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Tue, Oct 21, 2014 02:22 PM
Issue of October 15, 2014
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Commitment, action help create change

Community conversations

April 09, 2014 | 09:48 AM

It is easy to attend community meetings and pick apart past actions or current conditions, and it is rather invigorating to join others for coffee and long-term visioning for our county. But it is a controversial and difficult activity to really put commitment and action into a plan that creates change.

That is why my suggestions as to how to get organized are mere first steps in our comprehensive and long-term plan for Harrison County. Here are some ideas as to how we might proceed:

•Our history is a starting point. How do we understand why certain cultural practices and institutions exist if we don't know the conditions that produced them? An example is the fact that, thousands of years ago, the glaciers did not push rich soil into our area providing us with a strong agricultural base. Instead, our economy grew out of our closeness to the Ohio River. All this impacts what we are today. There is so much to understand from our history.

•Unless we believe that a shotgun approach is the only way to develop, our second step is to analyze what comprises our home area today. What do we already have available? What is absent that we need and want? What do we do well and not so well? These are the questions we need to ask.

•A third step in the process is to discuss what we want our county to be like in about 10 years and maybe as far out as 25. How do we want to grow our economy in an age of technology? What will our population look like? How will our families use community amenities such as parks, libraries, organizations and cultural events?

•A fourth step is to figure out what we can do to achieve our desired vision for the future. This is all good and nice to discuss, but how do we actually get out of our busy schedules or La-Z-Boy Recliners and start to do something?

Someone, or some organization, needs to stand up and call an open gathering of all citizens to discuss how we will get organized. There is no need for the convening group to already have a plan or goal in mind. This would not be a "let me tell you what you should do" meeting, but more like an old sandlot pickup football game: we work with whoever shows up. An effective community development speaker would be a help in getting us motivated at the start.

At our second meeting, we could explore the connection between our past and our present. There are a lot of good speakers on the subject. Indiana Landmarks can be a source of help in identifying someone. But we don't want early-on to give the impression that this is merely going to be an historic preservation venture. It is, more importantly, a basic understanding of the relationship between past and current affairs. We might have some folks follow through with a review of the driving forces that have molded us into our unique region.

In another gathering, we could lay out a huge map of our county on the floor. Let's mark on it the resources we have and where they are located. At the close of this meeting, we can go home to ponder the strengths and weaknesses of our current conditions and reconvene to discuss what we found. Next, we could consider setting up committees to explore the various elements of a community: commerce, health, education, religious, environmental, manufacturing, arts, etc.

By this time, we should have gathered additional people to bring their interests, skills and connections to the mix. They will have new ideas as to how to proceed and visions for the future to discuss.

A number of years ago, I visited the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis. On the floor, there was an exhibit composed of a large circle built out of a mix of man-made artifacts as well as natural objects. It intertwined sticks, clay pots, beads and rocks in a complex wagon wheel of an installation. On the wall, the plaque read: "This is an Honoring Circle". It explained that "process and participation are everything in a vibrant community. It is in the doing of something together that we become a new entity — a gathered community."

The way we proceed in the revitalization of our county has everything to do with the quality of the outcome. This cannot be a "one-man work-horse show" or an enactment of simply one aspect of community life. Frank O'Bannon, as governor, said so many times "there is no limit to where we can go when we go together."

Well, let's get ready and go! Let's start a process to ask the following questions:

1. What has happened in the past that brought us to this place and this condition?

2. Where are we today as a community?

3. What do we want our county to provide for us in the future?

4. How do we make that vision a reality?

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