On the Softer Things

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When life and work get busy, the intangible, softer ideas are the first to go. We know this and it proves itself over and over again. The details and the fine touches are the things that get cut when we start to feel rushed and overwhelmed. But this is exactly what placemaking is, the things that make everything run a little smoother, look a bit nicer, impact deeper.

We are so driven by numbers, data, and results in our culture. We know what we need, but we’re busy and we cut corners to get it. We get rushed making dinner, we throw it in a bowl, we forget the garnish, we skip making the table and decide to eat on the couch again. The food is there and it does but the trick, but the welcoming and inviting touches are lost. We get focused on the conclusion and what we have accomplished instead of the processes and final details. We work toward the destination.

In this work, it means we look forward to the day when our downtowns are thriving, with sidewalks full of people, builds full of local businesses, and streetscapes full of art. We work to make sure our coding is inclusive and our infrastructure is ready for foot traffic. We recruit businesses that can pop up quickly instead of courting startups that have our communities values in mind. We forget that downtown revitalization really centers on people. It revolves around people’s stories, their passions, their investment, their spending power, and their day-to-day lifestyle.

We want to make sure that we are putting the intentionality and details into our work. These details make the whole of the work we do worth it through the narrative of bringing people into the story. If we focus our work there, the businesses we recruit and the sidewalks, become that much more meaningful.

When we bring people into it, everything becomes a soft science. You study lifestyle and where sidewalks are needed, instead of cost per square foot.

This is where we get tripped up. Because people bring a certain headache to things and slow down every project. Initiatives drag when we involve people because they have feelings and opinions. Businesses slow when we include our community because they want to be remembered too. They have their own dreams and precautions for their town.

But the work is worth it.

This week, as my schedule fills and the Post-it notes on my desk clutter up my headspace with tasks that are yet to do, I am writing this to remind me, too. The work is worth it, but only if we include people into the equation. It’s an empty shell of a project if we are only working for the destination and the end game. We might just get to the end and realized that we have completed a whole project void of people and void of passion.

On Becoming a Tourist in Your Own Town

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When you’ve lived in a community for so long it can seem like you’ve expended its opportunities pretty quickly. After going to the same grocery store, bar, and coffee shop for so many years the chance of finding something new and exciting feels less and less possible. But this is why activating unique space is so important - it’s about making the ordinary, special and the bland, new. It brings to light this idea of being a tourist in your own town and what that means for exposing the hidden gems that often go unnoticed in your community.

When we travel outside of our communities we are easily amazed by the new sights, feelings, and amenities. It’s as if we’re wearing rose-colored glasses when we’re exploring somewhere other than home; we are eager to search for the hidden gems and discover what gives that particular place it’s character. But what if we could look at our own towns and cities this way on a daily basis? What if we could constantly consider the unique experiences that make our own communities feel like that, new, exciting place?

Instead of inserting ourselves and our needs into our communities first, we can let our community’s unique features guide us more. Instead of taking the most direct drive to work, take the long, windy road that adds an extra 10 minutes to your drive, just because the place you live gives you that opportunity. Instead of going to the grocery store that you know has everything on your grocery list, try the farmers market down the road you’ve never explored.

If we step back and let our town’s treasures guide our exploration, we can expand our identities to connect directly with the places we live. This allows the environment around us to open our eyes to new experiences and opportunities, rather than what follows our traditional routines and schedules the closest. And this is what loving the place you live is all about.

Watch how the places you live are being transformed, whether it’s through the creation of public art or an old building becoming a cool, new social spot. Involve yourself in the growth of your community because it’s part of your identity. Go through your day acknowledging what your town has to offer and why you love to live there. And most importantly, never take off those rose-colored glasses, because you’re sure to find the ordinary, special and the bland, new if you just look.

On Collaboration

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Lately, we have been working on strategy and feasibility plans surrounding how to make the most impact in communities. The number one way that our efforts and *your* efforts, really, can be the most impactful is to have community buy-in, in a way that is both community driven and initiated.

Community groups, committees, residents, merchants and organizations that are on the ground and looking to join hands with you to further cool and innovative work.

City managers, Parks and Rec directors, city staffers, I’m looking at you here. You are busy and have your hands full running the whole town. You make sure the water is running, the police department is fully funded and that the grass is cut on the ball fields. Your first priority is not always planning a community mural that will brighten your downtown and attract social media attention. And, that’s okay.

