You're receiving this because at some time or other, you asked to subscribe to the Useful Community Development Zine, from When we said it would be monthly, more or less, we didn't expect it to take us just ages to put the first one together. Without further ado: Enjoy!

Monica, Nancy, Doug, and Carol

Cool Idea of the Month

A simple way to beautify your streetscape is to do something about those ugly traffic control boxes, utility connections, backflow preventers, and what not. Here a little company called Firecracker Press is painting one of six utility boxes along the main shopping street in Maplewood, Missouri. A whole lot better than a big metal thingie, don't you agree?

While these talented painters are graphic designers, with a little ingenuity, you may be able to figure out how to avoid a professional fee. Students may paint free if they are provided the supplies, and elementary school age could be allowed to become impressionists for a day and simply paint on dots with a controlled palette of colors.

New and Noteworthy

Asset-Based Community Development: We're big fans of approaching neighborhood and community organizing through focusing on assets rather than problems. This shows through time and time again in our writing, but until this spring we hadn't really put together a page about this engaging theory. Check out this "asset" above, a beautiful home from a neighborhood where everything isn't wonderful any more.

Sanitary Landfills: A textbook publisher bought our original page, so we hope the new one is equally informative if you need an introduction to this subject. The first one was a little tongue in cheek because it talked about burying your solid waste forever in a tomb, so the new one probably is more balanced!

Noted Around the Web

U.S. 2010 Census results now appearing--multiple implications for your community

An "embodied energy" calculator to show how much energy it took to put up the building you're about to destroy

Featured Visitor Charrette Experience: We Can Do Better Than This!

A charrette is a term from architecture that now is being used loosely for many kinds of processes where citizens, stakeholders, or designers participate in an intense exercise in trying to solve a problem. Lately we're hearing stories similar to one a U.S. visitor e-mailed twice to describe. This visitor's comments are becoming typical, so we ask you to consider whether the good citizens of this city really had ample opportunity to talk about their comprehensive plan for the next 20 years. Here are some excerpts:

"Before the date I went by the Planning Department and asked the Planning Director for any materials they had. He said quite explicitly they had no materials to give out in advance.

After we got organized there was about 40 minutes or less to work on the map describing our ideas about what we would like in a Comprehensive Plan to guide the city . . . for the next 20 or more years. Nothing was discussed in the group that assembled to start with about 40 people nor was there time to discuss much of any substance in the group sessions with the maps. This was a pretty good turnout of all sorts of people interested in doing their best to express their ideas. They had almost no opportunity to discuss anything. After the separate group map sessions we reassembled to go over our proposals.

I took this lack of opportunity to discuss anything as a group to be a deliberate part of the organization of the affair. Of course I could have stood up and shouted out my points and forced the organizers to listen but I decided this was useless.

The main purpose as far as I could see was so the Mayor and Planning Department could say they had requested and provided a public forum for public contributions to the Comprehensive Plan. Now they will go and review the contributions and find favor with what they agree with and have already planned to include. Perhaps they will have another session but only under the same time limitations and other tightly controlled circumstances.

Predictably the Mayor does not want the entire range of suggestions and topics he might get in a relatively open meeting discussed. The matters that might be brought up he does not want to deal with."

OK, folks, was this a good process for a comprehensive plan? It might have worked if the subject were a single building, and there were only a couple of up-or-down choices to be made, but the future of a city in 40 minutes? We agree with our site visitor; it's surely no way to find out what thoughtful citizens really want for their whole city. Sending "a pretty good turnout" home with nothing to show for their efforts only builds cynicism.

Charrettes have many pro's and con's. If you agree with us that this was a bad tool for use in building a comprehensive plan, see the community engagement page for alternatives.

Useful Community Development welcomes you this summer, whether you're playing by the water in an urban or rural area. See you next month, they said, laughing at selves.

New York City water taxi rural lake and trail

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