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Lisa and our fellow PlannersWeb contributor Hannah Twaddell recently collaborated on a session on applying storytelling techniques in community plans for the Virginia Chapter American Planning Association conference. During the presentation, Hannah related a story about her experience working with Binghamton, New York, as they envisioned their future.
Hannah asked the participants about a Quonset hut in one of the city’s industrial areas, “What is this building?” The response she received was predictable: “It’s a factory.” “But what COULD it be?” Hannah pressed. “A factory.” “Couldn’t it be something else?” Hannah challenged, hoping she was opening the door for some creative thinking. People scratched their heads. “A different kind of factory?”
Hannah’s story went on to explain that the residents of Binghamton could not imagine a future in which returning manufacturing wasn’t the mainstay of the economy.
Finally a young newcomer to the community spoke up, suggesting that perhaps it was time to quit waiting for the factories to return, and rather than aspiring to growth, perhaps Binghamton could better reshape its future by becoming a quality no-growth city.
With that paradigm shift, citizens of Binghamton slowly began to view that Quonset hut and other abandoned buildings with new eyes, and the city’s plan captured the idea that Binghamton could be different, smaller, and even better than before.
Many other small and mid-size cities have faced similar challenges to Binghamton’s as a result of the changing global economy. …
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Jim Segedy, FAICP, worked for many years in Ball State University’s Community Based Planning program, providing assistance to more than one hundred communities and many plan commissions (as planning commissions are called in Indiana). He is currently a member of the Edgewood (Pennsylvania) Planning Commission and previously served on the Delaware County (Indiana) Plan Commission.
Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, AICP, is the Associate Director for River Restoration for American Rivers’ Pittsburgh field office. Before moving to Pennsylvania, she spent over a decade as a circuit-riding planner for a regional planning organization serving the western fringe of Metropolitan Atlanta.