Illustrations by Katherine Meulemans
Ideas make the world go round. Here, five visionaries share their big ideas for improving the Fox Cities.
The Big Idea:
Establish a community vision statement that all Fox Cities public governing councils and boards, along with community-wide private service agencies, would embrace and abide by.
Why: To preserve the quality of life we currently enjoy, while ensuring it continues to improve for future generations.
The Brains: Walter Rugland, Fox Cities Exhibition Center proponent. Current board chair of the ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value. Past board chair of the ThedaCare Health System and the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region. Founding secretary/treasurer of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
He says: “My motivator is the Fox Cities communities’ quality of life which we celebrate daily. We revel in the limelight of the national admiration and recognition we receive for how we live. We feel a quality of life in our spirit and know it fosters our commitment to schools, safety, sports and neighbors. This is a legacy that challenges our future. I believe a community vision is a missing component to sustaining and enhancing the quality around us. It requires embracing a fact of life that we are not
10-plus communities, each on its own path; rather that we are a community of 220,000 lives in a wide ranging network of neighbors and workplaces. It demands a realization that we are all in the future together. A vision statement enables a clear and consistent basis for major decision-making; answers the question, ‘Why is this initiative important?’ and provides an unbridled base for plans and aspirations. It will be used to validate future strategies, actions and performance. It will lead us to invest in that which is worth doing, and reject biases, barriers and excuses that hold us back. Future generations are depending on us.”
Vision statement: We are a great community and will always be in both character and spirit. We care for each other and place community before self. We integrate all aspects of life’s needs and culture as essential to the quality of life. We pursue innovation, investment and effectiveness with the belief that best is not good enough. We measure success in terms of value added to the quality of life, in both efficiency and enhancement. We foster our humanity and strive to honor our role in the wider world with compassion, creativity, participation and understanding.”
The Big Idea:
Create radical, no-strings-attached collaboration between cities through an artist exchange initiative.
Why: Fox Cities artists will share our community’s story with a broader audience, while visiting artists will bring new ideas and perspectives for local public art and culture, which stimulates economic growth.
The Brains: Adrienne Palm, Director of Pulse Young Professionals Network at the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce
She says: “We have a lot to gain by sharing our cultural assets, whether in other Wisconsin communities, cities across the country or even internationally. Our community lacks the racial diversity of many other places and has limited financial resources for public art (which has been proven to stimulate economic growth). We have only scratched the surface when it comes to promoting our own local talent and cultural capital via musicians, artists, dancers, entrepreneurs, graphic designers, architects, urban developers and so on. Recent efforts to tap into this creative momentum and prioritize creative growth in our region have primed us to learn from other communities and in turn, tell our own unique story to a wider audience. We can tell that story by exporting our “cool” to La Crosse, Atlanta or even Moscow. If our local talent is supported and given new opportunities by the community, they will feel an enduring sense of loyalty and pride for this place — one that will be further cultivated through new experiences and a different level of achievement than they can accomplish in our market alone. The hope is that they will come home with fresh ideas and a broader perspective — ideas that can be recreated or developed locally. By that same token, importing the talent and culture of other places will bring more value than the permanent mural or temporary pop-up shop that initially drives the city-to-city exchange I’m proposing. It will also build a roster of unexpected advocates for the Fox Cities, much like Mile of Music has done. It will expose our children to new ideas, belief systems and cultures. It will hold a mirror up to our community and challenge us to be better, to keep pushing forward and not be afraid of change.”
The Big Idea:
Enhance and transform downtown Menasha into a central social district that is activated with a never-ending series of engaging activities and social events.
Why: To improve the quality of life within the community; support retail activity, service business and entertainment venues; and create an energetic and dynamic experience for downtown residents, employees and visitors.
