Makin' Places in Macon

April 15, 2014 at 5:53 am CDT

A postcard from a random stranger. A vacant lot turned into a place to play the playground games of your youth. A public chalkboard filled with all of the things your neighbors love about their community.

Small things. Things that don’t cost much. Things that can, nonetheless, plant the seeds of difference-making and place-making. That’s what the League of Creative Interventionists is out to create. The only thing not small is their desired impact and their name, so I’m going to call them the LCI for the duration of this article.

Why people love Macon. Photo: Hunter Franks Why people love Macon. Photo: Hunter Franks

Working on a grant from the Knight Foundation, the LCI is doing small-scale interventions in four cities where the foundation has a presence, starting with last month’s engagement in Macon, Ga. Later this year they’ll do residencies in Akron, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pa.; and Detroit, Mich.

LCI founder Hunter Franks hopes to give communities tools to create places and spaces for community members and give those residents “a little nudge” to be creative and come together in those spaces.

In Macon that’s involved using a tool Mr. Franks has used before called “neighborhood postcards” where residents of one neighborhood write what they love about it on a postcard and mail it to a resident of another neighborhood. Residents are also working on a Macon cookbook and writing what they love about the city on a big chalkboard near a popular restaurant downtown. The goal is to get people talking to each other about the place they live.

LCI works with existing community groups to get started and is also forming chapters in the cities it visits. Further, it provides tools for people who want to start chapters in their own communities.

As he looks toward Detroit and Philadelphia as upcoming projects, Mr. Franks tells Livability that in larger cities, the focus will be more on specific neighborhoods. “Detroit has similar challenges  [to Macon] with blight. That being said, Detroit has a much larger creative community that’s working to address these challenges. Macon is a little more focused on infrastructure revitalization, which is also important.”

He says the projects are all about creating spaces where conversations can happen. Those conversations are geared toward creating unity and connections between people. He told me a story of a 10-year-old girl who wandered into a neighborhood postcards party. She was wearing a pin with a South African flag on it, which caught the attention of a professor from Macon’s Mercer University. She, too, had visited South Africa, and the two chatted about towns they had seen and favorite experiences. “Those two folks would never usually interact,” he said. “They’re separated by age and race and probably by neighborhood. Giving them the space to have that interaction ... that’s the whole point.”

“Everything that happens in a small town like Macon is amplified. It’s a bigger deal than it would be in someplace like San Francisco because the scale is different.”

Mr. Franks is developing tool kits that communities can use to foster this creative place-making on their own and encourages local chapters of the LCI to form both in communities he’s worked with directly and elsewhere. For more information, see the league’s website.

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