America’s Best Communities

by Tanya Zwahlen

We are very excited to announce that we are supporting the Webster Community Coalition for Economic Development (WCCED) in their effort to be named one of America’s Best Communities. This project is awesome because:

  1. As public outreach consultants, we love going to new places. Even though it’s only 15 minutes northeast of the City of Rochester, we didn’t know Webster very well. Now that we are experiencing it firsthand, we appreciate its excellent schools, intact downtown, large waterfront, and great people.
  2. WCCED has a strong network of partners, and we will be conducting outreach to them over the course of the next six months across the community – in schools, community events, and with business leaders. Matt Chatfield is the Executive Director of WCCED. We’ve worked with Matt before, and we have a great synergy with him. He is a seasoned city planner, landscape architect and economic development specialist who is motivated to talk with everyone. It’s rare that a client pushes us to stretch our brains and think more creatively about interesting ways to engage the public. We totally love it.
  3. This is not just a plan, it’s a contest! Our outreach will be used for a revitalization plan that could lead to up to $3 million in implementation funding by the funders of America’s Best Communities. We like competing. And winning.

Quarter Finalists Today, Top Three Tomorrow

The background is that Webster, New York has been selected as one of 50 quarter-finalists in the America’s Best Communities Prize Competition. Sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, Cobank and The Weather Channel, the competition challenges communities to develop a resident-drive revitalization plan for economic and community development.  The top 3 communities take home $6 million.  Webster has until November 2015 to submit their revitalization plan and move on to the next round of the competition.

Developing a Participatory Revitalization Plan
Last week, Matt and I conducted outreach to juniors at four sections of AP History at Thomas High School. We conducted two activities: a park design activity and an exercise about brain drain. I’m going to focus on the first activity with today’s blog post. More on the others in future posts.

Reimagining Sand Bar Park

For the park design exercise, students read two articles from Project for Public Spaces about how to design a waterfront. Matt and I facilitated a discussion about the elements of everyone’s favorite waterfront destinations. Our list included, among other things:

  • Food
  • Seating
  • Picnic areas
  • Boats for rent
  • Fishing
  • Bike and walking paths
  • Playgrounds
  • Docks

After the group discussion, each student set to work redesigning Sand Bar Park. They received a map, twenty four squares of paper featuring design elements with space allocations and prices, and a budget. The task was to prioritize the design elements they thought were most important using 16 units and no more than $130.

What’s Most Important? 

After about 20 minutes, the students presented their designs to their classmates and explained why they chose the elements they did. We discussed the impact of their decision on neighbors, as well as maintenance costs.
WCCED will be using this information to develop a more detailed concept for Sand Bar Park, which will be included in their community revitalization plan. The plan is due in November. Stay tuned for more of our work with WCCED throughout the year!

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