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How to Get a Car-Dependent City Fired Up about Sustainable Mobility

In a city where 95% of people commute daily by car, how do you even begin to get residents to embrace walking, biking, and taking public transit?

According to the MACON CONNECTS team (NewTown Macon, Macon-Bibb County, Better Block, and 8 80 Cities), the first step is to inspire people to think differently about how they can connect to one another and the places they want to go.

That’s exactly what the team did last week. Thanks to funding from the Knight Foundation, we hosted the MACON CONNECTS Ideas Festival, three days of jam-packed events that got people got engaged and fired up about mobility and public spaces in Macon. To make it a success, we knew we had to do three things:

1.     Have a Deep Bench

It was crucial that all the members of the core project team represented a diverse array of skills. Not only that, but we reached out to dozens of other local organizations, representing all age, income, and interest groups, who co-hosted the week of events with us. Without so many players involved, we would not have been able to engage such a broad and diverse cross section of residents.

2.     Say It Like you Mean It

When you are asking your average citizen to give up their Tuesday night family dinner, make it worth their while. Whether it’s free food, an educational opportunity, or a chance to meet their neighbors, everyone is motivated by different reasons. All too often, public meeting invitations resemble more like un-vitations, with drab design and uninspiring technical language. For the Macon Connects Ideas Festival, we made sure the visual branding and language was simple, fun, and communicated to people that we actually wanted them attending our events and sharing their ideas.

3. Switch It Up

To attract a diverse audience, we offered a wide variety of ways to engage with the Macon Connects content. Gil Penalosa (founder and chair of 8 80 Cities) and Jason Roberts (founder of Better Block) gave inspiring talks throughout the week, but the rest of the team also hosted fun events like outdoor movies, a community cookout, free coffee giveaways, a bike tour of Macon’s secret parks, etc. At these events, we had ways for people to learn about and provide their ideas for improving social and physical connections in Macon.

Nearly 1,000 people participated in the Ideas Festival and shared thousands of ideas! At the Washington Memorial Library, we met a mother of quintuplet teenage boys who wanted more outdoor, sports facilities so that her sons would stay out of her hair.  We heard from several young children who weren’t allowed to play outside the house because their streets didn’t have sidewalks and there was no safe way to get to the closest park.

The MACON CONNECTS team will take these ideas and bring them to life at the MACON CONNECTS Street Makeover, on September 16 & 17, 2016.  We will be building a temporary minimum bike grid, pedestrian plazas, and testing out all the types of infrastructure that might inspire Macon residents to move and connect in new and exciting ways! Stay tuned.

For more information about MACON CONNECTS, visit: www.newtownmacon.com/macon-connects



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