to Springfield and stay over in our collection of sweet New England bed and breakfasts? Do they stroll up and down Main Street- any part of Main Street- to find a restaurant? Do they take pedi cabs? Do they come to downtown just to be in Springfield without having a destination in mind because there is so much arts and culture? I could go on…

Can you?

2 thoughts on “When I Grow Up I Want To Be…

  1. Paul Ganem says:

    I am not a resident of Springfield, but I was intrigued you used an example of vision building by a community organization from my hometown of Detroit. I often feel that change isn’t about projects or money or anything material really. The change has to come from within the collective hearts of community members. No amount of police presence is going to stop all crime. No amount of public works employees is going to stop all litering. But will stop most community ills is when the community decides collectively it is no longer going to tolerate poor behavior.

    • Agreed Paul. The collective hearts of the community have to be inspired. They have to know that if they dedicate time to “a new behavior” that it will be supported over the long term. It has to give a community hope, fun and connection. The spaces have to exist for robust interaction. Right now I believe they are pretty limited. This creates a space only for government and non-profits to lead the conversation and not the people. I will be sure to add “conversation changers” into my examples. Thanks!

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