5 Lessons You Can Steal to Crowdsource Creativity in Your City

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, former Councilmember Scott Meyer gives a fascinating talk about cultivating a welcoming, inspiring and forward-thinking community, and shares tools and resources that have helped turn his small city into the “Creative Capital of the North.”

Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Brookings, South Dakota, former Councilmember Scott Meyer talks about the benefits of inviting all members of the community to creatively solve problems together.

Community leaders in Brookings, South Dakota, sought ways to jump-start economic development, boost public spiritedness, and unleash the creative ideas of residents in the city and the region. The resulting Creativity Week festival, begun in 2014 and continued in 2015, gives credence to the city’s claim as “Creative Capital of the North.”

What are the goals?

With a goal of “crowdsourcing creativity,” Brookings adopted a model familiar to anyone who has ever watched a TED talk. In the case of Brookings, the Creativity Week festival was not just one event in one venue. Rather, the festival, showcasing the creativity and innovation of the local community and region, encouraged individuals to hold their own events ranging from TED-style talks to music and arts performance.

At the heart of the effort was a recognition that a community vision and the energy to achieve that vision starts at the grassroots. Whatever big challenge may confront residents of Brookings, whatever outcomes they wanted to achieve, the solutions can be found through the innovative ideas of residents, business owners, neighborhood leaders, high school students, and grandparents. Participation in the Creativity Week events has proven to be a catalyst for idea sharing that engaged a significant portion of the community.

How is the project being executed?

With just $20,000 in financing, the city launched its first “Creativity Week” in 2014.  Although the city manages the event, citizens host the local sessions which helps keep costs down. The city has committed funding to the 2016 event and accepted donations and sponsorships for the 2015 event. In fact, the 2015 event is financed almost entirely with donations from the Bush Foundation, local businesses, and the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

What are some of the results?

Combined unique attendance in 2014 topped 4,500 attendees. YouTube videos of the event gained more than 75,000 views. The experience has also taught us the following lessons:

  1. Find community members who naturally lead, and let them lead; let them organize events and be heard
  2. Be radically inclusive in all events and activities; show off an interesting, welcoming community to outsiders
  3. Take risks and think big; possibilities are unlimited
  4. Infuse the arts into your events; music, dance, painting, and performance inspire creativity; utilize fewer hotel conference rooms, and more interesting spaces with local flavor
  5. Capture what is learned, share it widely, and build on the things that capture people’s imagination

Resources

Presented at the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities
Former Councilmember Scott Meyer, Brookings, South Dakota – scott@9clouds.com
NLC contact: Brooks Rainwater, Director, City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities – brooks@nlc.org

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

How This Mayor Improved Traffic Congestion Problems in His City

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, Mayor Clint Folsom shares how a revolution in transportation infrastructure, a diverging-diamond interchange, reduced traffic and accidents along a busy highway in Colorado.

Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Superior, Colorado, Mayor Clint Folsom talks about an innovative new highway interchange design known as a diverging diamond interchange, which saves time and money in construction, uses less land, and improves the flow of traffic.

What are the goals?

The existing interchange at McCaslin Boulevard and US Route 36, which lies between the Colorado towns of Superior and Louisville, cannot accommodate the increasing traffic of the growing Denver suburbs. Faced with budget cuts and limited options, rebuilding the intersection was not an option. The chosen solution: retrofitting the existing overpass into a diverging diamond interchange.

The new interchange alleviates congestion by temporarily crossing the parallel directions of traffic on the overpass as the span traverses the interstate and then allowing the traffic to return to its appropriate side after exiting the overpass. Such a system eliminates the need for left-hand turns that cross the flow of traffic; a major cause of both congestion and accidents. Additionally, the design uses less land by eliminating the need for special turning lanes, allowing for expanded space for pedestrians and traffic flow.

How is the project being executed?

The cities of Superior and Louisville, Colorado initially conducted studies to find a solution to the McCaslin bridge bottleneck that separated the two communities. Both cities joined forces with Colorado Department of Transportation and the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) to finance the $12.5 million project. Superior is financing the largest share of the project with a $5 million municipal contribution. The project avoided high costs, by preserving and repurposing the existing infrastructure.

