When A Plan Comes Together

Publication Note: This column was first published in the March 7, 2018 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format.  It is the 30th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column.

It’s a great time to live in Lonoke.  Because of the work of volunteers over the last two years, our community has raised our expectations for what the future can hold for our small town of 4,287 people.  In spite of challenges that were sure to come (and others that were unexpected), the enthusiasm of citizens from each neighborhood in Lonoke has only increased. It looks like 2018 will be a year when this wave of hope and action will continue to grow and include more voices from our community than ever before.

The reason that the work which the citizens of Lonoke has been successful thus far, is that a common vision for our future has been embraced.  There has been a focused, volunteer-led effort to create a plan involving ideas from the entire community combined with volunteer-based implementation strategies.  Why is it happening at this time in Lonoke’s history? I would suggest that a major contributing factor is that there is now a plan in place to guide the work that the community has stepped up to accomplish together.  This plan is powerful, because it originated with the citizens of Lonoke–a true grassroots effort, cultivated in the rich soil of creativity and optimism.

Photo Sep 01, 8 39 04 AM
Lonoke’s 1963 General Plan, a tool used by the community, in cooperation with Governor Rockefeller, to attact industry and promote growth in our town.

In architecture, we begin with a drawing–Usually a sketch–a loose, broadly-defined composition of forms in both two and three dimensions.  The number of sketches that a designer works through during the ideation process can be endless, but with each new exploration of form comes a residual contribution to the greater whole.  As these loose forms are refined, and sketchy lines become hardlines, then models, and finally, measured drawings, a plan emerges. All along the way, these drawings articulate relationships, be it the relationship of the project to a site, or a space to a function, or a space to a space, or an individual person to an individual component of design.  Relationships are important, and a good design will enhance and celebrate these relationships.  The resulting plan is an inclusive description of the work to be done (the “what”) along with the details necessary to put it together (the “how”).

So, the design process is iterative, meaning, many versions of an idea may be explored along a path to pursue a greater goal.  This is readily adaptive to the practice of community development. A greater goal warrants a plan, or a map in order for the pertinent steps to be known and for the critical path, or time frame, to be identified.  Absent a plan, we simply have a fishbowl of ideas without a mechanism for implementation.

A plan is a bold declaration that we aspire to something greater, and that we intend to work together to achieve it.  By contrast, episodic or periodic projects done in isolation make no progress toward a larger vision, especially when undertaken without the input of stakeholders and creative contributors.  In some cases, executing a project without transparency and a connection to a larger purpose may actively work against the fulfilment of a common vision.

That is why it is critical that no project be done in isolation.  We live in a small town, and when changes are made or proposed, we must ask the question, “What is the bigger plan?”  If a project is not tied to a bigger plan, then we must ask, “Why is there no plan?”

It is important that the voices of our neighbors be heard, and that each project we attempt together be part of a bigger vision.  As we discussed in a previous column, “everything affects everything.” Whether a project is a component of a phased improvement or whether it is isolated in its purpose and origin, it will make an impact on our entire community- either a positive impact, or a negative impact- on our quality of life.

However, when we have a plan in place, we gain the ability to understand our current position on the continuum of implementation, the ability to evaluate our progress toward our stated goal, and the ability to articulate our potential for greater impact as our plan and goal is achieved.

Lonoke’s High School and Middle School Students have the opportunity to participate in the EAST Initiative, which introduces our students to Environmental and Spatial Technologies (thus, the acronym).  Led by Coach Tyler Shaw in Middle School and Amanda Wicker in High School, students are challenged to create and execute projects in relationship to a specific set of goals. Namely, the students must address a Critical Thinking component, Advanced Concepts, Real-world applications, and Teamwork.  To remember this goal, a large poster hangs on the classroom wall of the EAST Lab as a reminder of the ‘CART’ requirements. In this past year, students have studied robotics, teamed with the Chamber of Commerce’s Downtown Lonoke Support Committee to develop a plan for documenting our historic buildings, and even presented a plan to Lonoke City Council for improving and expanding Lonoke’s sidewalks.  These young men and women have learned the value of a process that we can all learn from. During last month’s EAST Night Out, our students presented their projects to the community, developing another key leadership skill- the ability to communicate an idea clearly and effectively.

LA_EAST
Lonoke High School Students Keiunna Walker, Elisha Potter and Michael Orrell presenting at the Downtown Lonoke Support Committee meeting.

Lonoke must have a criteria set for evaluating our progress together.  Absent of critical thinking, advanced concepts, real-world applications, and teamwork, no project undertaken in our community can have a lasting value.  However, when tied to a bigger picture, as a component of a multi-year, multi-phase vision, each project can have extraordinary value, because everything affects everything.

When a plan is drawn out, on paper and in a visual form that can be clearly understood, it is easy to gain support and momentum.  When that plan is articulated from the beginning as a component of a bigger vision, it can be celebrated when it is completed, and that celebration can fuel our next steps together.  Let’s follow the example of our students at Lonoke Middle School and Lonoke High School, and collaborate to achieve something worth celebrating when a plan comes together.

Ryan Biles is an Architect who draws plans (and elevations, sections, and details) all day long (and enjoys it!)   Check out column archives and other additional content online at www.lookatlonoke.com .

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