On Mindful Travel

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Recently we’ve been thinking about how to foster healthy community development in our day-to-day lives. We’ve decided to start a series on living with intentionality through a community development lens. How to travel, shop, eat, read, drink, be a neighbor, and stay informed, all while fostering a sense of place and connection.

This week were focusing on travel. How can we travel while being mindful of community development? We travel because we want to expand ourselves, leave our bubbles, and learn more about the world around us. But how can you travel in a way that that has a positive impact not just on yourself, but on the communities you enter into? Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind on your next adventure. 

  1. Travel with intention. Maybe you have a long weekend and you decided to use it to explore. Maybe you’ve had a draining few months and you need to clear your mind. Whatever your reason for setting off to a travel destination, set an intention for yourself before you go. Make a personal goal to familiarize yourself with the space your entering into or to experience peace and freedom from your everyday life while being there. We find that traveling to a new place with the intention of seeking out what makes it feel like home to the locals is a great way to be fully immersed, and usually you leave feeling like you’ve experienced a little bit of home too.

  2. Shop locally. Who doesn’t love going shopping on a trip and bringing home a momento to remind you of the time you spend away from home? However, going to the mall or a Forever 21 aren’t exactly the best representation of the culture of the place you traveled to, and shopping at those kinds of stores won’t help boost the local economy either. Shopping locally will! Local shop owners know the locals because they are one. They know what the community they are in likes to do and what kind of clothes they wear, and shopping their stores feeds money back into the local economy! A great way to stay connected after you’ve left and to leave a small positive impact on local businesses.

  3. Eat locally. The local flavor of any place is super unique to that place and is a huge part of the local culture. No matter how nice the chain restaurant is, you won’t get the taste of the town or a sense of the local cuisine without eating locally. And again, it’s way better for the local economy.

  4. Ask a local. If you want to shop and eat locally and experience a place the way the locals do, an app can’t tell you where to go. Need suggestions? Ask a local! Go into a shop or stop a friendly face on the sidewalk and ask them where their favorite spots in town are. There’s no better way to get to know a place than by learning from the people that know it best and call it home. Maybe you’ll even make new friends and have a reason to come back for a visit!

  5. Think locally. Often when we think about travel, we picture far off destinations on other continents. That doesn’t have to be the case. Traveling to the other side of the country or even the other side of your own county can be an exciting new destination and culture to experience. Some of my favorite visits have been in my own state, just a few hours away, with local friends showing me around to all their favorite spots. There are so many small town gems and exciting new places just around the corner!

Get in your car and drive. Visit a new place and learn more about yourself in the process. But keep in mind that wherever you go is home to someone, and we always want to leave knowing we contributed to betterment, not the detriment, of the places we go.

On Hometown Appreciation

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My time as a marketing intern with Motley has taught me so many things. Besides the obvious marketing skills and industry knowledge I gained, Motley has taught me how to love where I live. On my first day, Chelsea and Blaine gifted me with Love Where You Live by Peter Kageyama. After reading it, I started noticing small initiatives in small towns not only in North Carolina, but in my hometown of Maryville, Tennessee.

Before my internship, I had a basic appreciation for my small hometown, which isn’t actually that small comparatively. However, when I was growing up and in high school, I really didn’t like my hometown. I thought there was nothing to do and all the local stores closed so early that if you ever wanted to do anything fun or late at night, you had to drive 30 minutes to Knoxville. After reading Love Where You Live, I started looking back into my hometown and noticing small, mundane things that I had completely ignored before. For one, there are those Little Free Library Book Exchanges all over my town. There’s even one in my neighborhood! There’s also murals and public art everywhere that I really never appreciated before.

Unfortunately, one thing that Maryville always had up until a few years ago was the annual Fall Festival. It was always so much fun and drew a bigger crowd each year. Since the Fall Festival shut down, Maryville is doing other events that still draw huge crowds. For example, we have BBQ competitions, live music, movies in the park, and so much more that I barely even noticed. I now know that all these things are efforts made by the downtown to help its citizens identify more with Maryville.

