Over 250 people came together to hear Public City’s Meredith Powell share her thoughts on the rise of Austin as a major city and the lessons that were learned along the way. The information made an impact on the attendees, which was discussed in the break-out sessions after the presentation. This is a summary of what was heard.
We Are A Region of Unique Towns & Cities
The groups were a convergence of people from all eight counties of the Capital Region, with others joining from as far as Lake Placid and Bennington, VT. Participants were excited about the conversation and the idea of bringing the eight counties together to function as a Region. However, they don’t want to see the individuality of our towns lost or whitewashed in the process. Participants felt that it is important that Regionalism lifts the profile of each city and town as part of the messaging.
We Live In The Capital Region, But That Doesn’t Mean Much -- Yet
Participants accepted and understood that they live in the eight-county Capital Region (~85% of respondents identify as living in the Capital Region), but they rarely used this term when talking about where they live. Most felt the term “Capital Region” doesn’t have much meaning outside the area.
The strong majority felt that, if there was a way to talk about the Region, in an authentic way, about the amazing offerings we have, it would help elevate the sense of place. Several expressed discomfort with the tendency to define ourselves solely by our proximity to New York & Boston, though there was recognition that proximity to these cities is also beneficial.
LESSONS FROM AUSTIN:
Many points resonated from Meredith’s speech and how it can be reflected in the Capital Region. Here are the biggest take-aways:
People Like To Visit Places Where People Love To Live
Residents of the Capital Region have to be the first and biggest fans of this place if others are going to feel that too. Local pride is strong, so our efforts need to ensure that they appeal to the locals first and make sure we are thriving before pushing outward.
As well, growth needs to be organic. We should not pretend to be something we are not. There is a sense that issues around the Region need to be addressed now in order to ensure positive and sustainable growth. The main issues of concern are the lack of Regional transportation options, segregation/diversity issues and affordable housing in the cities that are currently growing the fastest.
Collaborative vs Cooperate
Again, the idea of the “us as a region” came through strong, and participants understood that we will have to work together in order to raise the Region. “Start with those who are willing to do the work” was a comment that best sums up these responses, and others cited that all residents need to have a voice in this and work across invisible borders to create unity.
Dance With Who Brung Ya
Hearing about the loss of local icons in Austin was a wake-up call for many of the group members, who acknowledge that they aren’t always great at visiting their small local businesses, though they often mean to. These are the places that identify us and make up the diverse personalities of our cities and counties. If our small businesses are not thriving, we all lose.
We Are The Evangelists
While the idea of seeing and exploring the Capital Region is positive for the majority of the group members, there is concern that many others are not as motivated. Participants recognized that this effort has to start somewhere and that is with the “us” already in the room - the Evangelists. The majority of group members are willing to explore and share local finds, secrets and events, but need information and support. Right now, there is no centralized place to see what’s happening around the Region, and the task of weeding through the various media outlets is overwhelming.
Given a place to go and a rallying cry to connect to, the majority of the group members are ready to start making some noise about the Capital Region. There is support for organized tours and events. “We are willing to participate, but just need some direction,” was a generally accepted response. ACE was cited as the organization best suited to leading this regional effort.
ACE appreciates this this input and takes it seriously. ACE will be meeting in the upcoming weeks to share what was heard and to create an action plan. Stay tuned, ACE will be back soon. ACE staff, moderators, and committee members thank you again for your attendance.