On Saturday January 31, 1998, more than 1000 citizens in Racine, Wisconsin, gathered into 23 community forums linked together into a live televised Electronic Town Meeting to begin working together on the future of their community. As they talked, many of their fellow citizens called in to participate from their homes, where they watched the forums on cable TV. Emerging issues identified as top priorities included youth involvement, a clean river and lakefront, a revitalized downtown, regional cooperation, and regional transportation. Within 48 hours, high schooler volunteers had posted the outcome of the forums at www.sustainable-racine.org.
Citizens at each forum site selected a 4 to 6 person delegation to a community Vision Council which worked over subsequent months to develop a shared vision and goals for the region. These diverse delegations included one eleven year old and several other high school students, as well as area service organizations, nonprofit organizations, government representatives, business leadership and other civic organizations.
This event had broad support from the community. The local paper, the Journal Times, covered it for days with large front page headlines, editorials, letters and an 8 page insert supplement, including a 2 page survey for members of the community and notes on how they could participate as viewers of the event on cable TV. The forum was promoted in 2 1/2 hours of radio interviews and scores of speaking engagements -- as well as by volunteers distributing posters and 100,000 brochures to businesses, 75,000 placemats in restaurants and 25,000 bi-lingual door hangers. 60 Rotary Club volunteers hosted and managed the forum sites. And the 100 volunteers who went through a training to serve as forum facilitators subsequently committed to continuing to help the community work together.
Edited from materials supplied by Sustainable Racine.
COMMENTARY: A community is made by what its citizens all do (or don't do). It has many parts: families, businesses, government, churches and many other organizations. Although citizens are active in many of these groups, they seldom have time to step back together to consider the big picture questions of where they are headed, where they want to go, and how they are going to get there. Sustainable Racine's Forums were only a beginning of an on-going program to engage Racine citizens in co-creating the best possible community to live in, work in and enjoy. Each of the 25 community forums was encouraged to continue their work together.
Sustainable Racine is a nonprofit, nonpartisan civic organization established to bring together all sectors of the community in a partnership to form and pursue a long term community vision. It facilitates an inclusive, democratic, neutral civic forum which brilliantly engages the region's civic, volunteer and public resources. It champions innovative and creative solutions to community problems and collaboration to find common ground on community priorities and action. It provides a space in which the collective intelligence of Racine can grow and function.