This summer I am looking forward to publishing a new book titled;
The Soul of Place; Re-Imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community
Here is an excerpt
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Re –Imagining Community
Finding Common Ground Through Stories of Place.
We cannot talk about community without first talking about place
Questions of identity and quality of place need to be in the forefront of our thinking now. Not only are they questions that inspire creative endeavors, these questions also inspire leaders and the communities they lead. And communities that foster a culture of place may hold a distinct advantage over those that see their priorities largely in technical or economic terms.
Each community has a story of place that defines its character and uniqueness. It is a story that reflects a community’s unique dreams, history, economy and people as expressed through its aspirations, accomplishments, challenges and possibilities. Understanding the uniqueness of its stories of place is the foundation for building an innovative economy. And an engaged community is the most knowledgeable resource for creating a story for the future that reflects the uniqueness of the place in which we want to live now.
Stories of place are made more vibrant when rooted in the identity and unique heritage of a particular region and locality. These stories of rootedness to place contribute to regenerating community when considered in the broad context of the natural, built and cultural, economic and social environment that defines its current distinctiveness and future potential.
A story of place is how a community creates a unique brand for itself. An identifiable and unique place – based brand differentiates one community from another. It also creates a shared vision that shifts a community’s thinking and values from focusing on parts and problems to focusing on potential and opportunity, from seeing change as expert and outside driven to co –creating together through a process of self discovery and collaboration and shifting the focus from working with isolated symptoms and quick fixes to seeing the underlying patterns and connections between things as a whole.
For example; at a recent conference where a group of community leaders in Atlantic Canada were asked about what the story of place meant for them, they reflected on finding common ground in their deep ties to land and sea – to a mist filled land both gentle and unyielding and to the
enduring loyalty to their stories and community. This long history of living on a sea –
bound coast gave them the gift of a perspective larger than any one person or any
individual’s self interest.
For the Chippewa First Nations community near Orillia, Ontario one defining narrative
of place is that their land sits on the confluence of two distinct biospheres, where the
granite rock of the Canadian Shield to the north meets the limestone plain to the south. This is
The Land Between and their story is about living in a meeting place between two distinct ecosystems and how to make the best of living in not one, but two worlds.
Sometimes stories of place can be distilled to one story and a tagline that does not reduce the story to a slogan but instead speaks to the essence of the place itself.
In a partnership between a community art gallery that wanted to create a place to display the work of artists with mental health challenges in a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association the story of place was ‘Gifts in Shadow’.
For Quaker Foods, their story finds its place in the American Heartland. ‘Breakfast is amazing’ served as the story of place for reconstituting their product line with heart healthy oatmeal with which to start each day.
And for a San Antonio based engineering company that was a global leader in alternative energy technologies, their employee engagement strategy was constructed around creating a community of conversations, the roots of which originated in the shared experience of growing up in the front porch culture of West Texas.
Community stories that are specifically place based achieve several things;
-They help individuals see their ‘value added’ role in how they can serve the larger whole
-They offer an opportunity for everyone to belong to a story.
– They serve as the common ground for building a long-term strategic plan.
-They elevate the collective identity of a community.
-They enhance the quality of health and well being for everyone.
-They reassert and build upon the significance of its heritage story
-They serve as a unifying force around which culture, tourism, economic development and social initiatives can align.
Stories of place move us to action by engaging diverse members in the community in continuous cycles of dreaming and manifesting in new and innovative ways. They serve as the catalyst through which a community continuously regenerates and re – imagines itself and the form in which its sense of vocation and destiny may be realized.
This leads us to ask;
1. Where have we experienced a connection to place that has inspired our imagination? Where was it and how did it feel?
2. When have we had a similar experience in our community (buildings, nature, groups, neighbourhoods, heritage etc) where we have also felt most ‘at home’ that is; places that offer the greatest sense of connection, aliveness, vitality and satisfaction?
3. How do these places inspire our aspirations and dreams – our story of place – for the future?
4. How does this story reflect the richness and accomplishments of our heritage past?
5. In what ways does a sense of place create a unique brand or voice for our community – that is, a signature theme that would draw visitors to the area?
6. What challenges and opportunities does the community face at the present time – the gap between what we want and what is – that a story of place may help resolve?
7. What gifts and assets do we have now in the community that would serve as catalysts for creating a story of place?
8. What leadership capacities will be needed to develop this story for the future?
Too often, we attempt to undertake large systemic transformational changes without
taking into account the unique characteristics of the place we are in.
Most communities are not at a loss for innovative ideas. What they may overlook
however is how to partner with these unique qualities and features of place –
– the soil we inhabit – that enables these seeds of innovation to take root and grow.
By looking at place as both something to return to and also something to grow out
from –orienting us on a trajectory that includes the future and the past; and by realizing that a place is not an object or a thing, but a power and a presence, we can partner with it in a way that is itself deeply transformative, opening our hearts to the shared experience of beauty, aliveness and possibility.
Michael Jones www.pianoscapes.com
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