Additional Features

In addition to improving traffic flow, Colorado’s newest DDI will have several other features to alleviate traffic congestion and improve safety. A series of bike paths and shortened crosswalk crossings will lower the risk of accidents involving pedestrian. A new RDT stop, the Denver Metropolitan Area’s bus service, will avoid the interchange all together through the use of special ramps, saving commuters an average of 3 minutes each way.

Resources
Route 36 Commuting Solutions

Presented at the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities
Mayor Clint Folsom, Superior, Colorado – clintf@superiorcolorado.gov
NLC contact: Brooks Rainwater, Director, City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities – brooks@nlc.org

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

How These Two Cities Merged Fire Departments to Manage Growth AND Cut Costs

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, two mayors from Nebraska explain how a new inter-municipal fire department offers a quality of professional service that neither city could provide alone.

Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Mayor David Black of Papillion and Mayor Douglas Kindig of La Vista co-present on how these growing communities merged fire departments in an effort to address their shared needs through inter-municipal collaboration.

What were the goals of the project?

La Vista, Nebraska, a growing suburb of Omaha, just reached 18,000 in population and decided it needed to replace its volunteer fire and EMS services with a professional department to accommodate increasing needs. The larger neighboring community of Papillion has maintained a professional fire department since the nineties, but in recent years also has acknowledged the need for its own expansion. Rather than maintaining two separate departments, the two cities proposed merging as a means to cut costs. Both the La Vista and Papillion city councils agreed to form one stronger department that would cover both cities, cut costs all around, and accommodate the needs of these growing Omaha suburbs.

How was the project executed?

Officials from La Vista, Papillion, and the Rural Papillion Fire Protection District approved the formal merger in the fall of 2013. On April 1st, 2014 the La Vista Volunteer Fire Department terminated its services and the newly enlarged Papillion Fire Department began protecting La Vista. With the help of a $2 million federal grant, Papillion hired 12 new fire fighters, 4 of whom served as volunteers in La Vista.  Months before the transition, Papillion fire fighters began conducting test missions throughout La Vista to acquaint themselves with the new territory.

The 2014-15 budget breakdown for the new merged district will involve the Rural Papillion Fire District financing the biggest portion at $2.7 million, while La Vista will pay about $1.6 million, and Papillion $1.7 million. The cities plan to sell equipment made redundant by the merger, and will use the revenue to further cut costs and purchase updated equipment. Papillion estimates that the average $100,000 home will pay $6 less a year in taxes slated for fire prevention.

What are the results to date?

The new unified fire service has a professional staff of 51 career firefighters working to provide emergency services to the cities of Papillion and La Vista. Papillion’s city council is in charge of the new four station department. In total, 57 paid employees work across three shifts to protect 60,000 people living within the newly created 68 square mile special district. The department is also able to guarantee Advanced Life Support at all times. Local residents have grown accustomed to seeing trucks marked “Papillion” and “La Vista” freely cross between the two communities. City officials confirm the new inter-municipal department offers a quality of professional service that neither city could provide alone.

Presented at the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities
Contact: Brooks Rainwater – Director, City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities
brooks@nlc.org

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

How Technology Infrastructure Changed Our Small City

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, Mooresville, North Carolina, Commissioner Lisa Qualls shares big ideas about how broadband technology changed her town. Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Mooresville Commissioner Lisa Qualls speaks about the role technology has played in placing her small town in North Carolina at the forefront of technological innovation.

What are the project goals?

The City of Mooresville made the decision to establish high speed Internet as a basic utility to which all citizens have access. Through a robust technology infrastructure, the city will better equip its students, citizens, and businesses with the tools necessary compete in a global market. Schools will have access to the fastest Internet speeds available and each student in the district will receive a school issued laptop or tablet. Additionally, the strong data network provides low-cost Internet to citizens and businesses, fostering economic development, supporting municipal planning, and even enhancing disaster relief.

How was the project executed?

In 2007, the City of Mooresville bought a local cable company after it went up for sale.  Mooresville and its neighboring communities filed to jointly buy the company for $64 million. After a lengthy process, the coalition of cities gained control of the company and its fiber optic network. That same year, the Mooresville School District began its “21st Century Digital Conversion.”

