Unlikely Public Engagement Tactics Get Results for Small Towns

Four small cities across the country are seeing positive results with non-traditional public engagement strategies like bouncy castles, beer coasters, and ball games.
February 11, 2017, 5am PST | CHorose
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Lukas Maverick Greyson

Never underestimate the power of community pride as a motivator for engagement--that's one lesson from the Orton Family Foundation's recent event on public engagement. Featuring four small cities, the call showcased ways that connecting with residents can lead to plans that are implemented and that get results.

Biddeford, Maine's story is particularly remarkable—through a series of neighborhood conversations, engagement at fairs and festivals, and youth storytelling projects, the city rediscovered the beauty of its historic downtown and developed a downtown master plan that reflected the community's vision. Five years later, commercial real estate values in downtown have averaged a 60 percent increase in value since 2014, residential values are up by 12 percent, and 1.6 million square feet of previously abandoned mill space is almost full.

A prosperous community, Golden, Colorado came together and identified walkability and accessibility as one key asset to maintain. Despite pushback from a loud and politically active minority, the city has been able to invest in traffic calming measures and street improvements that benefit everyone in town. Their secret to success? Block parties with bouncy castles, bike tuneups and free veterinarian services brought people together to begin finding common ground. 

And, in both Cortez, Colorado and Ellensburg, Washington, deliberate outreach efforts—like catching parents at soccer tournaments—have led to the discovery and involvement of voices often isolated from local decision-making. 

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Published on Thursday, February 9, 2017 in Orton Family Foundation
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