Throughout my internship, I have been assigned to do external research on other small-town social media accounts. While doing that research, I discovered that Maryville has a downtown social media account that I didn’t even know about! I obviously followed it immediately and am going to start making an effort to support local businesses and organizations that hold events in downtown Maryville.

Before my internship with Motley, I claimed I lived in a small town, but I had no idea what that phrase can mean. It means you have a tight-knit community. It means you have access to local artisan food and products that most people don’t. It means that there are so many unique little things everywhere that aren’t being fully appreciated but should be. From now on, I’ll be looking at Maryville, TN as not only my hometown, but a great example of a small town helping its citizens love where they live.

- Katie


On the Big Impact of Small Town Marketing

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Even in a world where technology underpins virtually everything anyone does, many small towns have been slow to adopt the use of social media as a marketing tool. A motto of most small towns is that “Everybody knows everybody,” which leads to people believing there’s no need for social media marketing. Small businesses run on word-of-mouth recommendations and loyal, local customers. However, most people today will research a business on social media before even stepping foot in the store, even if they’ve gotten a recommendation from a trusted friend. This is one of the many reasons small towns need to be encouraging local businesses to use social media as a tool.

Social media is an incredible tool to reach a larger audience. Having the accounts open to the public makes it easy for people to leave amazing reviews that the business can then share. This is like word-of-mouth marketing on steroids! Social media will give the local, loyal fans a platform to share their love for the business and the surrounding community with so many more potential new customers. Having social media also allows the business to track the wants and needs of its customers so they can make changes almost immediately. It also gives the business a platform to spread the word about local events and promotions that they or their community may be hosting. This not only helps this business, but the surrounding businesses, and the community as a whole. Social media can help businesses create a brand identity, maintain customer relations, and make connections that were never before possible.

Social media isn’t just beneficial for local businesses. Towns can benefit greatly from having their own social media accounts as well. When a town has social media accounts with a recognizable brand and identity, it helps the citizens love where they live and want to spread the word about how great their small town is! Look at Blowing Rock, North Carolina’s Instagram account, for example. They’re getting tons of engagement through likes and comments on every post and have successfully created a recognizable brand using hashtags. They also are encouraging community members to share their own posts about the town that they love so much. I took a screenshot from their tagged photos to show just how engaged and willing their community members are to talk about a place they love.

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It can be intimidating to decide to take on a project that seems as vast as social media, but the ability to easily communicate with the citizens of the town and monitor their opinions should be reason enough to invest in it. It only takes a little time and creativity to get it up and running. Towns can post about community-wide events happening, promote local businesses, and even recognize some public service workers that rarely get recognized otherwise. This helps build character and give reliability to the city officials, which helps the citizens of the town feel comfortable enough to talk to them like they’re their neighbors - because they are. Social media is a tool in today’s world that should not seem daunting. The ease of access and communication the city can establish with the community members will help the city build a community that is not only good for them, but for the citizens as well.

- Katie

On One Year

Happy 1st birthday to Motley! We can hardly believe that our baby business has been around for a full trip around the sun. We wanted to share with you a bit of “A Year in Review” but more than just a recap of projects we’ve worked on, we wanted to share about how and why this whole thing got started, and how we’ve allowed it to change us along the way.

Blaine’s Reflections:

I didn’t want to start this business.

I used to think that saying that made all of this less valid, but now I know that isn’t true. A year and change ago, I would have told you that right now I’d be working a 9-5 tech job, perfectly using my new college degree in a city I really like.

A year ago, I was wrapping up a job in Atlanta. I was working in marketing for a social entrepreneurship resourcing non-profit where I was surrounded by entrepreneurs and innovators, but I never thought I could be one of them. I didn’t have a good enough idea, I didn’t have the capital to start something, I didn’t know enough cool people to get it off the ground, and I didn’t know enough about business. 

But I knew I cared deeply about placemaking and communities. I knew how much the places I loved had affected me personally. I knew that when I started to look for jobs, nothing seemed right. And, I knew that when we started dreaming of exactly what Motely is today, I couldn’t let it go. 

We spent the summer planning this business from 353 miles apart, and on August 2, 2018, I headed back to North Carolina for good and we received our LLC paperwork that Motley was the real deal. 

