New Year’s Resolutions for Your Community—and How to Keep Them

January 6, 2015

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By Courtney Forbes

Here at the Create West Virginia office, the post-holiday lull has brought some much-needed time for reflection, planning, strategic thinking and, of course, making New Year’s resolutions.

We know, we know: “Nobody ever keeps their New Year’s resolutions!”

Maybe that’s true of the resolutions we make for ourselves, but, having witnessed some incredible community-led transformations over the past decade, how can we not believe in the power of an idea to help a town or city make a fresh start?

And that’s what the New Year is about, isn’t it? A chance to start doing new things, or at least do old things better.

Regardless of your personal goals, here are six resolutions that could help your community become more welcoming, creative and economically vibrant in the New Year, as well as a few concrete action steps you can take toward keeping each resolution.

1. Work Together

As we visit communities around West Virginia, it seems like collaboration is the biggest shared factor among places that are defying the odds. Community development takes time, people, money and ideas—it’s only natural that more gets done when resources are shared instead of siloed.

One example is the 12:30 Room Community Action Group in Fairmont. Each Thursday at 12:30 p.m., community members can attend an open meeting to discuss and implement programs, projects and ideas. It’s open to anyone and includes both an idea-sharing session and work time for breakout groups, so work actually gets done. This past year, a homeless person from the community approached the group about a project to help Fairmont’s homeless population and was able to execute the project with encouragement and support from the community as a whole.

Another poster child for collaboration is the Princeton Renaissance Project, an outgrowth of the Blueprint Communities Program, which brings together representatives from Princeton’s city government, artist community, chamber of commerce, local media, New River Community and Technical College and local nonprofits. Their collaborative work has resulted in a number of successful revitalization projects in downtown Princeton, including the restoration of a historic theater, multiple wall mural projects and several major events like CultureFest.

How to Keep It: Think about your role and how it fits into the bigger picture of community development. Make a date to have lunch with one or two people in your community from different parts of that picture, like representatives from city government; other community-minded groups like the CVB, chamber of commerce, local rotary or Lions club or leadership from local education institutions, and talk about how your organizations might work collaboratively on projects to improve your community. Then set another lunch date, and keep the conversation going.

2. Establish Co-Working Spaces

What’s co-working space? While there are endless variations in execution, co-working space is essentially a third place where folks can come to work, individually or collaboratively, and make use of shared technology. Think of the coffee shop where you drop in to send a few quick emails between meetings but don’t have to buy an overpriced drink to use the Wi-Fi.

Variations on co-working spaces include business incubators, which provide shared technology and resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses, and technology incubators, like South Charleston’s ChemCeption, which provides assistance to innovators and inventors looking to bring new concepts and products to market.

Regardless of their focus, the real magic of co-working spaces lies in the opportunities for networking and resource-sharing they create. In Charleston’s DigiSo, located at the West Virginia State University Economic Development Center, such serendipitous hallway conversations led to the formation of Agile Ag, a new organization that focuses on applying leading-edge technologies to problems in agriculture. When like-minded people have a space to share ideas and the resources to make those ideas a reality, the possibilities are limitless.

How to Keep It: Visit a co-working center and see the magic for yourself. Take your laptop, and work there for a day. Write down things you see that could be implemented in your town, and remember that it’s OK to start small. A venue that’s open to the public and has Wi-Fi and a printer is a great start.

3. Support Public Art

Public art projects have a unique ability to unite disparate groups within a community by expressing common themes and values in a visual and concrete way. Every community has artists, and most have public spaces that would benefit from beautification through local art.

How to Keep It: Set up a meeting with one or two artists in your community or representatives from a collective, if there is one. Ask for their ideas on how the community’s history and values could be expressed through public art. Then, work with them to pull in other interested citizens, and make it happen.

4. Start ‘Em Young—Entrepreneurs, That Is

Entrepreneurship education has become a buzzword in West Virginia over the past year, and groups like Inspiring West Virginia and Lemonade Day have been working hard to make it a reality.

It’s no secret that any investment we make in education is an investment in the future. If we want West Virginia’s communities to be teeming with vibrant local businesses in 10 or 20 years, we need to be encouraging entrepreneurship among our young people right now. And, if we want young West Virginians to invest in their communities instead of seeking opportunities elsewhere, we need to teach them how to use their skills and passions to contribute to their local economies.

How to Keep It: Gene Coulson, executive director of the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education, has called for entrepreneurship education for every student, every year. Meet with your local schoolboard and talk about small but concrete strategies for introducing entrepreneurship education into the curriculum. For instance, include entrepreneurs in a primary unit on community workers or assign middle grade students cross-curricular projects that involve business planning, marketing, accounting and other aspects of entrepreneurship.

5. Beg, Borrow and Steal

Earlier this year, we asked a member of Create Buckhannon where they got all their fantastic ideas, like generating professionally designed historical markers for individuals and groups within the community and establishing Little Free Libraries, which are exactly what they sound like: miniature libraries placed around the community that anyone can lend to and borrow from at any time. Their answer, paraphrased: “We steal most of them.”

This is one time when it’s 100 percent right and good to blatantly steal other people’s ideas. We promise the community development plagiarism police aren’t going to come knocking at your door. If you’re at a loss for cool project ideas for your community, a great place to start is looking at what other cool communities are doing.

We’re not saying you should copy other communities’ projects to the letter. You might take a look at what another place is doing and then apply your town’s unique flavor to it or combine parts of several other projects to develop a plan that’s perfect for your community. Either way, observation often plants the seeds of innovation, so keep your eyes open.

How to Keep It: Take a day or weekend trip to a “cool place” once a month. Write down five concrete details that make the place seem vibrant, interesting or innovative. Take the list back home, and think about what it would take to apply those ideas in your community.

What other ideas do you have for making West Virginia’s communities a better place in 2015?

 

About the Author

Screen Shot 2015-01#1A7A8F7Courtney Forbes is a native Charlestonian who recently moved back to the state after attending college in Washington, D.C. and working as an elementary school teacher in St. Louis, MO. She is passionate about community and economic development and is currently serving as program manager for Create West Virginia.

Special thanks to the Princeton Renaissance Project’s Lori McKinney for contributing to the brainstorming behind this article.

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