It is not enough to just accommodate all of the various demographic groups in downtown; the goal should really be to encourage interaction and engagement within the downtown area. While infrastructure and amenities can be designed to foster spontaneous interactions, as discussed in last week’s post, programs can also be designed to actively promote engagement and interaction among like-minded individuals.
For instance, Dodge County, Wisconsin’s first Blue Zones community, has implemented numerous events and activities designed to foster social interaction, such as running groups, history walks, potluck dinners and educational classes on a variety of topics (with the added benefit of recognizing the talents of local residents). Another example of more direct programming to enhance engagement is Wisconsin’s YPWeek initiative, which recognizes and engages young professionals in more than 20 communities with coordinated programming and events annually each February.
On an ongoing basis, increasing numbers of government entities and nonprofits are instituting student or youth representatives on their governing boards, while formal advocacy groups such as the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) engage retired professionals in community improvement. Working professionals and entrepreneurs are being engaged through less formal mentorship and entrepreneurship networks, including co-working or ‘third place’ businesses, and the growing number of second-career entrepreneurs provides an outlet for these previously untapped skill sets. Engaging these skills on behalf of civic engagement is the purpose behind community ‘SOUP’ events, which solicit ideas for community improvement and provide crowdfunded funding toward favored initiatives. Learn about an example of this type of event in La Crosse.