A couple weeks later, after a quick backpacking trip through Oregon, I started my senior year of college, freshly self-employed. I was a full-time student, working part-time at a coffee shop, and launching Motley. So when people said the first year of business was the toughest, I knew they weren’t kidding.

Since then, we’ve gotten the opportunity to work on exciting projects and come alongside some pretty amazing communities. Our company has stretched and changed in ways I didn’t think were possible and I’m proud of what we’ve made and how we’ve grown into as a business.

I’ve learned that we’re in the business of people more than anything else. As a work-driven, goal-oriented person, Motley doesn’t allow me to hide behind my output. I’ve learned that this work needs my heart and a full embrace of the grey areas, and it’s pretty uninterested in my to-do lists.

I’ve learned more in the past year than I thought possible: about myself, this field, and other people. I’ve learned about the pendulum of it all. This work is so fun, healing, fascinating, and redemptive. It feels like the most natural thing I’ve ever done, the very thing I was meant to do. But sometimes it’s frustrating and heartbreaking, and every move feels stumbly, unnatural, or like I’m 18 steps behind. 

A quote that has stuck with me over the past 365 days is this: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.” — James A. Michener

I didn’t want to start this business. Now I couldn’t disconnect it from the rest of my life if I tried. Here’s to another year of doing both.

Chelsea’s Reflections:

It’s been a year. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since we submitted our documents, approved the logo and made this whole thing real. I love what I do. This year has been a learning experience filled with fun client work, challenging projects and beautiful, community led successes. 

This is more than work to me. And we feel like we try to communicate this every chance we get, but I wanted to spell it out again as I reflect on this past year. 

I’ve taken a few career paths since I finished school. My first job out of college was working in refugee resettlement. I was assisting newly resettled refugees in finding work and equipping them to navigate their new home. This work was so rewarding, but incredibly difficult. Every day, I was working with people who had built entire lives in other places and then had to be uprooted for their safety, working to rebuild in their new home where nothing truly felt like theirs. Everything was new, most of the time in a really big way. What created an environment for them to be able to claim their new space and create ownership, was having a way to provide for their family, to be able to navigate their neighborhood, have healthy relationships with their community and a way to express themselves and be heard. Twenty-one year old Chelsea had no idea how much this work would inform the work I do now. 

From refugee resettlement I went and worked at the Sustainable Business Network in Philadelphia. I loved the people and politics that surrounded, challenged and supported the work we did at SBN. I went on to open a retail store and loved every minute of the downtown revitalization efforts I was able to have my hands in (however, the retail side of things wasn’t for me). From there I worked in a non-profit doing community development in a centralized downtown. Here is where I fell in love with murals, business recruitment, community summits and placebased marketing as a way to love and amplify communities. 

Up until now I didn’t know how my resume worked together. Now, I get it. I have a business background, I have experience working with refugees and how to represent underrepresented people groups, I have experience working on a main street and a town that I love dearly. All of these things, as disjointed as they felt, brought me here. And now here we are, one whole year into Motley. I’m beyond excited and humbled for the work that we have had the opportunity to do and the work still to come. 

This work is people work. It’s redemptive. It’s bringing people a home that don’t feel comfortable. It gives voice to newcomers and highlights beautiful histories. This work gives a voice to those who need to be validated as community members. This work gives a paint brush to a kid growing up needing a creative outlet. This work brings businesses and community members together to strengthen the health and wellbeing of their community. 

These are the parts I hold at the core of what we do: caring for people, creating spaces of justice, art and peace, integrating beauty, sustainability, and redemption in the building of places and people in ways that show goodness and light in this world. 

Thank you to those who have worked alongside us. Thank you to those of you who have supported us in our work, our growth and our shortcomings. We very literally would not be here without you.

So, cheers to year one. We will be over here celebrating with our cute cake and margaritas. Y’all stop by! :)

On Trust

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We met with someone this week that gave us their opinion on why community development isn’t happening in our neighborhood. He told us of his experience with division, and how he felt that either side of our main street was disconnected from each other based on going east or west. He felt community development couldn’t begin until we come together and formed a line through the center of the main street, and residents, business owners, and community members from either side of town walked down the middle to shake hands and look each other in the eye, maybe even smile about it if we’re lucky. He explained that he felt, in our southern town, that a black man and a white man need to be able to look each other in the eyes when the cross on the sidewalk. He said it doesn’t happen now. 