This is where your community allies come into play. They bring in the passion, the perspective, the will and the manpower. They can’t always be controlled, but they have the social buy-in of your town and can be the best mouthpiece for economic development, downtown revitalization, residents recruitment, business recruitment, public art pieces and more!

Community members, real estate agents, merchants, churches, freelancers and more, this part is for you. If you have an idea and 15 minutes of time, don’t waste it! Write it down, throw it out on social media, shoot your town manager an email. You don’t have to know how it will all roll out, but invite your community to weigh in and see if it has legs!

Town managers, don’t ignore these emails. Even if its the most bizarre request to put elephants in the city’s water fountain. I’m not saying that that idea should be entertained, I’m saying you have a lot of imagination that can be creatively utilized to make your town the best version of itself, all informed by the people that call it home.

I know this could seem like the most common sense blog that we’ve posted. But, don’t disregard the power of collaboration. Also, on the other hand, don’t ignore the efforts and energies being wasted in committees in every town where there is a lack of collaboration.

Take a look at your community, find the groups that have overlap and get them in touch with each other. Not every project needs five leads or partners. But there is something to be said about people being aware of all that is going on in their town.

Collaboration matters. We are good on our own, but we’re better together. We have our own ideas that can turn into action when paired with others.

On Slowing Down

We’ve been thinking and talking a lot lately about the concept of slowing down. Motley desires to work with communities to create intentional spaces that cause you to linger a little longer, to facilitate public art that makes you stop and look up, to design town logos and brands that make you take a second glance.

We live in an incredibly fast-paced world where we often feel like we are just trying to get from point A to point B. But we want the journey from A to B to be something engaging and worthwhile. It can be a good thing to spend time romanticizing the details of your life. To find your morning commute to be adorable. To think your Tuesday night dinner plans are exciting. To be ten minutes late because you needed to watch the sun come up.

Life can be difficult and sometimes romanticizing the little things can feel naive. We’re immersed in start-up culture, surrounded by entrepreneurs who are constantly talking about the “hustle” and the “grind” of it all. Through our conversations, we’ve come to agree that the hustle and the grind aren’t things worth romanticizing at all.

Working through meals and missing lunch for the sixth time this week is not beautiful.
Hustling through the holidays and missing out on time with loved ones is not beautiful.
Spending every day in the office from sun up to sun down is not beautiful.

Work can be beautiful but it is surely not all we are. Reclaiming our humanity is invaluable. See a movie. Walk to work. Call your mom. Eat some cheesecake. The every day, unimpressive stuff, that’s where you make a life.

It’s great to dream and aspire to more for yourself and your work, but there’s something to be said for having allllll the heart eyes for your life right now, just as it is. Be okay, or more than okay, with where you are because you’ve created something wonderful in the here and now.

On Activating Space in Spring

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It’s March, which means springtime is upon us! The blooming flowers and warm sunshine offer us much more than a pretty scenery though; the beauties that come along with spring also provide countless opportunity to capitalize on art-based placemaking in our communities.

Focusing in on art and culture within placemaking is a really creative and effective way to help identify your assets, and give your community a story to tell. It doesn’t matter if you’re a large, busy city or a small, rural town, creative placemaking has the power to bring vibrant engagement and a true sense of place to any downtown.

Utilizing unique public spaces for public art projects can magnify the character of your community and bring life to spaces that may otherwise go unused and unseen. Here are some art-based placemaking activities that we love and are perfect for generating foot traffic and joy for people of all ages!

  1. Murals: Painting a mural is a low cost project that allows for creative expression and community engagement. Murals are also visually pleasing and bring bright color to what may usually just be bland asphalt. This simple project has the power to increase foot traffic and give your town a tangible destination people want to visit, try it out!

  2. The Little Free Library: Integrating a little free library into your community can do a wonder of great things. First of all, these little colorful boxes just look happy. They also promote reading, for everyone! Put together a community event where you decorate a little library and have everyone bring a book to put in it, has there ever been a cuter spring activity? I think not!

  3. Sidewalk Chalk: One of the most simple spring art projects to organize, yet one of the most fun! Get your community together, choose a theme, and then disperse groups all over to decorate your downtown with positive art and quotes. This is an easy way to brighten up your downtown for spring, with engagement from community members of all ages!

  4. Pop-up Shops: Who doesn’t love a good pop-up shop?! Having outdoor shopping on the Main Street of your downtown is sure to create foot traffic. You can also support small business owners in the process - reach out to the local artists, crafters and bakers in your town to expose and highlight the unique character of your community!

