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Want to build community? Kemmis says party on, dudes!

Thu, Sep 9, 2010

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Daniel Kemmis, the former Mayor of Missoula, Mont., held forth yesterday evening at the Penrose House in an event entitled “A Vision for Thriving Colorado Towns.”

As Mayor, Kemmis supported and/or initiated many projects to improve civic life in Missoula, including a kayak run, a trail along the river, a prairie grass park,a farmer’s market,  and a skateboard park.  Such projects now seem unexceptional, but in the early 90’s they were often seen as a frivolous waste of public funds, benefiting only young layabouts and yuppies with too much money.

These projects, said Kemmis, were not about economic development or elite recreation as much as they were about creating a thriving, prosperous community.  In Kemmis’ view, prosperous communities have vital downtowns and a rich array of public amenities such as trails, parks, and public events that allow people to live healthier lives, to interact frequently and casually with other members of the community, and to lead richer, more complete lives.

To thrive and prosper, communities must be livable.  That doesn’t necessarily mean rich.

While stressing that each city needs to find its own path, Kemmis offered some highly palatable advice: celebrate, have fun, and have parties.

Successful cities, he remarked, are fun cities.

During the panel discussion that followed Kemmis’ remarks, three panelists (Eric  Drummond, Phil Lane, and Bettina Swigger) added their perspectives, as did several excessively long-winded audience members (names withheld to protect the guilty).

“Biker Al” Brodie’s remarks seemed particularly cogent.

“The Missoula you’re talking about is just a few blocks of downtown,” he said, addressing Kemmis directly. “The rest of the city looks like Colorado Springs.  How do we integrate these  very different communities?”

Kemmis didn’t have an answer, other than to repeat the cliché that “healthy cities have healthy downtowns,” citing Denver as an example.

The event ended (finally!) at 7 p.m., after nearly 90 minutes of well-meaning bloviation.  Canny reporters who had stationed themselves near the back of the room were first at the bar, where free drinks were dispensed, thank to the liberal and community-minded El Pomar Foundation.

During the after party, it was interesting to listen to the reactions of the various community leaders in attendance. Most seemed pleased and mildly energized, although some noted that they’d sat through many such presentations during the last few years, with little to show for them.

Kemmis’ last exhortation: get going and do things-ask for forgiveness, not permission.

And from Eric Drummond, an African proverb.

“If you want to run fast, run alone.  If you want to run far, run together.”

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