Catching up with my friend Nick yesterday (who, as it happens, is also known as “the Skywalker of the #nonprofit South.” Geeks are the coolest do-gooders.), we got to talking about our fair city of Raleigh and its future. Cities traditionally develop an identity, a brand, a culture known throughout the country. New York City is where folks go to reach for big shiny dreams. New Orleans has been a renowned hub of culture and music.
I recently heard Raleigh personified as a youthful ’19-year old or 20-something’ – a city exploring its options, figuring out who it is, and who it wants to be when it grows up.
So what does Raleigh want to be when it grows up? How do Raleigh-ites think of Raleigh, and what do people outside the city and outside North Carolina think of us? Is Raleigh the: City of Innovation? City for a creative class? City for startups and budding technology? For green spaces?
This is not, of course, the first time such a question has been asked.
It’s this question about Raleigh’s identity, in fact, that drives the creation of events and discussion forums like Innovate Raleigh. Despite the dialogue, however, it can feel challenging for the singular individual to understand what being a city of (insert identifier here) would mean for them. And with that lack of vision comes obstacles to accomplishing real change or progress for Raleigh.
That’s what Nick pointed out, citing a recent chat with another nonprofit rockstar friend of his. Sarah (this nonprofit rockstar friend) theorized that the problem is two-fold, that Raleigh can’t make true progress until:
a) The city has a clear vision of what it actually looks like – physically, practically, day-to-day - when you incorporate proposed changes (examples: implementation or improvements to mass transit, sustainability practices, or schools), and
b) The city and citizens at the forefront of this dialogue do a better job of relating the everyday meaning of this vision and these changes to the individual.
In the nonprofit realm, we are instructed to create our cause’s vision statement based on the question: What will the world look like if you’ve succeeded?
To figure out and successfully shape Raleigh’s identity, individuals – many of whom haven’t spoken up yet – must ponder what Raleigh will look like if it succeeds in becoming what we want it to be. Individuals can help the dialogue shift from beyond the macro level – Raleigh is a “City of ______” – to the more minute, detailed, but extremely important micro level:
- “I wish there were a place in Raleigh where I could ___________.”
- “I wish Raleigh did a better job of ______________.”
- “In 10 years, as my family grows up here, I hope Raleigh will look like __________.”
- “When I, Everydayjoe, step out of the house each morning in Raleigh, I want _______________.”
Raleigh’s evolving, blossoming identity could change the communities within it. Whatever the city becomes could impact its very culture, its very fabric and being.
But Raleigh is a big place, getting bigger every year. It’s a changing organism. So why should what Raleigh becomes matter to individual Raleigh citizens, living, working, everyday?
It does matter. It will matter – As long as the conversation includes what it means for Everydayjoe stepping out of his house every morning if Raleigh becomes a City of Innovation. Or creativity. Or of startups, technology, green spaces, or anything else it dreams.