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30 Jan 13

"How To Create Engaging Public Spaces
By Cat Johnson
01.30.13, 7:12am Comments (0)

Creative Commons photo by mikebaird

The idea behind creating a public space is not just to build a nice-looking addition to a town, but to create a space that people actually use. A plaza with no one in it is just an empty space. Creating a space that successfully engages people is an artform and a science that relies on the input of the community, the testing of ideas, sharp observation and detailed planning.

A few years ago, the Project for Public Spaces looked at 40 years of research and published the report, Eleven Principles for Turning Public Spaces into Civic Places. Recently, On The Commons republished the key points from the report, rekindling the conversation. Below is an overview of the 11 principles.

1. The Community is the Expert
The space is for the community. Community members should be involved with the planning from the beginning.

2. You are creating a place, not just a design
Aesthetics aside, the space has to be useable above all.

3. You can’t do it alone
No one can create a successful space without input from other people and organizations.

4. They always say, “It can’t be done.”
Naysayers are gonna naysay and bureaucracy is a slow-moving machine. Stay the course.

5. You can see a lot just by observing
Watching people use a space can reveal a lot about what they use, want and need.

6. Develop a vision
What is the intended use for the space, as it applies to the community? This should be clear from the start.

7. Form supports function
The form of the space should follow and strengthen the vision for its use.

8. Triangulate
Position like things near each other and near well-matched, surrounding businesses: kid-friendly stuff near kid-friendly businesses, transportation points efficiently placed, food vendors in logical places etc. Doing so increases engagement and interaction.

9. Start with the petunias
Start small. Great ideas often get lost in planning. Small steps can help determine future plans and signal the community that their space is important.

10. Money is not the issue
Small-scale projects that involve the community can be more engaging than large-scale projects that have a top-down feel to them.

11. You are never finished
A great public space grows and changes with the community and its needs. An open approach to management of the space ensures that the people who use it continue to determine how it is used."

03 Nov 12

"Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world."

06 Oct 12

"Imagine living in a country where having the freedom to cultivate your own land, tax-free and without government interference, is not only common but also encouraged for the purpose of promoting individual sovereignty and strong, healthy communities. Now imagine that in this same country, nearly all of your neighbors also cultivate their own land as part of a vast network of decentralized, self-sustaining, independent "eco-villages" that produce more than enough food to feed the entire country.

You might be thinking this sounds like some kind of utopian interpretation of historical America, but the country actually being described here is modern-day Russia. It turns out that Russia's current agricultural model is one that thrives as a result of the millions of small-scale, family-owned and -operated, organically-cultivated farms that together produce the vast majority of the food consumed throughout the country. "

12 Sep 12

Now in the last several months friends have introduced me to how very large and rapidly growing the maker movement is.  I find myself surprised at how sophisticated and well developed a subculture it is, with its own MAKE magazine, online design-sharing sites, hundreds of physical "hackerspaces" with publicly usable 3D printers (I even discovered one in my medium-sized hometown), and "Maker Faires" attracting tens of thousands of people to learn how to make everything from trousers to a circuit board that enables your houseplants to send you a text message that it needs watering.  

05 Sep 12

"Pineland Center in New Gloucester, Maine was established in 1908 to serve as a home for the mentally handicapped of Maine. At the time of its official closing in 1996, Pineland consisted of a 28-building campus and 1600-plus acres. A large part of the acreage consisted of farmland which had at one time been cultivated to sustain the needs of the Center's staff and residents.

Through its real estate branch, October Corporation, the Libra Foundation of Portland, Maine purchased the Pineland campus and approximately 900 acres of farmland in June 2000. Since that time, extensive renovation, new construction and additional land purchases have brought both the campus and the farms back to life. The Pineland property now encompasses a 19-building campus and 5,000 acres of farmland.

The Foundation's vision for the campus is to create a unique community by attracting a variety of non-profit and for-profit businesses, organizations and services to lease space in the buildings. Tenants enjoy amenities on the campus such as a conference center, cafeteria and YMCA, as well as access to the farm programs and facilities.

The farms have been developed as a self-sustaining nonprofit organization known as Pineland Farms, Inc. In addition to the fully operational farm, Pineland Farms offers public educational programming, outdoor recreational activities and a world-class equestrian center. Produce from Pineland Farms, such as eggs and vegetables, supply The Market."

