Home > Editorial > So, You Want To Advocate For Your City?

So, You Want To Advocate For Your City?

Anniversary Ramble

It’s been 365 days since MyWHaT launched. So what.

Really, so what. It’s just a year; it’s just a website. It’s nothing without a community. More importantly, it’s nothing without a community that shares ideas, values and visions.

Luckily, on a fairly safe hunch, that’s what I’ve found. There’s a group of people who want to be connected; that want to change our world.  And, they are super smart.

Since the MyWHaT audience has grown beyond its regional borders, I need to point out that some of us are local and some of us are elsewhere; inter-regional collaboration is a bonus of our times. It’s foolish to dismiss ideas because they weren’t formulated locally, yet that doesn’t stop people from the practice. The smart ones, all of you, contextualize great ideas into your own reality.

This self-defining tribe we’ve plugged into consists of solution orientated, people orientated and publicly orientated neighbors and friends that want to engage and contribute, if only what it was they were contributing to more reflected their values. I often argue, it’s not the amount of taxes I pay that is the problem, it’s what is done with that money that is the problem. For example, I’m not against funding road commissions, but this past fall the County Road Commission did nothing to convince me that the millage they were requesting would do anything but support the status-quo of the last 50 years.

For thinking like that, I’m a NIMBY; I prefer to be a YIMBY.

I’ve tried to strike a balance last year between speaking to a generalized audience and to the tribe (you know who you are). This post is more directed at the tribe as it’s tribes that can change the world. We can work on the world too, however, many of us simply want to change our small part of it. We are a tribe that isn’t seeking power. Rather we seek collaboration, spontaneity, social interaction and resilient/active communities. There are more people in this tribe than I realized when I started. Many are observers, many others have their own BLOGS, sit on boards and commissions, write emails, donate time and money, help neighbors, clean-up trash, dream. It’s endless.

So, Now What?

When like-minded people connect in an open discussion, not always agreeing, but always growing and developing together, they go from being ordinary to being extraordinary. We are on the edge of extraordinary. Locally, that means more and more new people are becoming involved. MyWHaT isn’t a lead in that, it is simply an expression of that energy.

Over the past year, many readers of MyWHaT have expressed an interest in becoming “more involved” and have asked how they can do it. This will mean different things to different people. Community engagement is a topic I want to address more of in the coming months and is the key to implementing ideas and creating great public spaces.

On this topic, I love this definition of placemaking put forth by the Project for Public Spaces:

Placemaking is a dynamic human function: it is an act of liberation, of staking claim, and of beautification; it is true human empowerment.

As we have learned, the Grand Vision was an excellent process to get the community dreaming, but the implementation has in large part reverted back to organizations doing what they’ve always done and individuals wondering what it is they can do. When we go to meetings, we still have commissioners telling the audience that they need to put their dreams on the back-burner and government staffers continuing to say “impossible” (more on that in the future).

Being engaged doesn’t need to involve endless hours of committee meetings. In fact, that is probably the least effective thing you can do-trust me. I’m not sure about other communities, but Traverse City is committee obsessed and these committees rarely have clearly stated goals. (If you do end up in a committee loop, demand that they run on time, have a stated purpose, and that everyone leaves with a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, over the course of 2010, I left many a meetings without a clue about what we accomplished–I’m learning.)

This post has gotten away from me, hence the ramble title, so the basic advice I’ll give now is this:

You Are Already Involved

How we interact with our community is an important element of “being involved” in your community. MyWHaT readers are at a distinct advantage in this regard, because many of you live your lives outside of the backyard and outside of the car. You are engaged personally & physically with your place and the people in it. The fact that you might walk to the store sets you apart from the average Jane.

When you choose to walk you are seeing the city up-close and personal. You are staking a claim to your community and, if you are like me, you get angry when see the results of poor design and lack of intent, which is all that more clear when you are traveling at 3-mph. Do you think as motorists going 30-mph we see that there is no sidewalk where there needs to be one or that there is a fire hydrant in the middle of someone’s path? Not likely, but yet we continue to elect & hire people whose experience of interaction in our community spaces is typically via an automobile. (Subtle hint: there are 3 city commission seats open this coming November. Are you on the ballot?)