Having secured access to a high speed telecommunications network, Mooresville sought advice and help from industry experts like Apple and Discovery education. In keeping with the education goals outlined above, Mac Book computers and iPads have been leased annually from Apple on three or four year contracts. The funding for this equipment and software updates comes through city and school district budgets and is partially offset by reductions in costs for textbooks. Additionally, the district has received grants to support equipment costs or for various upgrades from sources including Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Despite state education funding cuts, the Mooresville School District is able to maintain over 5,000 laptops and tablets and support a large IT staff. Although the school district has grown in the population served, the use of one-to-one technology has been an essential factor in managing increasing class sizes – in some cases increases of 50 percent. The city also has partnered with local Internet service provider My Connection to offer broadband service at home for as little as $9.99 a month and to offer the service free to families with children eligible for free or reduced cost meals.

What are the results from this initiative?

Since beginning this venture, the city has received acclaim for its actions, including from President Obama who visited the local middle school in 2013. Students from kindergarten to grade 12 each have their own computer and every classroom has wireless Internet access. Graduation rates have risen and the city has seen a dramatic reduction in the performance gap between black and white students and between wealthy and poor students.

In other areas, Mooresville also used its enhanced GIS technology to help Niagara Bottling Company find a new home in existing facilities just outside of Mooresville. All city parks and municipal buildings offer public access Wi-Fi to 100mbps while sports venues webhost live footage of youth sports so that out of town parents can watch their children play.

Presented at the NLC Congress of Cities 2015
NLC Contact: Brooks Rainwater
Director, City Solutions and Applied Research
brooks@nlc.org

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

Lauderdale Lakes: A Story of Economic Revival

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, Acting City Manager Danny Holmes shares big ideas about how economic development in his rapidly growing city can be replicated by other small cities. Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, Acting City Manager Danny Holmes talks about some of the steps that the city of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, took in the late 1980s and early 1990s to revive the city during a time of economic decline.

What goals were the initiatives designed to address?
Even before the Great Recession, this community was experiencing a weakening economy due to a loss of middle income residents and the departure of major national retail shopping stores. Toward the goal of establishing a process and a set of tools to lead a redevelopment effort, a Community Redevelopment Agency was created in 1999.

What steps were taken as part of the program?
The first step for the Redevelopment Agency was to define and study the area targeted for investment and improvement. The charge included an inventory of vacant land, evaluation of road traffic flows and bottlenecks, and a review of the general characteristics of existing and proposed development in terms of its aesthetics and its commercial viability. The agency had the power to acquire land, execute contracts, and borrow money.

Fundamentally any revitalization needed to be a community process; one with buy-in from residents. In order to achieve a set of concrete goals and policies, a vigorous community engagement process was undertaken. Using community charrettes and other techniques, residents helped to envision what they wanted their city to look like over the long-term.

What was achieved?
As part of a community master plan (adopted in 2003), city leaders and residents focused on vital outcomes. These outcomes included improved walkability and pedestrian safety, more dedicated park and open space, affordable housing, targeting priority development areas, allowing mixed-use development along certain roadways, making better use of the waterfront, and building both a new town center and a new library.

Implementation of the master plan required development of a comprehensive plan and amendments to existing land use and zoning codes. A commercial façade renovation grant program was launched to assist existing businesses upgrade to the new plans. Also, citizens approved a $15 million bond for public improvements within the plan area.

To date, the CRA plan has brought new life to the heart of the city and precipitated numerous building renovations and infill development throughout the district. Streetscape improvements at city gateways along State Road 7 have been completed, maintaining the road width, incorporating signature bus shelters and landscaping. New roads have been constructed and others linked, increasing connectivity throughout the CRA. Traffic calming features have been introduced in strategic locations. All of these efforts have resulted in revived investment, a return of national retailers, newly revitalized commercial activity and greater pedestrian activity overall.

Presented at the NLC Congress of Cities 2015
Danny Holmes, Acting City Manager
Lauderdale Lakes, Florida
danh@lauderdalelakes.org

NLC Contact
Brooks Rainwater
Director, City Solutions and Applied Research
brooks@nlc.org

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.