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Leading urban thinkers and doers Peter Allen, Sadicka White, Ernesto Sirolli and Helen Davis Johnson focused on many aspects of economic development and placemaking during this morning's Convention general session, but the unifying theme was the importance of engaging and learning from citizens of all ages. White, an experienced city administrator and urban planner in Ohio, promoted "intergenerational wisdom" as a key to adapting neighborhoods to the changing economic times. She advocated for an approach that combines cutting-edge research and knowledge with an appreciation for the positive aspects of how walkable, safe neighborhoods were designed in the past. Sirolli, who specializes in training community leaders to discover and assist entrepreneurs, picked up on that theme by discussing the essential nature of a team approach to economic success. "It wasn't Sam Walton who created Wal-Mart," explained Sirolli. "It was Sam, Helen and Helen's dad....No one can do it alone." Johnson brought the "intergenerational knowledge transfer" 2theme home by sharing practical examples of social change brought about in her hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee through the "Chattanooga Way" of diverse community conversations. She described the ground rules as, "If you sit at this table, you have to be part of this place and proud of this place." In Chattanooga, this led to millions of dollars in waterfront investment as well as grassroots initiatives like CreateHere.
Peter Allen, an urban developer, planner and educator, focused on the importance of multiple generations as well, but from the perspective of marketing and attraction. He encouraged community leaders to focus on the "bookend generations" - the Millennials and Baby Boomers - when creating their economic development strategy. He also encouraged them to nurture and cultivate community champions and "update and take advantage of original arguments for why your town was created." This includes preserving and enhancing historic structures and promoting walkable commercial centers.
Community leaders can learn more economic development strategies by visiting the Center for 21st Century Communities. For more about the Michigan Municipal League go to www.mml.org and for details about our 2011 Convention go to tour.mml.org.
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