Philadelphia has started a program of civic dialog called the Great Expectations project. Community meetings have been held all over the region, to pinpoint what the citizens think are the major issues facing our City and region, and what should be the governmental priorities in each area.
I have blogged for the Great Expectations project on occasion over the past year, and will be attending another event as part of the Big Canvas project tomorrow night. You can read my previous posts from the Great expectations project here and here.
The best thing about the Great Expectations project is that is goes beyond taking a poll of what people feel is important to them- it asks them to engage in the process, brainstorm possible solutions, and figure out how “we”- all of us- can start talking and improve our city, rather than waiting for some magic governmental program to come and solve all the problems for us.
For example, the current “subproject” of Great expectations is called the Big Canvas- what are the priorities we should have regionally, as well as within the City, regarding arts and culture? What acts as barriers to getting people to attend arts & cultural events, and what can be done to solve those problems? For example, at the last forum I attended at Villanova University, people complained about the added costs for parking downtown to attend theater events. People who took public transportation complained about the trains being poorly synced with the end time of performances, causing people to rush out early from events so they could get home. By having these conversations, a couple of ideas were shared that might really make a difference. One idea was to include parking in the cost of the ticket price, or as an add-on. If you wanted to attend, say, a show at the Kimmel Center, you could opt to pre-pay the parking in advance or maybe get a discount with the purchase of two or more tickets. For those using public transportation, SEPTA might need to adjust schedules or have a special train to accommodate theater goers. (I am sure they already do this for large sporting events, so this is really nothing new.)
By having these community events and brainstorming solutions to the thorny problem of getting people engaged in their community, in civic life, in the arts – we may finally make some headway in helping people in our area not only appreciate how many art and cultural treasures we have in our midst, but be encouraged to take advantage of them more. After all, if we don’t introduce our kids and families to these treasures, how will they ever value them when they are making choices as adults about how to spend their time and enrich their souls?
I’m proud and excited to be a part of the Great expectations project- both because I am learning so much about what our community has to offer, but to see how much other citizens really care about what is happening and willing to work to make it different and better for everyone.