03 Sep 12

"Here's our theory of change. To be competitive in today's economy, any region needs to start with 21st-century brainpower. Next, the region needs to convert this brainpower in the wealth through support networks for entrepreneurs and innovative companies. Because both talented people and innovative companies are mobile, regions must focus on physical development and building quality, connected places. 
To provide a sense of coherence and direction to their strategy, regional leaders need strong new narratives that point to the future. Finally, designing and executing a regional strategy is tricky. It starts with a deeply engaged core team and spreads to a far wider network of civic leaders. Fundamentally, effective regional strategy requires broadly distributed leadership skills in complex collaboration and  new civic disciplines of collaboration.
This framework provides a “base map” on which any region can map its strategy. The base map helps regional leaders identify assets and explore both connections and gaps. It provides an inclusive, common sense starting point for strategy development. "

01 Sep 12

"Despite the fact that many of the services (roads, schools, etc.) provided by local governments are often worth the expense (if they aren’t providing good value for the expense, you should move), the fact that our communities don’t also generate us an income seems like a design failure.

Strangely, income is something almost everyone seems to leave out of their plans for community resilience, despite how important it is in all of our lives.   I hope people rethink this assumption before D2 (the second, and much greater, economic depression) resumes its march.

NOTE:  When will D2 kick in?  2013 might be the year that the global economy starts to slide backwards again.  The warning signs in China (a fall off in industrial energy use, massive stockpiles of unsold goods, etc.) point to a BIG fall off next year.

How to generate an income as a community

Here are three smart methods to get you thinking in the right direction (I’ll elaborate on these methods more in a future report):

Take the Johnny Appleseed approach.  Get a productive business started and set up a community co-op to manage the costs and the benefits.  If you don’t know, Johnny Appleseed was a classical Yankee entrepreneur (which is very different than the financialized poseurs we have today).  He started hundreds orchard community co-ops.
Build a community around a working farm.  My friend Simon Black is building a resilient community in Chile from scratch, that I’m advising him on.  Every plot in this Chilean community is part owner of the farm it is built around.  This resilient community is being built to bounce back from a hard (economic and infrastructure) collapse in the northern hemisphere.   If you want to get more information on this community, you can sign up here.
Make it a community service.  Use vacant public land and underutilized facilities to build services that reduce expenses for community residents.  For example, the town of Totnes (in the UK) planted 186 nut trees around the town to provide an extra source of food for residents.  For more, see this video on the project."

31 Aug 12

"Apart from its policemen and firemen—which, under Georgia’s constitution, must be public workers—Sandy Springs has only seven full-time employees: a city clerk, a court clerk, a finance director and four people who work in the city manager’s office. The city manager himself works for Sandy Springs, but his spokesman—like all the communications staff—works for The Collaborative, a Boston-based public-affairs consultancy. Morgan Falls is a lovely park overlooking the Chattahoochee river; this and the other city parks are maintained by employees of Jacobs, a multinational engineering firm based in southern California. Jacobs also administers the city’s court, in which the independent judges are paid a flat hourly rate. Severn Trent Services, based in Coventry, keeps the city’s books. Four other private firms carry out most of the other city functions"

30 Aug 12

How did this toolkit come about?
This toolkit is the outcome of a three year research 
project examining resilience in a rural community. 
The study, titled ‘Identifying models of personal and 
community resilience that enhance psychological 
wellness: A Stanthorpe Study’ aimed to clarify what 
factors contribute to peoples positive adaptation to 
living in a rural community.

10 Aug 12

"Yesterday, the global coworking movement celebrated it's seventh official birthday. Less than a decade after coworking pioneer Brad Neuberg first coined the term, the concept has been duplicated, re-imagined, and expanded by creative innovators all over the world.

Since that fateful day, what started as an eight-desk, shared workspace has grown into 1,779 spaces in dozens of countries, with new communities being launched every day. It wasn't necessarily Neuberg's model of coworking that spread around the world. Rather, in the true spirit of openness and collaboration--which are foundational principals of the movement--it was the opensource concept of working independently, yet together, that sparked a global revolt against business as usual."

10 Aug 12

"But in a shift that has been both celebrated and parodied, Brooklyn is increasingly retaining some of its remaining industrial spaces for small-scale, small-batch manufacturing.

A surge of young entrepreneurs eager to produce $7 chocolate bars made from hand-roasted and hand-ground cocoa, or build theater and movie sets or fashion high-end furniture for a connoisseur’s market find the smaller spaces carved out of these old factories precisely what they have been looking for.

