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.

On Security

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
-- Maya Angelou

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Safety and security are rarely what we talk about here, but it is at the heart of what we focus on in our work. When you feel good about where you live, if you feel safe, then and only then are you able to thrive, participate and live into the community you are surrounded by. Residents and businesses living and operating from a place of security, and not fear lead to art, economic growth and community engagement. But these things cannot happen without open hands and minds that aren’t scared of the past, present and future.

Motley has worked with communities that have population demographics split right down the middle of these two mindsets. Half of the community is secure and operating from a place of health and emotional attachment to the place. The other half is struggling to engage because of prejudice divides, economic instability, cultural difference or a list of other reasons. Motley’s goal in every community is for everyone to feel safe and included, to then be able to engage and thrive in the place where they live.

Unbalanced attention might seem unfair or even unattainable, but really, in order for the entire community to move forward, the ones that were left in a space of insecurity need to be brought up to to a safe place.

This is where we utilize creative placemaking. Placemaking can take form in many ways. You’re already participating in and benefitting from placemaking in your day to day life: city events, a mural, a community garden, bike lanes, a good park, an Instagram account, a strong local business community -- all of these things make us feel like we can call a place home and feel good about it calling it home. These initiatives only increase place attachment and secure feelings towards our community that are healthy. These initiatives can provide a place, a platform, and exist as a tool for others in the community to reach a place of security.

The result of placemaking is the difference between walking into a home that is furnished with pictures on the wall and stepping into a shell of a house that has all the possibilities but is unpainted and unlived in. Placemaking is the human touch, it’s the family photos, it’s the chipped paint on the walls. It’s turning a place from “Maybe I can see myself here,” to “This is mine!” In this, it’s important whose picture you see on the wall. Could you see your entire community here, or have you created a place for only some of them?

So, next time you’re painting a mural, or posting on Instagram, think for just a minute -- is this going to engage my whole community, the community that is already safe, or could I use this tool and this time to engage with those that are still working to claim this community as theirs?

On Endings

Ever since I was little, I’ve always hated when things would come to an end. It could have been an experience as big as a three-month summer camp, or something as small as a movie - it didn’t matter, I hated endings.

The worst part about it wasn’t even the ending itself, but the days or moments leading up to it. The moments that come before an ending are where the reflection happens, and for me it was the time when the immense joy for where I was set in and the attachment was at its strongest, making the end that was closing in even tougher to bear.

As my internship with Motley is nearing its close, these emotions are coming up all over again, except this time with a little bit of a twist.

After years and years of fearing change and the endings of experiences that I truly loved, I have started looking at endings from a different perspective. Instead of fearing that experience being over, I started imagining the ways that the experience would live on in my future. This mindset changed things. It transformed invading fear into unwavering appreciation, and deep sadness into joyous reflection.

This new mindset was perfectly reflected on an even larger scale through Motley’s mission to revitalize downtowns.

Working with towns struggling to find their voice showed that the fear of one chapter ending can be turned into the excitement of a new one starting. Motley enters communities with bright hopes and new ideas. They don’t see old towns as an end, but instead as an opportunity to rebuild using the most unique characteristics that the place has to offer.

This is an important lesson, not only for community developers and placemakers, but for all of us. It’s important to view ending in a positive light. To create a desire to find out what great things could lie right on the other side of an ending chapter. We must not fear the end, but know that they are placed intentionally on a path to beautiful change and valuable improvement.

And as for me, I am no expert at this yet. But I am working to love endings because just like an old town looks for a new direction to chart its future, I will carry with me where I have been into whatever places I get to call mine down the road.

— Lindsay

On Place Attachment

On average, people move twelve times in their lifetime. Thirty-six million Americans move each year. As humans, we aren’t very attached. We view where we live as temporary so we don’t invest.

We want to get you thinking about a better, more attached way of life. We’ve created a bit of a place attachment quiz to help you assess how attached you are to the place you call home. Count how many times you answer “Yes” to the following statements:

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  1. I feel rooted here and it feels like home.

  2. I like to tell people about where I live.

  3. If something exciting were happening in this community, I would want to be involved somehow.

  4. I don’t want to move anytime soon.

  5. I don’t need to use my GPS to get around.

  6. I feel like there are things to do and look forward to spending my nights and weekends here.

  7. I know and can depend on my neighbors.

  8. If I have an idea, I know the proper channels to take to make it happen.

  9. I know and feel loyal to the local business community here.

  10. I care about the future success of this town.

Placemaking is an investment, and more than just dollars, placemaking requires time, energy, dedication. Knowing how to get around without your GPS shows your dedication to learning your place. Engaging with your local business community shows you’ve invested time here instead of leaving town every weekend. Investing time, dollars, energy and resources are exactly the kinds of things that turn a place from good to great. Vibrancy cannot and will not exist without your participation. We want you to be in the driver's seat.

If you’re not connected to your town, do you know why? Can you recall a place where you have been connected in the past? What was the difference? And how you can implement that here, where you live now? Ask yourself these questions, and ask them often. Consistently gauge your attachment to where you live and make the effort to determine why it may be lacking. This will transform your longing to be where the grass is greener, to feeling deeply rooted in your community and the role it plays in your personal identity.

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