This is big, and we often don’t take the time to think about this side of community development. We like to think up mural concepts. We like to plan the community gardens. We like to plan big events for our downtowns. 

But, truthfully, none of that matters. None of it has legs without this first.

We need to trust each other.

We need to see each other. Actually see each other.

Our urge to see people as people needs to outweigh our urge to look down at the sidewalk when we walk by. Our desire to interact with our neighbors needs to be stronger than our desire to check our phones instead.

Our work includes graphic design and branding projects, public art projects and placemaking initiatives. These things feel soft to many, and even to us at times. It’s easier to gravitate towards the harder side of our work: fill the buildings, write the reports, finish the deliverables, check the boxes. But at the end of the day, it’s even softer than we realize because people and communities, their living, breathing pieces and parts, are soft. It’s about the business owners and the young newly weds that walk their dog downtown. It’s about the high school kids that like to hang out in the park. We do the work that we do for the people, to feel safe and be able to thrive.

The products and the deliverables don’t need us.

“Many cities, these days, seem to have people living on the surface of life but hardly in its soil, diluting the deepest questions of life in television monologues and reality shows, amusing ourselves to death, as Neil Postman would say. But this city feels different. It feels like these people have come up with different answers to the why questions.

Houston makes you feel that life is about the panic and the resolution of panic, and nothing more. Nobody stops to question whether they actually need the house and the car and the better job. We can’t see the stars in Houston anymore. We can’t to the beach without stepping on a Coke bottle, we can’t hike in the woods, because there aren’t any more woods.

We can only panic about the clothes we wear, panic about the car we drive, sit stuck in traffic and panic about whether or not the guy who cut us off respects us. We want to kill him, for crying out loud, and all the while we feel a need for new furniture and a new television and a bigger house in the right neighborhood. We drive around in a trance, salivating for Starbucks while that great heaven sits above us, and that beautiful sunrise is happening in the desert, and all those mountains out West are collecting snow on the limbs of their pines, and all those leaves are changing colors out East.” -- Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

On Branding

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We don’t normally write project-specific blog posts, but we wanted to share a bit of news, and also a bit of our hearts, on an exciting launch that happened this past weekend.

Motley has been working with Gibsonville, North Carolina to complete a marketing analysis study and some other behind the scenes work, but one of our favorite initiatives with them is  their new messaging campaign. We were commissioned by the Town of Gibsonville to create a community brand that would unify businesses, residents, community organizations, tourism efforts and everything in between. Gibsonville is home to an award-winning tattoo artist, renowned instrument repair, incredible antiques, a chocolatier, French cuisine, and so many other amazing businesses, and we were up for the challenge of creating something that found them all some common ground. 

Motley met with community members, business owners and town staff to field ideas for a tagline and visual designs that they felt most embodied Gibsonville’s history, present, and future. After several rounds of feedback, we landed on a brand that represents the town now and for years to come.

Something fun about this project is that the brand follows an open source model. This means that anyone can download the logo in a variety of file formats for themselves from gibsonvillenc.com and print their own t-shirts, make koozies, paint a mural, make a yard sign - anything goes. This tool is created by the community and for the community to help form place attachment and build town pride.

So what?

Towns and cities are ultimately looking for ways to drive economic development. Maybe their budgets don’t allow for fancy incentives, maybe they’re looking to create a snowball effect as opposed to a one-time investment or maybe they’re just looking to try something new. We think that community branding makes this all a reality by defining what makes an area unique and attracting a community of residents and businesses that shares that same vision.

So it isn’t even really about creating the trendiest image or stringing the right words together.

It’s about discovering what truly makes an area unique, even if it’s currently lying dormant, and then building a platform and strategy around it that nurtures and attracts others who share those identified values and vision.