Often the rents are affordable and the entrepreneurs can commute to work by bicycle. Such businesses also operate in New York because it has a wealth of the skilled employees they need for idiosyncratic operations that often find their customer bases within the city’s borders.

“We think this is the future of urban manufacturing,” said Brian T. Coleman, chief executive of Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, a nonprofit group that has bought four weathered industrial buildings and converted them into lofts for small factories housing 110 businesses with 500 employees."

10 Aug 12

"In Omaha, co-working spaces advertise on the street to those looking for a place to join others as they work outside of the established system of jobs and employment. Entrepreneurs like a place with a density and proximity of entrepreneurial communities. In some locations, entrepreneurs literally bump into each other in the street. In other locations, the event scene provides multiple opportunities to meet and network with other entrepreneurs. 
A sense of affiliation is important. Places where starting a business is the norm create a strong sense of community, identity, and purpose. And, entrepreneurs are very aware that it takes generations who succeed and fail, and who reinvest in their local ecosystem to build the appropriate culture. "

02 Aug 12

"Coworking spaces are a really cool option for a lot of workers that, for whatever reason, don't really fit in to a traditional office space. These workers can be startup CEOs, telecommuters, small business owners, and especially creatives in search of collaboration.

With free coffee and Internet, workspaces, and built-in community, coworking spaces provide a great place to get things done without feeling the isolation of working at home, or trying to overcome the frenetic nature of working in a coffee shop. Some coworking spaces really take things a bit higher, going way beyond the desk and outlet. Here are 20 U.S. coworking communities that offer gorgeously designed spaces in historic buildings, community events, and even office mascots."

25 Jul 12

For the Westport, Conn. library, the next step in its evolution was the creation of a maker space, open to all library patrons, located in the middle of the library. Encouraged by the success of a mini maker faire which attracted over 2,000 participants, library staff put into action a plan to embed a maker space in the library. Currently featuring maker-in-residence Joseph Schott, the space has big plans for desktop fabrication, open source hardware projects and whatever other ideas local makers may want to pursue.

Located among the stacks of books, the maker space, which is in its first month, is already home to an ambitious 3-D printing project. Along with library patrons, Schott is designing, fabricating and building two airplanes that will be displayed in the library above the maker space. Using the 3-D printer to fabricate the materials needed for the airplanes, makers are also using the space to fabricate some of the tools being used in the space. One patron recently printed a wrench.

08 Jul 12

That's why coworking spaces, especially in rural areas, are so important. Yes, as Goetz found, self-employment can revitalize and empower local economies. But who empowers and supports the self-employed? The global coworking community, that's who.

Goetz says to encourage growth, leaders should help the self-employed by organizing networking meetings and alerting them to exporting opportunities. "Economic development groups also can assist entrepreneurs with credit and grant applications," he explains.

14 May 12

Repair Cafes Counter Consumerism with Fixer Movement
By Kelly McCartney
05.14.12, 6:41am Comments (0)
All too many of us are ever-eager to upgrade to the latest and greatest whatever. Whether they be computers, washing machines, or clothes, if something goes wrong or next next arrives, we're on to the next purchase.

Part of it, too, is that we don't actually know how to repair our stuff. And our world is set up so it's dramatically easier to cut and run than sit and fix. And so our landfills overflow with slightly damaged goods...a less-than-convenient truth that threatens our economic and environmental health.

This maybe changing. In The Netherlands, mom and former journalist Martine Postma stumbled onto an idea that tacks the word "repair" onto the familiar green mantra, "reduce, re-use, recycle". The result is community-based Repair Cafes where folks come together to fix their broken items. What started as a few neighbors in Amsterdam helping each other out has, two years later, become a much bigger deal with 30 groups springing up around the country.

Young girls mend items at a Repair Cafe, proving that anyone and everyone can participate. Photo credit: Repair Cafe. 

To support the regular gatherings, the Repair Cafe Foundation was established and has raised around $525,000 from the Dutch government, foundations, and individual donors. That sum covers the Foundation's staffing, marketing, and a mobile Repair Cafe. As Postma surmised, “Sustainability discussions are often about ideals, about what could be. After a certain number of workshops on how to grow your own mushrooms, people get tired. This is very hands on, very concrete. It’s about doing something together, in the here and now.”