— Lindsay

On Social Media

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As you’ve probably noticed, the world we live in is social. Everyone is constantly interacting, except today interacting goes far beyond face-to-face conversation. At times, this is definitely frustrating. But, if leveraged properly, utilizing social media platforms to interact with your customer base can bring your business great success. A large part running a business relies on getting your store or product in front of people. And if you are a town or a community -- a lot of times you get additional capacity or funding from additional people or visitors. Online, your social media platforms and your website are the “doorstep” to your business or organization.

Because your social media is a lot like a first impression, it’s important that you keep it as presentable and welcoming as you would your office/store front, at all times.

Here are a few tips and tricks that can help you leverage your business on social media with the most impact for your time and money in mind.

  1. Save your effort for where you will have an impact. It’s better to be present and fully active on one social media, rather than trying to manage three different platforms and be inconsistent. Being all there on one social media will be much more effective than being everywhere.

  2. Focus in on posting quality content. The most popular social medias, Facebook and Instagram, are visual applications. This means that producing aesthetically pleasing content is essential if you want to catch the eyes of potential customers. So don’t settle. Hire a photographer, or utilize nearby college students for help.

  3. Use a scheduling app to plan your posts ahead of time and keep things consistent. In order for customers to develop a deep connection to your business/brand, they need to be exposed to what you’re doing as much as possible. This means that posting on social media can’t fall to a “when I get to it” task. Instead, we recommend that you use free mediums, like Buffer and Hootsuite to schedule your posts ahead of time, lowering your chances to forget to post and ultimately losing customer interest.

  4. Get to know your target-market like the back of your hand… or better! What is the age group that you are trying to attract? What do they like? Where do they go? Every time you use social media you should be thinking about these aspects of your target-market and address them accordingly. If your target-market is 25 year old men for example, it’s important that you engage with them in the ways that they like to interact, AKA don’t talk to them like you’re talking to your Grandma; use appropriate slang and try and connect to them based on their interests and way of doing things.

  5. User-generated content is your friend! Believe it or not, your customers are already doing a lot of the work for you when it comes to social media. People love taking pictures and posting pictures -- especially the younger generations. This means that there is a great chance that there are already quality photos on the internet from your store/business. Use these! People feel really special when businesses use their photos. This will also help you develop more personal relationships with your customers and ease some of your stress to create quality content all the time.

On Lindsay

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Hi! My name is Lindsay Reeth and I am the Events and Programming Intern for Motley! I am also in my final semester at Elon University, working to complete a major in Human Service Studies and minors in Leadership, Psychology, and Teaching and Learning.

Although my majors and minors have provided me with many skills and insights for working effectively with people, I would say that the most impactful experiences of my college career have come from outside the classroom. I have spent the past four years at Elon exploring the beautiful state of North Carolina, taking advantage of all it has to offer. I can wholeheartedly say that I have found my truest sense of place in the blooming old mill towns, the majestic mountains, and the vibrant farmers markets. Immersing myself in these unique communities and getting to know the people whose hearts make up the character that is North Carolina has been the driving force behind my deep passion for people and where they come from.

I am someone who thrives off building relationships and forming connections with people of all different backgrounds — I believe that getting to know someone means learning about what makes them feel most alive, and I have never felt a deeper sense of this than when walking down the main street of a small town in North Carolina. The decorated store fronts reflect what each and every small business owner feels the world needs more of, and there is something truly special about that.

So even though I am graduating Elon in a few short months, I will never leave behind the sense of belonging that these communities have brought into my heart. North Carolina, you have made my love for people grow stronger and my passion for communities much deeper.

"Alone we can do so little, but together can do so much."
- Hellen Keller

On Being Right

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Community development is a learning process. It is also an organic process. Because of this, there is very little black and white, or room to be right or wrong.

There are bad practices and best practices. There are things that should not be promoted within the community (like theft, bad business and lawlessness). There are best practices that should be supported and sustained (like safety precautions, making environmentally friendly choices and inclusivity).

We have been in communities where two options have presented themselves, and both could arguably be right.

An old mill building was purchased by a church. The church then wanted to use the mill building as a gym and family life center for their congregation. The build out and renovation was too expensive to make the project feasible. The church obtained permits to tear the mill down. The community pleaded with the church to let the old building stay. Community members had connections to investors who wanted to make the site into a live/work development.

