Civic Commons Studio #1: Opportunities for Akron
March 15, 2017
by Dan M. Rice
(Previously posted here)
The first Reimagining the Civic Commons Studio in Philadelphia was an incredibly inspiring experience as we engaged in stimulating conversations, networked with national thought leaders and returned to Akron motivated and ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of our Akron Civic Commons. One of the highlights of the Civic Commons Studio was the structure and organization of the learning network which enabled us to experience in-depth conversations with fellow practitioners and speakers and the opportunity to learn and share best practices from across the country. Some of the key insights from our experience included the following observations:
Environmental sustainability as value creation
The presentation by Lionel Bradford with the Greening of Detroit inspired us to think about how urban agriculture can be used to address workforce development. This session underscored the importance of cultivating and nurturing relationships with residents and community leaders to develop programs that address both environmental sustainability and value creation. Due to the similarities with our Summit Lake neighborhood, we realized that we can spread the benefits more broadly across the community if we share best practices with our fellow city leaders, and we look forward to following up with Lionel to learn more about his program.
Using our values and best principles to frame our civic commons work
During the session on “What are the opportunities to share resources among assets and what are the associated challenges,” some of the key phrases that we noted were transparency, seeking understanding, shared vision, being present, and honest and open dialogue. While these principles sound logical, there can be the tendency to assume that these practices take place rather than being intentional about our behavior. We particularly enjoyed the conversation around daylighting leadership and lifting up new and younger leaders, and we are proud that many of our team members are millennials and represent our young talent. The importance of neighborhood navigators to share the stories of our assets also resonated with our team, along with the opportunity to build relationships across assets through story-telling.
The importance of playing with a full deck
One of the highlights of the Civic Commons Studio was Dr. john powell’s remarks regarding targeted universalism and his definitions of public, private, non-public and non-private spaces. How do we provide access for all members of our community? How do we get everyone to start at the same place (even when they need a little help to get there)? We are obligated to ensure that all members of society are engaged in our civic commons assets, because if we are not “playing with a full deck,” communities suffer.
Finally, Carol Coletta captured the continued evolution of Reimagining the Civic Commons as she described how civic commons is evolving from physical assets to a way of doing business together as a community that asks, “how can we cultivate relationships rather than ‘civic engagement’”? and how can we stop asking “what do you want?” and ask “what can we steward together?”
Our Akron team returned home more determined than ever to evolve our strategies to increase civic engagement, promote economic integration, cultivate environmental sustainability and develop value creation.
Daniel M. Rice is President & CEO of Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition and the convener of Akron’s Reimagining the Civic Commons demonstration.