Cradle-to-cradle architect William McDonough, whose work also inspired Postma, observed, “What happened with planned obsolescence is that it became mindless — just throw it away and don’t think about it. The value of the Repair Cafe is that people are going back into a relationship with the material things around them.”

13 May 12

A new brand of DIY self-sufficiency is spreading across The Netherlands. Skilled craftswomen, mechanics, seamstresses, and handypersons are banding together to resist disposable consumer culture. It is the rise of the Repair Cafe, a place where neighbors get together to extend the life of their material belongings. “Fixers” mend clothes, restore furniture, rehabilitate electrical appliances, and enjoy each other’s company while industriously toiling away. The first cafe was founded by Martine Postma in Amsterdam in October of 2009. Today, there are 20 fully operational Repair Cafes, and 50 more in the planning stages.

05 May 12

In a globally connected world, isolation is a choice. If you want to face the turbulence ahead by yourself, go ahead. But that's probably not your best option.
You always have the opportunity to connect. The choice doesn’t disappear. 
To build networks, close triangles. You know George and you know Nancy, but they do not know each other. Introduce them with a short e-mail. 
Closing triangles is a powerful routine to strengthen a community or region. If you closed five triangles a month, you would close 60 a year. If a 100 people in your community followed your lead, you would have 6,000 new connections in a year. 
Open, loosely connected networks can be guided strategically. That’s how open source software development works. 
Strategic Doing is a simple discipline to form complex collaborations, manage them toward measurable outcomes, and adjust along the way.
Strategic Doing generates “link and leverage” collaborations across organizational and political boundaries.
With Strategic Doing, we follow simple rules to link, leverage and align our assets, so we can do far more with what we have. 
Strategic Doing teaches you how to build complex collaborations quickly and keep them on track with measurable outcomes.
Traditional approaches to strategy -- strategic planning -- can be made more agile by combining these approaches with Strategic Doing. We are not living in an “either/or” world anymore.  If you are stuck, try “both/and”. 
Strategic planning has difficulty keeping up with the pace of change we face. We need to do our strategic thinking differently. 
In a complex world, our strategy is emergent. We learn and shape our strategy as we do. 
With collaboration, the soft stuff is the hard stuff. We need simple rules to deal with the hard stuff.
Strategic Doing takes time to develop. It involves building new, collective habits of thinking and doing. Remember how hard it is for you to form a new habit. Now multiply that by dozens of people. 
The core skill of authentic connection is the ability to listen. Strategic Doing starts by listening to each other and learning what assets we have to share. 
Opportunities are defined by shared value. Through collaboration, we can create something that individually we cannot create on our own. It’s the 1 + 1 =3 (or 5 or 10). 
Most people underestimate the challenge of collaboration. It’s an on-going commitment to transparency, authenticity, deep thinking and action. 
Collaboration is more than exchanging e-mails. It's more than facial recognition. 
Fear undercuts our capacity to connect. The reality is that we are driving down a foggy road at 60 miles an hour looking for the next curve. No one can predict what lies ahead. Fear is a reasonable emotion under our circumstances, but it doesn’t help us much.
The purpose of talking about our fears is to shrink them to a manageable size. Then we can move ahead. 
Soreheads pull things apart. It's relatively easy to do. Not much brainpower is required. 
Regional development poses the most complex collaboration challenges we face in our economy. Consider the difficulties. We are addressing highly complex challenges in an open network. Nobody can tell anyone else what to do. We normally do not have a strong history of working together. Standard rules fair dealing do not necessarily apply. We may not know whom to trust. Our skill levels vary, and we each carry some emotional baggage that influences what we see and hear. Is it any wonder that regions have difficulty coming together?
Sustainability, adaptation and resilience are closely connected ideas. By building trusted networks in our regions, we are expanding our collective capacity to adjust to the next big shock that’s coming. 
The core question of civic leadership is simple: What kind of place do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?
Strengthening our linkages among us is our best approach to deal with uncertainty. It's not a new idea. That's why we buy insurance.
Strategic Doing guides conversations. It is not "top down" or "bottom up", because we are dealing with networks, and there are no tops or bottoms to a network. We are combining open participation with leadership guidance. 
For too long, we have treated civility as an adornment to our democracy. Far from it. If we do not follow some basic rules of civility, we cannot do the complex thinking together that our democracy commands.
Strategy answers two questions: Where are we going? and How will we get there? Strategic Doing answers these 2 questions by breaking them apart into even simpler steps. 
When people start to think regionally, they often worry too much about protecting their boundaries. Regional strategies don't work if too many people fall into this trap. Regional strategies work best when we connect our core strengths across organizational and political lines.