Instead, the mill was torn down.

Are either sides inherently bad? No. Do I have an opinion on what should have been done? Yes. But at the end of the day, community development is about growing the community in question into their best selves. There is no 10-step instruction guide to community development. It is a lot of small movements that fold into larger ripple effects.

It’s like making biscuits from your grandmother's recipe, not the Pillsbury can. It’s a lot more eyeballing and testing the texture and outcome of the addition of each ingredient. It’s a lot less of the straight forward, step-by-step instructions.

What are the ingredients? What is the collaboration that you need for community development?

You will need facets like engaged community, art, involved staff members and partner organizations.
You will need space to play and develop.
You will need businesses who are bought into a larger vision and so much more.

But the cool thing about community development is that it can start with a sidewalk chalk festival or a local battle of the bands night. Communities start to build, bind and thrive with care and intentionality. It starts with picking up trash or putting an encouraging sticker on a light pole.

So, some questions that you can ask your community today, what are the small steps that we are taking today to lead us to where we will be tomorrow? Where do we want to be tomorrow, and are we taking the small steps to lead us in that direction?

On Benevolence

“Community development is a process where people come together to take action on what's important to them. At its heart, community development is rooted in the belief that all people should have access to health, wellbeing, wealth, justice and opportunity.”

-- Scottish Community Development Center

At Motley, we believe this to our core. It’s the whole reason we took this jump and started a business. We love being business owners and the process it takes to start something new. We love creating something unique, special, intentional and independently ours in this world.

But really, we believe that this work is important and needs champions to stand up and do the work, be it glamorous or dirty.

A mentor once told us that we will be successful in the work that we do only when we truly care. No other measurement holds as much value in this work. If I don’t care, I can try to conquer a project. If I don’t care, I can seek praise and recognition. If I don’t care, I can execute the best event and branding efforts, but the wake of the project could negatively affect the community. Without personal investment, success really has no legs.

Community development to us is about caring for people. People make up this brilliant world we live in. We do the work that we do to promote emotional, physical and financial wellbeing for our neighbors, sisters and brothers in our communities. We believe in justice and the well-keeping of humans in their natural state: cared for.

This business is a passion project, a calling, a joy and a challenge for us all in one. It challenges us every day to be better humans, for ourselves, for each other and for everyone we come into contact with along the way. It challenges us to walk in someone else’s shoes and to always look for the other perspective.

So, if you see things on this site, our Instagram or our Facebook that are a little too personal or seem more about us and less about community development in a scientific way, it's because this is more than a science to us. We love books that talk about sidewalks and ordinances, but we also love books that talk about our vulnerability and how humans feel safe and dare bigger. We want to share music that makes us feel alive. We want to promote art that allows us to experience diversity. Community development has become a lifestyle for us, something that makes us delve into our humanness, and it’s something we celebrate.

On Rallying

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Image by @18millionrising

To those who marched this weekend, way to stand up and have your voice heard. We are glad to be part of communities where rallies can be a time/place for us to voice our opinions. This is a huge win for many.

This is my fear, rallies are often a privileged opportunity. And, if your voice and opinion don’t include upholding other voices, then we might actually just be repeating a cycle.

Take time to consider who your community is. What do you want it to be? Who do you want to uphold and safeguard? Who should be included in your utopia of a downtown? Who do you want to pass on the streets and wave to while checking your mail?

Communities are loved and broken and celebrated and torn apart, day in and day out.

Motley’s vision is for all communities to be valued for their inherent values and social beauty.  This means envisioning a world where the refugee caravans and the block of Rauhut Street in East Burlington are celebrated, upheld and loved. But, not only envisioning it, but working daily towards a world where this is a reality.

So, my words to you today, my challenge to you, my call to action, is to take that utopia of a community that you have envisioned and make it your reality. If that means moving to a place that embodies that more, do that. If that means changing the way you walk to work, do that. If it means changing up the place where you grab a drink on the weekends so that you can patronize a locally owned/minority owned/artist owned business, do that.

There are times where our team gets questions for visiting a place, or patronizing businesses in certain parts of town. We place ourselves there intentionally. We want stigmas to disappear. We want to be part of the change.

So, keep marching. Keep having your voice heard. But I would challenge you, as we challenge our team, to represent smaller voices as well. Let’s not keep the cycle of oppression going as we stand up for issues that matter to us. And, as you make your voice heard, work daily toward making your dream a reality.