Every city and community is unique. It is unique in environmental conditions, culture and heritage, and in its people. That is why each city should use their existing resources; human, natural, and intellectual; to develop adaptive policies and implement changes. Fayetteville, Arkansas cannot use the same policies and innovations that Miami, Florida use.
How can this be done? By creating a mechanism for wide ranging community stakeholders to come together, identify community issues, and find ways to work together to address those issues. The mechanism would require continued involvement and commitment from local government agencies and other primary city organizations BUT it is crucial that those agencies do not control the process or the outcome. It cannot be just a one-time political initative but an ongoing, evolving mechanism to allow for the changes in the local climate – environmental, economic, and political.
Don’t believe it can be done? Wrong, Fayetteville, Arkansas began such a program in April 2009 and it is continuing to evolve and adapt to the changing climate of our city. The program is led by a volunteer group of community members with support and commitments from the City government, local university, and chamber of commerce, in addition to numerous other organizations and individuals. They have developed their own structure, based on what is most effective for Fayetteville. Involvement, membership, issues, and initiatives are developed and driven by the community – and allowed to fluctuate and evolve as the COMMUNITY. Fayetteville community members have focused and taken action on economic development, transportation, creative economy, local food, community inclusion, health, education, and sustainability.
Why is this innovative? A city government can adopt a progressive policy or law, they can get funding for an innovative program, BUT if the policy, law, or program does not come from the community it will either fail or take an unnecessarily large amount of funding to convince the community to embrace it. If it comes from the community, city governments will spend much less time and resources trying to convince the community of the need for their program or policy and can use their existing resources more efficiently and responsibly.
Sounds easy? It’s not. It takes a serious commitment from local government agencies and organizations. It also takes a little funding to support the program and keep it going. Fayetteville spent approximately $40,000 on this program in the 2 years since it began. It also takes convincing the community members that they do have the power to do something themselves. And it takes building community trust – and keeping that trust.