One of the nice things about last night's "If We Ran Richmond..." event is that close to 100 people came together to collectively rattle around some thoughts about what was worth celebrating in the region, as well as identify a few problems that need to be addressed.
In and of itself, the event -- organized by HYPE (Helping Young Professionals Engage), a program of the Greater Richmond Chamber -- was nothing special. Over the course of two hours, networking and socializing dominated the main floor at Toad's Place. Small groups of people shifted from flip chart to flip chart, sharing their ideas -- better roads, more dog parks, more development along the river, less development along the river, regional cooperation.
What struck me as I floated the room was how much energy of the engaged groups as they tossed out words, phrases and observations that so closely mirrored the words, phrases and observations cast out by dozens of similar groups that have organized before. What also struck me was that for many of the people in the room, this was the first time anyone had actually asked them what they loved about Richmond, or what they'd like to see change.
For me, there's always something special about groups of people coming together to have conversations about the future. One or two or a hundred people walked away last night knowing something a little more concrete about Richmond, more committed to an idea or notion they'd kept tucked away in the back of their mind, carrying a slightly deeper sense of what matters to them.
All good things.
It will be second nature for some to dismiss HYPE's efforts to engage a new group of Richmonders in a conversation about our community as more of the same, or more talk without action. I was on the fence myself. But what I realized driving home last night is that HYPE has planted a few seeds in a few curious minds, set the stage for another group of residents to roll their sleeves up and take action -- of some sort.
That's not a bad thing. In fact, it's how we should be engaging more citizens, more often.
It'll be up to HYPE to figure out how to take the scattershot list of ideas and turn them into a blueprint for civic engagement. Taking the next step is usually where these sorts of initiatives fall short. Time will tell if HYPE's members are as hyped about the region as the organization's leaders.