What’s the natural progression from all this magnificent engagement, astute observations and interest in creating & living in a great place?

I answer with a question: what are you going to do about it?

From there, the possibilities are endless.

Happy New Year!


Your Comments Matter

Comments: we welcome your comments, please don’t be shy. The more questions, perspectives and general participation we have here the better. What’s on your mind?

  1. lcm
    January 4, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Happy Anniversary MyWAT!!! Great post, Gary. I think it’s really cool how the blog brings so many people together from all over the world with a wide range of insight- Very cool! Keep up the great work, Lee

  2. Tracey Kukla-Aleshire
    January 4, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Question for you Gary – I’m still trying to figure out how to actually get things done. Is it about navigation or forging one’s own path?

    Thank you for creating a place to share dialogue on these important issues.

  3. January 4, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I’m still trying to figure that out, too. Typically, it’s probably both. I haven’t had the time, but it’s on my “to do list” to provide more information/insight on the navigation part. It’s something I wish our local governments took more seriously, but alas, they almost operate to the opposite effect. You have to be persistent. Want to help me?

    I also want to discuss more about forging one’s own path as it’s related to DIY fixes–and I’m not even talking about radical street painting.

    I do know, Tracey, that what you’ve done with your neighborhood and Clancy Park is an extraordinary start. Sure, no major victories yet, but you’ve created a foundation. Let’s kick that up a notch in 2011.

  4. Tracey Kukla-Aleshire
    January 4, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I’m in Gary.

  5. June Thaden
    January 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Gary, excellent post on a vital need.

    But I must disagree on your feelings about Grand Vision efforts. You write:
    “As we have learned, the Grand Vision was an excellent process to get the community dreaming, but the implementation has in large part reverted back to organizations doing what they’ve always done and individuals wondering what it is they can do.”

    I’ve attended a few of the recent meetings of GV Energy Group. The meetings have been well structured and pretty much stay on track, while allowing spontaneous comment. The outcomes have resulted in monthly forums on the critical energy topics, with an upcoming Energy Expo on January 15, 9am – 5pm at the new NMC Aero Park Laboratories, 2525 Aero Park Dr.

    The next forum is: Energy Efficiency-A Discussion on How the Community can Engage in Energy Efficiency Measures & Programs, on Thursday, January 13, 7pm – 9pm at the Oleson Center (map).

    Brian Keane will gives examples of how to engage the community in energy efficiency measures and programs. I’ve heard Brian Keane, and he is a dynamic, interesting speaker. The first two forums filled about 100 seats with attentive people who asked great questions in the Q & A.

    I agree that meetings run by our local governmental units are frustrating, endless, and usually the presiding group’s belief in the answer being based on ‘past experience’. And we need understanding by these elected & nominated folks that the future will not be like the past.

    I have attended hundreds meetings in my lifetime, (national, statewide & local) — mostly bicycle-advocacy related for about 25 years, until the recent years when I’ve come to realize that COMMUNITY is the most important place for ideas to be implemented. Especially with all the earth shaking ideas like the obvious changes in our climate, the diminishing availability of petroleum, and the terrible hold corporations have on our federal government, economy and environmental destruction. We need to transition to that ‘resilient’ local community which uses forward thinking to develop the best ways to cope to our real future — which is NOT based on the past.

  6. January 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you for commenting and the reminder about the expo, June.

    Here is a link to the Energy Network’s Schedule and if you really want to volunteer with local organizations, the Grand Vision structure offers to match you with one regarding your interests.

    I will have a part II two to this post with more tangible suggestions, including relevant information. If anyone has tangible ideas, send them my way.

  7. aastricker
    January 4, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Are YOU on the ballot? Perhaps if you were part of the actual machine you wouldn’t be so good at oiling it? Happy Anniversary. Oh, and everyone is entitled to a ramble (or even a rant) every once in a while.

  8. January 5, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Happy Anniversary indeed! I find that I think about MyWHaT more than any other blog as I wander around, which is demonstrative (IMO) of the kind of impact you’re having on people’s thoughts and hopefully actions. I think that’s because you are encouraging people to be active participants in the spaces they live their lives in.

    Well done and keep doing!

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