This blog chronicles and analyzes developments in the Upper Delaware Valley, with an emphasis on public affairs, politics and what people are doing to make this a better place. You can find news here as well as commentary - but don't expect neutrality. The award-winning editorial writer for The River Reporter from 2004 to 2012, I am an advocate for sustainability, self-sufficient economic growth vs. globalization and protecting the environment on which our health, prosperity and quality of life depend.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Charrette surprisingly provocative

I didn’t necessarily expect much from the second evening of the design charrette held for the Upper Delaware waterfront revitalization plan for the river corridor on Wednesday, August 1—it sometimes seems like Sullivan County spends its time endlessly planning, without anything much ever getting done—but it turned out to be interesting in several respects.

The first point of interest was the summary that the consultants gave of all the challenges, concerns and opportunities that locals had presented to them on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Laundry lists tend to be pretty boring, but this one seemed especially valuable to the extent that it was organized into useful categories, and seemed comprehensive enough to provide a great base reference for future discussion. (If you’re interested in having it as such a reference, the consultants are preparing a report that will be presented to the Sullivan County Planning department over the coming weeks, and the department will in turn disseminate it to the towns.)

But a number of the points also sparked off some ideas that hadn’t occurred to me before. For instance, in a list of the potential users of the river corridor, the consultants included both beginning hikers and beginning paddlers. The qualifying word “beginning” seemed somewhat daunting at first, to the extent that it suggests that the hiking and paddling here might not be as good as it is in places like Colorado with more challenging waters and topography.

But it also opens up a possibility: this area can specifically be marketed to groups with varying abilities and in varying physical condition that want to get outdoors, but have to accommodate those varying abilities. That means not only that marketing can be directed at families but also at corporations looking to do team-building events and corporate outings. With metropolitan areas not far away, this strikes me as a big opportunity that so far has remained largely untapped. Of course, to take full advantage of it probably would require a solution to the perennial lodging problem. But it charts a productive direction for planning.

Another idea that struck an obvious chord with those assembled was the bullet point “First contact/ambassador program – every staff person is a potential ‘point of first contact.’” The presenter noted that when visitors ask someone standing behind a counter what is going on in the area, it makes a big difference whether that person either can tell them about the festivals, gallery shows, flea markets and events or present them with a piece of literature that lists such events; or just says, “Hey, there’s nothing going on here. It’s really dead.” A murmer ran through the audience as we all remembered times when we had heard people saying just that, or something very like it, to visitors.

Transforming this kind of attitude and interaction is a piece of low-hanging fruit that can be done for free, or virtually free—education and outreach is obviously needed, as well, perhaps, as the production of improved literature to distribute.

The conversation that was most interesting to me was that which concerned the concept of branding—but that really needs its own post.

I’ll keep track of the final report from the consultants and let you know when it becomes available to the towns.

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