A blogosphere buzz today joined my astute older brother in recognizing that we’ve reached a significant date that links movie history to present day real life. Today (Wednesday, October 21, 2015) is the “future” date visited by teenage time traveler Marty McFly in the movie Back to the Future Part II, released in 1989. In the movie Marty (portrayed by Michael J. Fox) catches a glimpse of his “future” life in 2015, and the plot revolves around some potential personal outcomes that are at stake. Some have taken this opportunity today to evaluate the screenplay writers’ so-called predictions for 2015 that can now be measured up against our present day reality. The Cubs’ bid for the World Series has not gone unnoticed. And I, for one, maintain my admiration for the majestic concept of hoverboards despite there being no such thing quite so close to being commercially available just yet.
Amidst the amusing banter of what has and has not come to pass, I am reminded of the notion that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” Popularized in that form by Peter Drucker by the mid 1980s, the basic idea about creating vs. predicting the future goes back much further and is at least old enough to qualify for a senior discount at many venues. In a post about entrepreneurship, Forbes contributor Paul Brown ventures a step further and suggests that “…the best way to create the future is to: Act. Learn. Build. Repeat”, eventually getting there as follows:
In the face of the unknown, entrepreneurs act. Specifically they:
- Figure out what they want.
- Take a small step toward making it reality.
- Pause to think about what they learned from taking that step.
- Build that learning into their next step—and if that means adjusting from the initial path, so be it.
In other words the best way to create the future is to: Act. Learn. Build. Repeat.
I find this a fairly straight-forward – if general – suggestion about navigating a changing world. (Drucker also wrote in 1973 that “the only thing we know about the future is that it is going to be different”.) And I think it basically fits with what several scholars and practitioners of community planning and development suggest about creating long range plans for the rural, urban and suburban settings in which people live, work, and play. Torbjörn Lahti, pioneer of the eco-municipality movement who visited Central Wisconsin last spring, eloquently summed up many successful experiences in sustainable community development as a continuous process of “learning, planning, and doing”. When Chuck Marohn led a workshop here earlier this year, he celebrated the benefits of incremental reinvestment and gradual improvements in historic built environments over the course of decades.
Contrasting reinvestment with greenfield development gets us back to another entertaining theme that is evident throughout the Back to the Future trilogy: illustrations of how drastically some landscapes can change over the course of 30 years. The movies offer frequent reminders of this. Fictional examples filmed in various places include the Peabody Farm of 1955 becoming vast parking lots by 1985, and the transformation of an undeveloped greenfield to Lyon Estates over the same period. Looking at Marty’s home town through a placemaking lens, I can’t help but notice what could appear like an identity crisis of a community called Hill Valley. Sprinkled throughout the movies are things that make you go hmmm (to reference a pop song released the following year). There is even the recurring idea that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.
I’ll wind down with just a few scholarly insights as you ponder various prospects of change in your community over 30-year horizons. Much research has been devoted to the study of “community identity”. According to John Puddifoot (1995) it is comprised of several elements including locus (geography), distinctiveness (uniqueness), identification (belongingness), orientation (individuals’s experience of), quality of life, and function (decision-making). Taking action to develop places of value and meaning is the essence of “placemaking”. Susan Zelinka and Jackson Harden (2005) define placemaking as “the process of adding value and meaning to the public realm through community-based revitalization projects rooted in local values, history, culture and the natural environment”. Outside of special occasions like October 21, 2015, we’re not all accustomed to thinking very often about how our community environments are being shaped and reshaped. And yet I would encourage anyone to seize meaningful opportunities to be involved in community-based revitalization efforts, and community planning and development – as these can be among the important opportunities to help create (if not predict) the future of your community.
Puddifoot, John E. “Dimensions of Community Identity.” Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology (1995): 357-370. Paper. 23 6 2015.
Zelinka, Susan and Jackson Harden. Placemaking on a budget: improving small towns, neighborhoods, and downtowns without spending a lot of money. Chicago, IL: American Planning Association, 2005. Book
—Nathan Sandwick lives in Stevens Point and works in Portage County.
