Festifall 2011: Welcome to Willville

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

By all accounts, yesterday’s Festifall was a resounding success. Carolina Blue skies, comfortable temperatures and a diverse program of activities beyond vendor-provided art brought folks out.

This is the second year I helped organize the event as a member of the Town’s Festifall planning committee. Starting Spring, the committee’s duties revolve around brainstorming activities and entertainments, providing logistical support to Parks and Recreation and working on the big day.

Last year, I arrived at 5:30am and left at 8:00pm. This year I only made it to 5:30pm. While quite fun, it can be a long day of lugging equipment, setting up venues, marking booth locations (my specialty), cycling around booths to help folks, and, essentially, being an adjunct gofer for regular staff.

My duties the last two years have been fairly broad but my main portfolio has been soliciting and managing the community group area – Willville as last year’s committee dubbed it.

Why Willville?

When I joined the committee in 2010, there was a serious discussion of removing the community element entirely from the event. Some art vendors had apparently complained about sharing a wall with peace protestors, environmentalist, mental health advocates and other “pedestrian” community groups. A few attendees complained that they didn’t come to Festifall to have broader community-oriented issues thrust upon them.

This was an art event, by god, and whatever might detract from sales should be eliminated!

Festifall, with the cancellation of Apple Chill, is the sole remaining Town-sponsored multipurpose event. Carrboro, who we often look to for community participation inspiration, routinely makes room for community organizations – often putting them front and center – at their events.

This is a community-sponsored event – an excellent opportunity to showcase Chapel Hill’s diverse community interests and creativity – why wouldn’t we want to be more like Carrboro in our emphasis?

In 2010, in a bit of a Pyrrhic victory, we maintained the community program at the cost of segregating the majority from the main thoroughfare. Like the displaced of Hoover’s 1920s, pushed back along the fence line, not quite out-of-sight, these groups access to Festifall’s visitors is greatly diminished.

I was a bit of a bear of the subject in 2010, to the point that the committee started to joke that the ghettoization was akin to creating a new Hooverville which they dubbed “Willville”.

That joke carried over this year as I continued to vigorously lobby on behalf of expanding the presence of our local community groups.

For all the good-natured joshing, I’m happy to be associated with “Willville”.

With that in mind, I have a few after-the-event suggestions for next year’s committee:

  • Mix community groups in with the rest of the crowd. We found room for sponsors, the local fire and police departments, a few Town programs – let’s make these groups first class citizens of the event.
  • If it’s deemed too much of a hurdle to integrate the groups into the broad milieu, at least let them setup on the curb instead of being pushed to the rear.
  • Reduce the fee for these groups. $100, $85 or even $65 can be a real obstacle to some organizations. $50, at the most, seems reasonable. Yes, that means revenue will be down as prime spaces which could rent for $100 (or more, given the nasty budget mess Chapel Hill has) but the event has been cash positive the last few years. A few lost bucks to support our community is a good trade-off
  • Remove logistical impediments which make setup and teardown more difficult for these groups than everyone else.

I have really enjoyed working with local residents, Town staff and community groups on this event. The committee, working with a very receptive events planning staff, has down an excellent job diversifying the event – showcasing Chapel Hill’s interest in dance, music and the culinary arts.

In a couple weeks, we’ll have a debrief of the day and work to build on our successes. If you attended the event and have suggestions, please leave a comment.

Kudos to all the great volunteers, the staff and committee of Festifall.

Think Blue: Earth Action Day Apr. 9th, 2011

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Bolin Creek Restoration Project from Town of Chapel Hill, NC

Our community spends a lot of time talking “green”. We’ve encouraged developers and policy makers alike to commit, with some success, to an environmentally sustainable future. Most of the effort has been put into conserving energy, lowering the impact of development, preserving green-space and securing open-space.

“Think green” has moved, in fits and starts, from an empty mantra to being a more integral part of the development discussion. Unfortunately, the time isn’t always taken to tease out what is truly “green” and to what amounts to “green washing” in evaluating various development proposals. Sometimes the natural alignment between environmental justice and social justice is split. Some environmental concerns continue to be ignored.

For one, shepherding our limited natural water resources and adopting policies that constrain growth to live within those limits continues to get short shrift.

Chapel Hill’s Council recently reversed a policy of not tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than a catastrophic water crisis. In weakening the resolve earlier bodies showed, they opened the door to growth fueled by external resources. Our community has steadfastly supported land-use policies that try to maintain the high quality water drawn from the local watersheds. We have been told that our investment in those resources would maintain a reasonable level of growth for the next 100 years. Apparently the community’s resolve is firmer than our current Council’s.

Water is becoming the dominant limiting factor to growth for community’s all across the globe. Even in areas blessed with plentiful rainfall, maintaining safe and reliable access to water is a problem that only grows with time. As North Carolina continues to dip in and our of drought, we need to recommit to the vision of living within the watersheds OWASA has acquired on our behalf.

Along those lines, we need to think more than “green” in making decisions about how Chapel Hill and Carrboro evolve over the next few decades, we need to start thinking “blue”.

That is why I’m thrilled by the efforts of the Friends of Bolin Creek [FOBC] partnering with Chapel Hill and Carrboro in putting together an Earth Action Day which emphasizes WATER.

Starting off at 9:30am, a dedication will be held for the Baldwin Creek Restoration project [MAP]. Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the Friends of Bolin Creek partnered on this EPA 319 grant project to start reversing some of the damage caused by previous poor management practices.

Project lead Trish D’Arconte has worked hard to make “think blue” a reflexive part of Chapel Hill’s policies and will be explaining how the work at Baldwin Park is a start on a larger effort to remediate many of the impaired streams in our community.

From 10am-12pm April 9th, 2011, the FoBC’s Creek Action Tour has 9 separate events (INFO) and demonstrations reflecting on improving our local impaired watersheds through conservation, sound management and awareness.

You can learn how to make changes at your own home, in your own neighborhood, that will improve the streams in your area. The FoBC is also holding a raffle with several great prizes, including a personal tutorial on constructing a rain garden.

Chapel Hill’s Wes Tilghman (who I worked with on planning 2010’s Festifall) and staff put together an event that celebrates and highlights our community’s environmental commitment. From 12-5pm (INFO) a wide range of entertainments and exhibits will be shown at Southern Community Park. Free shuttles are available (check the website for more information).

Carrboro: 100 Hundred Years Young

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Our neighbors across the tracks are celebrating their 100th birthday today.

Carrboro, “the little community that could”, has still managed to keep itself, as local radio icon Ron Stutts likes to say, “one degree cooler than Chapel Hill”.

Celebrations start this evening around 7:30pm at the Century Center across from Weaver St. Market.

More information at Carrboro.com.

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