Build your region out from a core of “a willing network”. Worry less about boundaries. As you strengthen the cores of your region -- and connect them -- your boundaries will expand. 
The first distance we have to travel to build regional collaboration is not very far. It's the distance between our ears. 
Exploring our assets begins a collaboration. We need to find opportunities for mutual benefit. These opportunities arise when we take our shared assets and connect them in new and different ways.
Enduring collaborations are forged by the hard work of defining measurable outcomes and then moving these outcomes into action with simple steps, simple commitments. 
Visions can work to align and guide an organization. Yet, they do not work all that well in open, loosely connected networks, where no one can tell anyone else what to do. People in our networks are practical. They need clear outcomes if they are going to commit their time and resources. Vision statements often do not provide that clarity.
Within a network, translating a vision or an opportunity into an outcome involves deep thinking about what success should look like. We're trying to describe a complex, multidimensional reality somewhere in the future. It's not easy.  
To move people in a network, they need to see pragmatic, measurable outcomes in their own mind's eye. It's only then that they trust the words enough to decide whether they will take action.
Strategic Doing is a process of fast cycle experimentation to figure out what works.
We need to transform our regional economies to meet the new realities of global competition and environmental sustainability. On top of that, our economy is aging, and that trend creates its own set of challenges.
These challenges are unprecedented in our lifetime. If we rely on the same old patterns of thinking and doing, we are driving into the future looking in the rearview mirror.
Our private foundations represent one of the major competitive assets of our economy. Yet, they have been curiously ineffective in their investment strategies for regional development. It's ironic, but foundations may not be our fastest learners. 
The federal government has been hobbled by silo thinking, a legacy of our industrial economy. Among federal agencies, the level of sophisticated collaboration is slow to develop. This is odd. Collaboration at the federal level should be quick to form. After all, federal workers only have to walk across the street to meet. In our regions, civic leaders often have to drive for hours.
Officials in the federal government often come to our regions with good intentions. Typically, they drop a load of tools on the table, expecting us to collaborate. What they don't understand is that their tools are not up to the task. Think of it this way. We are working on electronic transmissions, and they are handing us rusty pliers. It's nobody's fault. Most federal programs were designed 30, 40 or 50 years ago, and they were not designed to work together. Today, we need different policies, not old policies wrapped loosely together. 
Strategies in complex, evolving regional economies emerge as we translate ideas in action and learn what works. Strategic Doing produces agile strategies that enable us to “run to daylight”. 
We each have networks we can mobilize. These networks vary in size, but let's assume an average of 50 people in a personal network. That means when we come together in a small group, we can  have an impact far greater than what we see. We are really designing strategies for a network 50 times the size of the people in the room.
Regional development practitioners have a lot in common with molecular biologists. We're both trying to define complex networks we cannot see.
We are moving away from the economy in which business and civic organizations operated hierarchically.  These hierarchies work well to manage stable routines in stable times. But hierarchies do not learn or adjust quickly. They cannot keep up with the rate of change we face today.
A new economy based on networks is emerging. Our children and grandchildren will inherit this economy. How much of our left-over junk are they going to have to deal with?
Embarking on the journey of Strategic Doing does not mean starting over. Strategic Doing takes a region's current strategic thinking and moves it to the next level. How? By translating ideas into action quickly so we can learn what works.
We can measure the capacity of our network to do complex work by the number of trusted relationships in the network.
In the network world, metrics play a different role. Traditionally, metrics focused on control. Are our subordinates following our plan? In the network world, metrics play a new role. They speed our learning. In fact, we cannot learn much without them.
In the industrial world, to develop speed you go fast. In the network world, to develop speed, you need to go slowly at first to accelerate later. Intentionally building trusting relationships takes time. As a trusted network develops, you end up going faster than you ever thought possible.

04 May 12

SPARK design space presents Designers and Farmers at the DesignMarch 2012.

The Designers and Farmers Project is a pioneering project where two professions are led together to create a unique product. The project’s main objective is to develop regional foods based on highest quality, traceability and cultural relevance. The novelty of the project comes from the collaboration of one of the oldest profession in Iceland, farming, with one of the youngest, product design. The aim is to add value to the farmers´ raw material by means of good design and product development

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