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Visioning moves into action steps

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Creating affordable housing, establishing an economic development plan and creating a community health and fitness center were the three most popular action steps that arose from this year’s visioning process, according to Jamie Green of ACP Visioning+Planning in a report to Council and the Miami Township Trustees last Wednesday, June 2. The action steps, along with many others, were generated from the previous two visioning phases to help chart an intentional future for Yellow Springs and Miami Township, according to Green, who stressed the importance of animating the action steps to produce visible results in the community.

About 120 participants took part in the final phase of visioning in May to choose the five action steps they would most like to see happen in the community. In addition to the top three actions, the next three most popular actions were to increase the properties available to business in the village, revise the zoning code to support affordability and economic vitality, and prepare a utility improvement plan. Those six top action items rose above a total list of 87 that spanned a wide range of categories and which the visioning steering committee ultimately organized under four central “initiative areas,” including, in order of popularity, 1) meeting the needs of the people; 2) managing the physical environment; 3) strengthening the economy; and 4) fostering leadership and collaboration.

No matter what the results are, the most critical step now is to ensure that somehow the action items are followed up with an organized and sustained effort to achieve them, Green said.

“So what do we do now with it? Is there the interest and resources to manage what happens?” he asked. “You didn’t spend this energy and time just creating a document. You need protocols in place to keep this agenda at work.”

The 35-member visioning steering committee will consider this month the best way to manage implementation of the vision. Whether they recommend establishing a formal organization, an ad hoc committee or one person charged with holding the community accountable for follow-up, the steering committee’s goal is to articulate a structure for change. Local resident Marianne MacQueen suggested looking at other communities that have successfully implemented the goals of a visioning process. Miami Township Trustee Lamar Spracklen suggested that zoning leaders keep the visioning documents “front and center” to guide them in addressing the Village and Township land use plans and regulations.

“The difference in whether or not something happens comes down to leadership,” Green said. “The first thing is you need a clear and compelling agenda, and ours is rooted in the values of the village and the township.”

The results of the visioning process didn’t surprise Council members, most of whom felt that the process validated and “reinforced the work we’ve already begun to do,” Karen Wintrow said. Council President Judith Hempfling agreed, citing Council’s recent initiatives to establish an economic sustainability commission and assess the village’s housing stock. Several visioning participants also commented in writing during the last phase of the process that the results reflected the community’s values. One participant wrote, “Overall the aspirations reflect a desire for a sound, open, thoughtful, democratic and self-sustaining community.”

Both Hempfling and Council member Lori Askeland commented that the environmental sustainability issue that seemed to receive widespread support in the second visioning phase didn’t rise to the top as an action priority as they had expected. Several visioning participants also expressed concern about the lack of focus on energy and carbon footprint reduction strategies.

“It seems to have gotten watered down — it’s not reflected as strongly now as I think this community feels it,” Askeland said.

Hempfling noted the same reduced focus on the shrinking size of the African-American community, which she thought villagers had expressed as a priority. And several participant comments indicated a desire to focus action specifically on resurrecting Antioch College. Township Trustee Mark Crockett suggested that all the action items should be seen as important outside of their statistical prevalence.

During the meeting, local resident Craig Mesure advocated prioritizing the list of action items to keep villagers focused on achieving results for a list of five or fewer things at one time. While the top six action items were the most empirically popular, visioning participants also supported a handful of other actions within each of the four categories. Under the category “meeting the needs of the people,” for example, the top action items included not only affordable housing but also conducting a housing assessment and a racial achievement disparity study, launching a local food campaign, and creating a senior center, a fitness center, a new fire station, alternative education opportunities and an arts/culture center.

Under “managing the physical environment,” other action items included revising the zoning code, developing a green energy and waste reduction plan, creating a bike/pedestrian plan, and establishing a green space task force. Under “strengthening the economy,” top action items in addition to creating an economic plan included creating a business incubator, updating the cost of living study and supporting home-based businesses. Under “fostering leadership and collaboration,” one action item not yet mentioned included supporting locally grown food.

The community began planning for a visioning process over two years ago, and the Village and Miami Township chose ACP as a consultant to design and lead a process that held its first public forum phase last October. In phase one, about 350 participants engaged in a series of small group brainstorming events to generate a list of over 800 ideas and values they have for Yellow Springs. During the second phase in December, participants used those ideas to establish goal statements, which the steering committee translated into the big list of action items, which participants then voted on in May.

According to Green, approximately one in 10 villagers participated in the visioning process, which he said is probably a national record. Many of those participants also volunteered to be part of the implementation of particular action items, which the steering committee is working to organize. The steering committee will also identify a mechanism to report to the community at regular intervals on the progress the village makes toward implementing its action items.

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