“Despite this highly competitive, Amazon-courting world we live in, cities and districts can actually benefit by going in the opposite direction. Do this by engaging with the public and, together, clearly defining who they are and who they want to be. Then, invest in the brand, and tell that story in a way that attracts others who share the same vision. This is what will save small towns and what's redefining the most successful districts and communities across the country.” — Ryan Short, Forbes Councils

On Storytelling

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I just finished reading the book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and it has me thinking a lot about storytelling. It’s a phrase I (and a lot of creatives) throw around a lot, but my job is far from reading bedtime stories.

Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which can be shared as a means of entertainment, education or cultural preservation. Great storytelling is the practice of making the people reading or hearing these stories care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. 

What if we looked at life as a story? What if we broke down our day-to-day into characters, settings, plot, conflict, climax and resolution? 

You’re the protagonist in the story of your life, of course, but what about everything else? Place carries the weight of it all -- the plot, conflict, climax and resolution -- it has to take place somewhere. Geography plays a role in our lives, and often our experiences are tied to a spot on the map.

That one beach in Florida where your family vacationed.

The Corner Mart where you used to get ice cream every summer. 

The dive bar where you had your first drink.

The little park bench where you met your best friend.

The parking lot where you found your family dog.

We love the memories associated with these seemingly little nowhere spots, but what if we loved the places too, just for being there to let it all unfold? Places are more than where we buy groceries or grab a coffee; they’re where we build a business, start a family, celebrate success, and feel utter loss.

We know that places have history, but when we untangle it a little, make it less of a textbook and more of a folktale, it invites us to pay attention to the intricacies that make it unique.

In Bird by Bird, Lamott writes, “One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”

If you could tell the story of a place, the one you call home, how would you tell it? Asking this question could awaken a whole series of questions that can bring out the possibilities of a place. This practice can assist in helping us see new things in a place that may not feel new at all.

Another question that is important to ask is, who needs to hear this story? Our moms, aunts and co-workers hear our stories just by being a part of our lives. However, if you had an adventurous childhood and feel that it made you a better person, don’t you think the parents of this generation would want to hear about it? If you opened a business and were overwhelmed with the support from the city, community and customers, wouldn’t you want the other potential entrepreneurs to know that it’s possible?

Know your story, know the value that place holds and know that there is power in telling that story.

On Places in Process

We love experiencing other towns, seeing residents and locals in their space and observing how they interact with their place. We also look at things like trashcans, streetlights and banners. We look at the local shops and the curated mix. We look for diversity: of people, cultures, age and socioeconomic status.

But we think more than that, we look for devoted communities. We like to look around and see the potential and what could be. How can we make our mark on the community? This isn’t necessarily how other people travel, but because of our work, this is the inescapable lens with which we view the world.

Sometimes it’s nice to go to places that are completely built out, ready for tourists just like us. Their storefronts are full, the Edison bulbs are hung, brick walls are covered in murals and the sidewalks are full of people excited to be there, in no rush to leave.

But sometimes, it’s better to go to the places that challenge us, the places that invite us in to ask questions and imagine what was and what could be.

We recently visited friends in Baltimore, Maryland. For most of the day, we walked around neighborhoods that had great bars and cool art. They were activated with markets and festivals, and every corner seemed to offer some new development.

At the very end of our trip, we stopped in Sowebo. Y’all. We’re not kidding when we say this neighborhood was exactly what we were craving throughout our time in Baltimore.

Sowebo is an older arts community that has mostly vacant storefronts and lots of residential space with community members who have been there for decades, even generations, unwilling to leave this little corner of the city that they’ve claimed as theirs. It has soul but is losing momentum. But what Sowebo has is undeniable potential and an identity that is impossible to miss. Places like this engage you to imagine what else could be here. What else could live and thrive and complete this place?

The spaces in our life that are 100% developed and pretty are great, needed even. But more so, if we believe that places reflect the people that make them up, then I think we as humans are meant to be in places that are in process. Because so much of our own lives are always in process. Luckily, cities allow us to be a part of this process and even require our participation to move forward.

