Showcasing Your Community

I tripped across this video recently and I really loved it. If you have no formal training with maps, I highly recommend it as a twelve minute introduction to some essential concepts that you really need to understand if you are going to promote a place. Maps are excellent tools, but many people know little about them.

We have sayings like "A picture's worth a thousand words" and "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Somewhat akin to such ideas, a map is an information-dense means to efficiently and effectively communicate a wealth of ideas and the design of a map also tells you at least as much about how the map maker saw the place as it does about the actual place.

If you want to do community development work, understanding the value of maps as mental models and communication devices is extremely helpful. A good map can really boost the power of a web page or printed brochure tremendously.

We have a number of pithy sayings and anecdotes surrounding the idea that if you want something that communicates a lot of good information briefly, it really takes a lot of work to develop something like that. One of those is the saying "I would have written a shorter letter if I had had more time."

If you develop a website as a community development tool, it may begin as long and rambling. As you get more information and get better at figuring out what you most need to communicate and how best to do that, it may actually get shorter but denser, at least for a time or in some sections.

This is true because you don't want a lot of fluffy filler. That's not a good way to promote your community and can be counterproductive.

This post is building on a previous post called Profile Your Community and Set Development Goals. That post includes a quick and dirty profile for Aberdeen, Washington.

It's "quick and dirty" because I have actually spent upwards of three years doing research to profile the community and develop a website that would work as a valuable tool for community development work. So that one post really only scratches the surface of what I know, what I wish I could make happen for the town I live in and so forth

It took me more than three years to develop a good website for Aberdeen, Washington in part because I had to find good quality technical resources available for free under a Creative Commons license, such as the maps by Stamen Design. Eclogiselle exists to gather together such resources so other small communities can get there faster than I did.

I highly recommend you go through the process yourself as much as possible. I am available for hire if you can spare some money and don't have the technical expertise you need, but it is a best practice to understand your community yourself and set goals yourself.

Wanting an easy answer provided by an outsider is the crux of the problem with the failing local economic development office in Aberdeen. I did volunteer work for them for a time and that did not go at all like I expected it to go.

I wanted to participate in good faith, lend my expertise to their process to enhance their work some and try to make connections locally to grow my own income. Since they nominally do economic development, in theory their office should be thrilled to help hook up someone like me. I have skills, I was just new to the area and inexperienced with face-to-face networking.

Unfortunately, the person they hired isn't really qualified to do the job. So this de facto devolved into me feeding him ideas, which he implemented badly and took all the credit for at my expense. Not only did he not help me get hooked up, he actively interfered with me making connections and actively tried to make me look bad so no one would figure out that I was the real source of a lot of "his" ideas.

Sayings like "Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything." are popular in some business circles. The reason is that there is typically a lot of unstated assumptions that are extremely hard to convey in brief and the best way to "tell" people your idea is to execute it and show it.

Here is a brief thought experiment to illustrate this point:

If I say the word "chair," what comes to mind? Maybe I mean some overstuffed armchair and you are thinking of some wooden kitchen chair and someone else has some other kind of chair in mind.

Even if all three of us have an overstuffed armchair in mind, what color is it? What decorating style is it? What materials is it made out of?

Telling someone "You really need a chair here." doesn't tell them enough information for them to effectively execute that idea in line with what you have in mind. If that's all you say, it's likely to turn out dramatically different than if you are the person who picks the chair for that spot.

Even if you say more than that, they most likely won't remember all the details if it wasn't written down in exacting detail, which tends to not happen. This issue gets a whole lot worse if you are much more knowledgeable about certain things than they are and using terms they don't truly understand.

So I was feeding ideas to the executive director of the local Main Street program, he didn't have the background I have and he didn't really understand what needed to happen to properly execute them. Naturally, he was botching the execution.

Fed up with the way I was being treated, I quit all my volunteer work in May on the theory that "Hey, they are paying him, not me. They can take whatever results he can deliver instead of treating me like slave labor while he gets paid, takes credit and screws up my ideas. He's not even really doing what I told him to do. He's doing something else and it sucks, so it's not even making my town better."

All the evidence suggests he continues to cyberstalk me to try to glean ideas from me even though I have made it absolutely no secret that I quit over his abusive treatment of me. I am beginning to believe that he never had any ideas of his own and that stealing mine and then bumbling around to implement them badly may have been the majority of what he was doing to pretend to do his job.

He appears to have no game and no plans to get any game. Stealing my work seems to be his entire game plan.

The end result appears to be that he looks just busy enough to not get fired for doing nothing yet I see no evidence that any economic development is actually happening in this town. As far as I can tell, his one and only accomplishment in all of this is that he gets to keep his paycheck and that's it.

If you actually want your community to get better, let me recommend you not use his method. You need to do the research yourself and develop your own ideas and vision for your community.

Stealing someone else's ideas, or even paying someone else to decide for you what your vision should be, is not a best practice. You will not be able to effectively execute on someone else's hopes, dreams and visions.

While you should be pursuing research and a visioning process yourself, hiring technical assistance for website work, map creation and so forth can be an excellent means to help you up your game and meet your goals. If you are stuck for ideas, this may include getting feedback on what is likely feasible for your area.

That might sound like the same thing, but it really isn't. The first involves asking someone to decide your future for you under circumstances where that vision has little hope of even becoming reality.

The second is more like asking for a book of recipes that will tell you what your options are given the ingredients on hand. Sort of like asking "What can I cook if I have the following ingredients?"

An example can be a powerful tool for education. Currently, the following website is a mere thirteen pages, but it is the culmination of the aforementioned three-plus years of research and development. Enjoy.
Pedestrian Coast
All rights reserved. Pedestrian Coast was not published to serve as yet another freebie for the local main street program. It was published to serve as an educational tool for people in other communities who may become paying clients of mine at some point.

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