'What does a city need in order to thrive instead of languish?'

A graphic interpretation of Bill Taynor's talk drawn by an anonymous attendee at the FutureHeights 2015 Annual Meeting.

At the 2015 FutureHeights annual meeting in April, we asked our keynote speaker, Bill Traynor, this question because at FutureHeights we are committed to building a vibrant and sustainable future for the Heights, and we are launching our new community-building program.

Traynor’s answer was simple and intuitive. He said that the first step is to acknowledge that everyone in our community is interconnected and choose to do something about it. Whether we want to be or not, we are all part of this place we call the Heights. We can either choose to build on our connections or try to ignore them and pretend that we are separate and different.

“Local communities today are complex ecosystems,” said Traynor, “and the capacity for reinvention and resilience can only happen when thousands of people start interacting in new ways, with the entrepreneurial energy to take risks, build new relationships, ask better questions, give of their time and resources and, ultimately, have enough fun and see enough progress to stay in the game.” 

Traynor was born in Lawrence, Mass., a struggling post-industrial city near Boston. Through his experience with Lawrence Community Works, a nonprofit he headed for 11 years, he learned that what his community needed most was to create diverse networks of people who could work together to build on the skills, talents and aspirations they already had.

Traynor came to feel that many public meetings and gatherings—which he thinks of as “community rooms”—are boring, hostile, and sap the energy of those who attend.

“People are, by and large, not apathetic. They are discerning,” Traynor remarked. “And thousands of people in Lawrence were discerning—correctly—that these ‘community rooms’ were not worth their time.” He envisioned instead “rooms” that would function like a marketplace where people could bring things to share with one another and where they would make exchanges that would be mutually beneficial.

“We needed time to have fun, connect, exchange and explore the kinds of change that we were willing to work together on,” said Traynor. “We felt that if we could shape and sustain enough of these ‘rooms,’ we could mobilize the kind of energy, value, talent and time that the city needed to thrive.”

On May 3, the inaugural class of Heights community builders will meet for the first of four workshops that will hone their skills on engaging neighbors, leveraging community resources, analyzing neighborhood data, and formulating neighborhood action plans.

The workshop series is part of FutureHeights’s new Community Capacity-Building Program, which will also include topic-specific sessions open to all residents. They will create a focused “room” where we can gather to learn about a topic and exchange ideas. The first of those sessions, which will focus on crime, will take place June 9.

FutureHeights will also provide one-on-one coaching for neighborhood leaders, and a mini-grants program to help fund neighborhood-specific projects.

We hope you will find the “rooms” that we create rewarding, and we and look forward to your participation. To find out more, visit www.futureheights.org, call 216-320-1423 or e-mail info@futureheights.org.

Deanna Bremer Fisher

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.

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Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 1:25 PM, 05.01.2015