Revisioning Point held their second public idea exchange event on Thursday June 25th at the Stevens Point Area Convention Center & Visitors Bureau on the north end of Division Street. There were two presenters (sharing information about the high cost of free parking, and the sometimes strained relationships between “town and gown” in university communities) followed by a walking tour of Division past Trig’s to Maria Drive.
All my life, I wanted a taste of the city life. I was ambitious. I wanted to get out of this small town I knew as Little Chute, Wisconsin, and into the world of opportunities and a busy lifestyle. Or so I thought. Looking back, it wasn’t the busy life that I was after, because I get plenty of that as a college student. As for opportunities, it is a privilege attending higher education; to be able to learn and grow intellectually and socially.
Is local growth a Ponzi Scheme?
An article posted on Revisioning Point discusses Marohn’s description of community growth as a Ponzi Scheme. The article starts with “Many local government leaders portray new development as the lifeblood necessary to maintain or improve the economic and fiscal health of a community. They argue that the proposed new subdivision, apartment complex, or shopping mall out on the edge of town is not only desirable, but is practically a requirement if the entire community is to stay alive. Chuck Marohn sees things differently. He argues that most new development is instead part of a Ponzi scheme. . .”
Recently I was with my girlfriend while she was touring an apartment in a densely urban part of Los Angeles, California. At one point, the woman who owned the apartment looked out a window toward the east and said that one of her favorite features of the space was its great view of the sunset. Surprised, we turned to see what she was talking about. As we did, we saw the setting sun reflected in the west-facing windows of a nearby high-rise building. It was a sunset alright, though one that was visible only because of the neighboring structure’s hundreds of panes of mirrored glass jutting out of the concrete into the sky above Los Angeles. Continue reading
To debone a chicken, you must have a tender touch. We do not hack, rip or rush through the process. Carefully peel the skin from the meat and then the meat from the bones…treat this chicken with respect. It seems like a simple skill, but what is it worth, exactly? It’s worth everything. Particularly when my mentor, Kim Beckham, Director and Chef Instructor of CPS Café, can tell me where and how this particular chicken was raised based on subtle characteristics in the appearance of the meat. She explains how the dish Chicken Scampi is named after the shape of the cuts, and that thickness should be uniform for ideal baking. There is wisdom in peeling a potato properly or coaxing a batch of Hot Potato Salad with Tarragon to the perfect texture and consistency before putting the finishing touches on the flavor. Sometimes it seems as though the whole operation is a physical manifestation of Kim’s food mastery, but in reality it’s much larger than that. The CPS Café is a system within a system—as dependent upon the local farmers, stolid university structure, and conscientious consumers as they are on us. We do our best not to disappoint. Continue reading
Many local government leaders portray new development as the lifeblood necessary to maintain or improve the economic and fiscal health of a community. They argue that the proposed new subdivision, apartment complex, or shopping mall out on the edge of town is not only desirable, but is practically a requirement if the entire community is to stay alive. Chuck Marohn sees things differently. He argues that most new development is instead part of a Ponzi scheme, promoted by developers and landowners who “earn” their returns on each new land deal and absolve themselves of the inevitable service and maintenance costs that arise.
Driving around the neighborhoods adjacent to UWSP, it becomes apparent that our community is facing a growing problem. Many student houses near campus are suffering from owner neglect and unaccountability to an extent visible to almost everyone. Century-old historic houses and craftsman-style bungalows rich in cultural and aesthetic wonder, are degrading and becoming unsalvageable. Foundations are crumbling, paint is peeling, and front yards are becoming aluminum trash heaps. As a local resident described it to me, “our surrounding neighborhood is slowly becoming a crumbling shantytown devoid of self-pride and a collective community image for the future.” The degradation of our neighborhood houses should evoke alarm among local leaders since this decline is threatening the livability and connectedness of our entire community. As involved and aware citizens, we must look to address this growing property problem and look for solutions that aim to save the historic houses of Stevens Point while benefiting both permanent residents and students in a reciprocal manner.