The America In Bloom program motivates towns to jumpstart improvement projects for the benefit of the entire community.
June 23, 2008
Frank Lloyd Wright said, "I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen."
Changing a town's quality of life doesn't happen overnight. Making the commitment to improve quality of life marks the beginning of major improvements that may take years to complete. The America In Bloom (AIB) program, supported by our industry, offers a framework and a way to jumpstart those improvements, so projects that might have ordinarily been done "sometime" can be completed in time for the judges' arrival.
Why do some towns keep coming back, year after year? Some recognize the importance and synergy of expanded volunteer efforts. Others are excited by the progress made possible via business involvement.
Educating The Community
Buffalo, Minn., returned for its third time and a win this year. As Laureen Bodin, assistant administrator for the city puts it, "Our community has wrapped its arms around the AIB program. Often, local organizations take on a task to improve community, but the AIB program, with its many facets, seems to draw in citizens in ways we haven't seen before. Donations are coming in from individuals, and did last year, as well. Businesses are taking part by sprucing up storefronts, and the city continues to expand its beautification efforts further into areas it hadn't reached before. It would be a missed opportunity for us to not promote the pride that continues to develop."
Georgette Garner of Eureka Springs, Ark., says it took three years for Eureka Springs to accomplish its first place win. Earlier, it received the Heritage Criteria award in 2005 and 2006. The entire town center, with nearly 900 structures, is on the National Register Of Historic Places. A historic district commission monitors its preservation.
Garner, the AIB co-chair said, "Taking pride in your community can become infectious once there is involvement. Eureka Springs believes the AIB competition provides an opportunity for greater community involvement and a focus on a deadline for completion of projects. Hosting the AIB Symposium in 2006 was also an exciting event for the small city."
Taking a leadership position is important to towns who know they "got it right." For example, 2005 winner Loveland, Ohio, continued on to international competition in 2006 and won a special youth involvement award for its many programs that engage children. This accomplishment was achieved mainly via volunteer efforts.
Former Loveland mayor and head of the beautification committee, Donna Lajcak, says that for Loveland, AIB has become a "gathering of friends blooming together." She adds, "Our city is the leader and model for the Cincinnati Metro region. People come here to see what this small town is doing with beautification. We have become the standard for the region."
The Best Of The Best
Just as America In Bloom's goal is to make America a better place to live, one community at a time, some towns see America In Bloom as a way to work on one criteria at a time. Each year, rather than attempting to win their population categories, they focus on winning one of the criteria awards, aiming to be the "best of the best."
Logan, Ohio, is one such community. AIB chair and local grower Rick Webb of Webb Perennials says his committee surveyed the town's strengths and weaknesses and realized their greatest strength came from the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who annually donate thousands of hours to their neighbors. By focusing on this strength, Logan won the community involvement criteria award in 2005 and 2006.
"We know how to do community involvement and that will never change or stop. Now we're setting our sights on earning the environmental criteria award," says Webb.
A determined and charismatic natural leader, Webb is working with several local groups, including the Hocking County Soil and Water Department, to develop a statistical analysis on Logan's extensive environmental programs. Each year, he and his committee develop a plan of action for AIB initiatives, solicit community input and then present the plan to the city council for approval and support.
The city also appreciates receiving the judges' comments, because the comments give them goals to aim for. As far as a strategy for staying involved, Webb admits it's easy to burn out volunteers, so they pick and choose their projects. He's excited that ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) has donated $10,000 to Logan's efforts to plant trees and three acres of wildflowers at the entrance to the highway.
"Since starting our involvement in AIB, we've seen a huge change in downtown Logan's appearance," says Webb. "You wouldn't believe the number of people who comment on how beautiful it looks. When we were first doing things, people wondered what it does for jobs. Now I can tell people this is the kind of thing that makes a difference between a company coming to town or not. We're becoming a destination because of the beauty of the planters downtown. Stores are starting to come back - it's an exciting thing."
A Common Cause
Oberlin, Ohio's, AIB chair, Sharon Pearson, says, "Oberlin has continued to participate because many residents and our local newspaper noticed the improvements being made. Each year, there seem to be more and more flowers. Also, in my opinion, AIB is the one program that has successfully brought together government, residents and businesses toward a positive common cause, which has improved the quality of life for all who work, live and play in Oberlin."
It took Oberlin four years to win the top award, and in 2007, the city has entered international competition. "I feel other programs are biased or only represent a small portion of the community," Pearson adds. "A generous donation from our local flower company to the low-income families enabled all of our residents to have an opportunity to get involved with AIB. The AIB competition has been able to cross economic and racial lines in our community."
The persistence of all the members of our AIB family, and their efforts in reaching out to other towns and cities, are what make visible improvements in towns across America.
Get Your Community Involved!
There's no better way to grow your local market than to plant the spirit of AIB in your town. The deadline to register for the 2008 competition is Feb. 28, 2008. For more information, visit www.americainbloom.org.
Evelyn Alemanni is an America In Bloom judge and obsessed gardener. Visit her garden at www.allea.com/gardening-ea.htm.