Ultimately communities have to be a place for people, where they can be invited in to leave a little bit of themselves: a bit of their creativity, a bit of their emotion, a bit of their humanity. As we came back home to our own neighborhood after traveling, we’re asking ourselves what our community is asking of us. How can we better engage? What creative work, act of labor, or act of love could change our community for the better? How could we work in tandem with our neighbors, with our elected officials? How is our place calling to us? This is not solely to make places better but to be more fully human and leave a creative, unique mark in creating a home.  Not only to fix our place but to be more fully ourselves, to give our values and our creativity and our mark, a purpose.

On Intention

We’re a little shocked we haven’t written this blog post already.

Intention.

This is the heart of our work, the “Why?” and the “So what?” of our profession.

We’re taught growing up that work is about productivity. What are you producing? What are the deliverables? We’re learning every day, in our work, and yours too: intention matters. How you go about doing your work can be more meaningful than the work that you actually produce.

What does this look like in actuality? If you are commissioning the coolest mural project in town, but you’re doing it just to make your city look cool, it probably won’t stick. And when you get stuck with city or community resistance, you don’t have a story to tell, you just have an aesthetic that you’re trying to achieve. In community development, aesthetics are only meaningful when they tell the larger narrative of a community. Cities and towns are who they are because of the people they house, employ, and welcome. Their identity is relational, not their murals, their breweries, or their bike lanes.

Something that can be so easily forgotten is that community members are complex and intuitive. They can see straight through an ill-intentioned or un-intentioned project because they, better than anyone, know the past, present, and future of the place they call home.

Getting back to the basics of why you are doing the work helps to inform and implement successful projects. Why do we want the new business or the fun happenings downtown? Is it for economic gain for your town’s bank account? If so, your residents will likely be unresponsive. Or, is it because you want residents and visitors to have a safe, fun place to go and build community?

It is absolutely imperative to be intentional with our processes to ensure communities are being served and helped, not unconsidered and misplaced.

“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”  ― Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

On Places Loving People

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Creative placemakers often talk about the importance and value of people loving their place. How people can benefit from finding meaning in the location that they live. How when people engage with the community, local businesses, arts and recreation, they feel more attached, leading to more fulfilled lives.

This is all true. And great. And it holds incredible meaning.

However, I want to hit pause on that perspective and think about the other side of things for a moment. This perspective is one that our city managers, planners, designers and politicians hopefully are constantly checking in with. It’s a bit more big picture, but I think it’s very helpful to think like this as a community member as well.

We talk so much about people loving their places, but what can be said about places loving their people?

This is going to sound like an odd concept. But what about places can show love and care and comfort and passion for its people?

The first question that comes to my mind is “Are our places built physically (or welcoming) for people?”

Depending on where you are, you might say no, not at all. This could be because you live in a city built for cars or for industry. Or, there might not be grocery stores for miles around. If there are no food stores, how are we supposed to support people living in these spaces?

The second question that comes to my mind is “Are our places built emotionally (or having value) for people?” This includes all people. From a community developer or designers mind, the question might look more like, “Who are we building this community for?” This question is heavy. In light of all the injustices in the world, are we cultivating places that love our people? Or, are we building places to only love our white people, our cisgender people, our educated people, or our able-bodied people?

Something that we are still working through at Motley, is what happens when your place doesn’t love you back? What happens when you are stuck in a community, due to family ties, lack of resources or a slew of other reasons and your place is not only not a place you want to attach to, but also is active in hurting or keeping you from a fulfilled life?

I think about a mayor I sat down with a year ago. Their community had a two million dollar need to repair just their water system infrastructure. Surrounding communities were sucking the good things out and taking and claiming them as their own. There was a business community on the very edge of the town, but it served a higher socioeconomic community who all lived in the towns adjacent.

What happens then? When your place leaves you disappointed and discouraged? So very not full of love, support, representation, and the things we need as human beings?

I wish this was one of our peppy blog posts, one that leaves you excited about community development, public art and good people in good places. But we think it’s important to begin thinking about the health of your relationship with places.

Sometimes places aren’t good for people, and sometimes people aren’t good for places. We invite you to explore what this means in your own personal context. What is your relationship with your place? How does the place where you live affect you, both physically and emotionally? And, if you have a great relationship where you live, do others as well? Because the health of the community depends on your neighbors’ place attachment, not just your own.