Visioning to turn ideas into goals
- Published: December 10, 2009
The second stage of the community visioning process kicks off this Saturday morning, Dec. 12, at 10 a.m. in the Yellow Springs High School gym, and it is not a meeting to miss, according to organizers. The 855 ideas generated by community members in the first round of public workshops stand sorted into 14 topic categories. Now, villagers and Miami Township residents are invited to help discern goals from these raw ideas that everyone can agree to move forward with.
According to ACP, the consulting group chosen by Council to lead the Share Your Dreams, Build a Vision, Shape Our Future community visioning process, participants will work these 14 resonant ideas into draft goal statements. These goals will then drive the strategic planning that will result in actionable items for Yellow Springs and Miami Township.
“Within each topic area is commonality,” said ACP project lead Jamie Greene in a recent phone interview. “We’re looking for the recurring ideas that people have consistently raised.”
The community mapping project that was part of the first round of visioning also revealed recurring ideas about places in the village that residents felt were strong, and places they felt were weak.
“What we have done is taken all of the ideas into an organizational framework,” Greene said of ACP’s role in identifying the 14 categories and the range of themes within them. Now, the community can work to articulate “higher level, aspirational goals.”
The upcoming meeting marks a turning point, according to Greene, who said the community no longer has a blank slate before them. Now, participants will be more reactive by working with the ideas of the first session in “a more substantive process.”
As co-chair of the visioning steering committee, Fred Bartenstein knows that many ideas will be put aside in order to move forward.
“Don’t expect it to be a winners and losers, or a choosing of sides,” he said. “Look for this to be about coming together to move forward on the items of the agenda we do agree upon.”
From ideas to goals
The first stage of the visioning process consisted of four public workshops held in October. Participants broke into small groups to discuss the question: “What is needed for Yellow Springs and Miami Township to be the best that it can be?”
ACP put the 855 ideas generated through a sieve, Greene said, and organized the responses into 14 categories: Antioch, Arts & Culture, Community Facilities & Services, Economic Health, Education/Schools, Housing, Identity, Infrastructure, Land Use/Development, Leadership & Collaboration, Localism/Energy/Sustainability, Natural Places/Resources, People/Diversity, and Place.
Villagers suggested the highest number of ideas in the category of Economic Health. The themes included the need to encourage new business development and employment opportunities, the need for living wage jobs and an adequate tax base, and fostering innovation and new industries. Also suggested by participants was the need to attract more visitors.
The Place category represented 103 responses, such as more lodging for visitors, more entertainment, recreation, and shopping opportunities for essential services. The place category also included the need for more attractive entrances to the village, more gathering spaces, public plazas and parks, and the importance of a vital downtown.
Housing, a category with 60 ideas, includes the importance of affordability, centrally located housing, options for families and seniors, and cooperative living arrangements.
As part of a community mapping project during the public workshops, participants were also asked to describe characteristics of weak and strong places and then identify those spots in the village and the township. Participants labeled natural resources, recreation and spiritual spaces, amenities, economic engines, and “small/local/unique/creative” attractions as strong places, while unattractive, underutilized, neglected areas with uncertain futures or environmental degradation were labeled as weak.
The mapping resulted in eight areas of collective emphasis. Both gateways to the village, Dayton-Yellow Springs Road at the western edge and Route 68 to the south, are clear areas of concern. Glen Helen, John Bryan, and Clifton Gorge are identified as strong places, as is much of the downtown area. Antioch College is peppered with both strong and weak dots, and the village of Clifton has a slight concentration of weak dots.
Bartenstein stressed that the ideas in each category are examples. Community participation is very important at the second stage in order for the visioning process to come to the universal community vision that all can support, whether rich, poor, young, or old, he said.
The Dec. 12 meeting will include an overview of what was learned in the first stage, and then two breakout discussion sessions, where participants will work together to form a goal statement for two categories.
After the Dec. 12 meeting, the steering committee will play a greatly increased role as the project shifts into a strategic planning phase. That phase will take the community’s general agreement, as articulated at the Dec. 12 meeting, and “infuse it with technical information and research in order to make specific recommendations,” Greene said.
“This effort needs to lead to implementation — it is not just process for process’ sake.”
ACP has been conducting background research, Greene said, much of which legitimizes the demographic trends the community perceives, he said. This research will help the steering committee to form actionable steps from the community’s ideas.
With 241 community workshop participants, 52 small group participants, and nine e-mail and letter submissions, the first round of the visioning process is considered a success by organizers. However, both African American participants and those below 40 years of age were significantly under-represented, according to the documents available for download at www.yso.com.
While approximately 15 percent of Yellow Springs residents are Black or African American, only 24 participants were African American, representing just 4 percent of those participating in the first round of visioning.
Likewise, those under 40 were also under-represented in the public workshops. There were eight participants in the age bracket of 20 to 39 years, and another eight participants who were under 20 years of age, according to exit surveys.
A full 83 percent of participants reside in Yellow Springs, 15 percent of participants said they live in Miami Township, and another 2 percent listed “other” as their place of residence. Thirty-nine percent of attendees said they own a business or work in Yellow Springs.
“We had a very positive input, both in quality and in quantity, in earlier meetings,” Greene said, “but that is really just the start of the process.”
When asked how the Yellow Springs and Miami Township community is similar or different than other communities he has worked with, Greene didn’t hesitate to comment on the talent and the passion local community members bring to the table.
This group has “strong opinions and the capacity to articulate them,” he said, much like other college towns he has worked with. But not all communities have the level of intensity he sees here.
“People are passionate and protective of this place, and they should be because it is unique in positive ways,” he said.
But the visioning process can only reach its fullest potential when people trust each other, a trend he said data suggests participants are intent on seeing through.
“This is a great civic effort,” he said.