Every day, social media serves up a seemingly endless stream of content. Raw information, with each item typically reflecting the priorities of its respective poster. If you’ve assembled good curators among your friends and contacts, it adds up to a lot of interesting stuff. But the real interest, at least for me, is when you stumble into curious intersections that seem to exist between disparate content.
A couple weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of working with Bob Gibbs in Las Cruces, New Mexico, looking at ways to help downtown outperform the suburbs, helping Main Street be more profitable than strip malls. The top lessons were to nurture unique historic character in walkable formats and don’t build leasable space that you can’t lease. For downtown to have a critical mass, the goal is to capture 20% of the retail market share. That’s 10 times the current average of the 2% that most downtowns in the U.S. capture today.
Let’s start at the beginning. Sense of community is a legitimate thing. Or at least it was, until people like me got ahold of it.
To explain: In 1986, social psychologists David W. McMillan and David M. Chavis published their theory on what they termed “sense of community” — the feeling we experience when engaged in the meaningful pursuit of connection with others.
As placemakers, we know that the challenges of the built environment require more than just new ideas — no matter how clever, unique or seemingly innovative. That was the approach of the 20th century and — no spoiler alert required — it didn’t work out all that well. In retrospect, we know now that the ideas of the modernist revolution in planning were too closely tied to a particular wish list for how we’d like the world to work, rather than reflecting the complexity of who we really are — from our natural instincts and behaviors to the inconvenient links between how we connect, live together in community and, ultimately, survive for the long haul.
Since the data keep rolling in, confirming changes we should have anticipated even before the Great Recession, maybe it’s time to revisit the tasks ahead for communities if they’re to avoid flunking the tests of livability and prosperity in the 21st century.
Though a narrow sliver of the population seems to have emerged from the recent economic unpleasantness richer than they were going in, the rest of us have to come to terms with the idea we aren’t as smart or wealthy as we thought. What’s more, we sense we aren’t likely to improve our financial situation much without help from the lottery or late life adoption by Russian oligarchs.
High on my list of must-read columnists is James Surowiecki of The New Yorker. His “Twilight of the Brands” piece in the February 17-24 edition provides a good example of how he takes apart outworn axioms of business success, then, from the wreckage, assembles a model better suited for the here and now.
Steve Mouzon’s much anticipated new book, New Media for Designers + Builders, releases today. This groovy user-intensive e-book is a road map for revising the marketing efforts of the design and construction community. The premise: Tired marketing budgets are antiquated and out of step with a post-recession world where values have shifted towards authenticity and frugality. The book is a how-to manual to jump start design-related social media savvy. It’s not just about starting a conversation and sharing ideas with your potential customers, but also about learning from the collective design community voice. Not for the love of the contract, but for the love of the conversation.
Last week I spent some time in the mountains of southern Virginia visiting my folks. That’s something I not only enjoy but find productive as well, as it affords me opportunity to further explain exactly what it is I do for a living.
For some reason, “telling the story of community placemaking” still leaves them scratching their heads.
No worries. Over the years I’ve found it effective to wait for an in — spending time talking about things of interest to them, then seizing serendipitous moments to tie the subject at hand back to something I’m working on.
Okay, so the headline here is a semi-inside joke. Last week, on vacation in Rosemary Beach on the Florida panhandle, I Facebooked a photo of the town’s Main Street, together with this comment:
The idea that a traditionally-planned community is somehow “fake” reflects a particular American pathology: the belief that incompetence is akin to authenticity. Or maybe we just prefer ‘keepin’ it real’ in the strip mall parking lot.
“Don’t dance, drink, smoke or chew, or go with girls who do.”
If you grew up in the south, it’s a good bet you’ve heard this one before. In short, reputation is a precious thing. You may show up in church in your Sunday best but, if your actions every other day paint a different picture then, well, that’s the impression that sticks.
Actions, especially over time, speak the loudest.
I’ve always found this reality fascinating in the aggregate. That is, what happens when all these people of countless reputations start living together, making the day-in-day-out decisions that add up to community? Reputation then transcends the actions of any one individual and comes to reflect collective actions, which no one person controls.