The Brains: David Buck, Community Development Director for the City of Menasha
He says: “The concept of the central social district is the next great phase for Menasha’s downtown redevelopment. I see the function of downtown Menasha evolving into an activated social epicenter where the downtown is the heart of the community – a place where people increasingly live and work, and come to gather and celebrate, to meet old friends and make new ones. This can happen by continuing Menasha’s ongoing efforts to provide a dynamic mix of housing choices, employment opportunities, specialty shops, dining options and public and private entertainment venues, as well as to invest in the power of people to come together. Let’s envision the central city area active and vibrant 24/7. It’s not hard to picture our historic downtown’s sidewalks lined with local businesses; café tables crowded with people laughing and talking; street vendors and merchandise displays filled with unique and interesting products; food trucks producing delectable aromas and lines of hungry patrons; street performers and musicians capturing our attention; children playing at interactive hardscape amenities like giant chess boards, imagination playgrounds, or even winter ice rinks; and of course a plethora of selfie opportunities next to interesting street art like statues, fountains and murals. We can further enliven the downtown through the expansion, enhancement and promotion of regular public events, such as the Farm Fresh Farmers Market, Twisted Pistons Cruise-In, Hometown Halloween, Corny Community Walk and Menasha First Eve, as well as by developing new events. I envision downtown Menasha crowded with people participating in special events and activities like street sales, art-music-food festivals, concerts, performances, outdoor movie viewings, pep rallies, boating, kayaking, athletic events and similar public happenings. By activating the downtown as a central social district, we can go the next step in making the heart of Menasha a great place to live, work, stay and play.”
The Big Idea:
Race is a myth. It’s time to debunk this myth through the creation of the Fox Cities Inclusion Network — an online and in-person network that would expand our community’s “in crowd” to include people of all hues.
Why: To create a more just, welcoming, and vibrant community in which each of us can reach our unique potential.
The Brains: Dr. Kimberly Barrett, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Dean of the Faculty at Lawrence University
She says: My big idea is that race is a myth. Our belief in this myth results in racism. Whether it plays out in old-fashioned overt ways such as name calling and segregation or, as is the case more often these days, in ways that are the result of implicit or unconscious bias, it influences our decisions every day with terrible social and economic consequences. This has created a type of colorism in which people identified as white are the “in” group while people of darker hues are the “out” group. I believe it is time to debunk this myth and form a new Fox Cities IN group. The “IN” in this case stands for Inclusion Network. The Fox Cities Inclusion Network would exist both online and in our schools, businesses, faith communities and neighborhoods. It would be action oriented, educational and celebratory. As such, it would empower individuals to help debunk the myth of race by sharing strategies for expanding the IN crowd. These inclusion initiatives could involve inviting people who identify as different races to join your group or you to join theirs. This might include mixing up who you sit with in the school cafeteria, inviting a person of a different race to worship with us or inviting a colleague of a different race to a social event or lunch. The Network will also provide an opportunity to showcase successful acts of inclusion on social media and acknowledge those who make exceptional progress in promoting inclusion. Science is clear on the fact that there is only one species of human and that color is only skin-deep. People of all hues have the same range of intellectual potential, physical abilities and possibilities of acting in ways that harm or support others. Wouldn’t it be great if our culture finally caught up with the science and if the Fox Cities were to lead the way?”
The Big Idea:
Transform Wisconsin from its current national position as dead last for business startups through the creation of a more regionally and nationally engaged, active startup ecosystem.
Why: A startup-friendly environment will ensure that corporate innovation, millennial talent, venture capital and our image as builders of businesses are retained here in Wisconsin and the region. Launch Wisconsin is a tangible entity, with staff who communicate with other startup regions around the world to bring relevant connections, ideas, learning and value to Wisconsin.
The Brains: John Ernst, President and Executive Director of Launch Wisconsin
He says: “By 2020, 46 percent of the workforce will be millennials. Today, 60 percent of millennials consider themselves entrepreneurs and 90 percent recognize entrepreneurship as a mentality. Our region has been conducting global business for decades and, in some cases, for over 100 years. We have the tools and resources to engage with the innovative class and cities in the startup world today. Unfortunately, Wisconsin and the Midwest currently rank last for new business startups among the 50 states. It is not because we lack talent, brands, ideas or capital. It is because we need to change the way we are viewed by other communities and by ourselves. For rapid growth to occur, resources, talent and capital have to come together. Efforts to collaborate and build new businesses here in Northeast Wisconsin are fragmented. This fragmentation is also reflected in our startup community and the result leaves the area trailing behind others in the Midwest and the nation. Thriving startup ecosystems that build successful businesses have an active and dense community that creates systemic coalitions, networking, capital and innovation. Launch Wisconsin, the organization that pulls it all together, is an innovation and entrepreneur summit for millennials, young professionals, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and corporate innovators. Most importantly, it’s an entity that brings people together from across the nation. It is high-quality and low-drag networking for real people who are modeling what the area has to share with the world. When you see it all together, it’s quite significant. The events that Launch Wisconsin produce showcase an environment, vibe and culture that innovators thrive in, while also serving as a magnet for high-value national “hot zones.” An example is our StartupPITCH contest that will award $100,000 to a 2017 winner. Nothing like that has been done in Wisconsin before.”