Judy Clabes: Northern Kentucky Has Already Proven It Can Dream Big
Great communities don’t happen by accident. They require a plan shaped by the hopes, dreams, wants and needs of the community. – myNKY.org
An ambitious 40-page blueprint for Northern Kentucky’s future published in 1996 was the result of months and months of community discussions and focus groups and gatherings – a tribute – not to a political process – but to the dedication of the region’s business and civic leadership.
The organization was then Forward Quest. Driven by an incredible number of volunteers, powered by successful community-wide funding campaigns, it created “community” in Northern Kentucky that was – and still is – difficult to come by, thanks to siloed political divisions in a region with three counties and 30-plus municipalities.
The brainchild of Northern Kentucky businessman Bill Butler, Forward Quest entrenched itself, thanks to the leadership of executive director Mike Hammons – and a wealth of volunteer energy and commitment. So many key players and dedicated individuals joined the parade it would be impossible to mention them all. And then there was the Northern Kentucky Chamber and Southbank Partners and so many other forward-thinking organizations also joining in. Strategic initiatives in economic development, education, governance, regionalism, human services and culture, entertainment and the arts painted a rich, bold picture of possibilities.
That original “blueprint” was an incredible – and admittedly ambitious – roadmap. It included school consolidations (there are 13 school districts in Northern Kentucky), government consolidations (there are 30-plus general-purpose local governments) and a painfully honest assessment of what was needed to give Northern Kentucky both the political strength as well as the stature and influence it should have as the third leg of the “Golden Triangle.”
No, the consolidations didn’t happen. Eggs are very difficult to unscramble, especially when so many special interests are eating from the plate. So the political strength is virtually nonexistent. But the economic strength is a force not to be denied. And the region’s growing sense of community – knowing one end of the boat doesn’t sink – is impressive.
A lot did happen as a result of the hard work and resolve – a Metropolitan Growth Alliance, a Legacy young leaders group, a monorail study, a Northern Kentucky charitable endowment fund (in cooperation with the Greater Cincinnati Foundation), an Urban Learning Center (now part of Gateway Community and Technical College), a regional park, deep, revealing studies on the region’s economy, social conditions and governance, walking and bike trails, riverfront development, a more cohesive economic development strategy through Tri-Ed – and more. Most of the “more,” in my view, was the creation of a culture of regional stewardship and public engagement that has continued to grow and thrive. A regional community that once thought so little of itself now comes together to think a lot aboutitself – and how it can be better.
Through several iterations and convenings and summits and campaigns over the years, Forward Quest became what is today Vision 2015 – a truly remarkable organization that continues to do the great work of promoting regional stewardship, inclusiveness and engagement. It grew out of another regional strategic planning process in 2005.
Vision 2015 is now embarking on its next visioning effort – a five-year strategic plan for 2015-2020.
The result: myNKY.org, an ambitious effort to reach an even larger part of the region through a clever web presence that involves seeking ideas on priorities, a creative game that engages citizens in priority-setting – and more.
Since its launch in mid-January, more than 4,000 people have played the game. More than 1,600 have submitted ideas via the poll and challenge questions. These questions change periodically, so respondents need to check back often.
Those who play the game are in the drawing to win an iPad Air.
This idea campaign will continue for six months. And the folks at Vision 2015 mean to reach out to everyone of the more than 400,000 people in the region. There is even a special place for high school students.
Kara Williams, vice president of Vision 2015, is heading up an aggressive social media campaign to get the word out. “Help us have an inclusive plan for our future,” she says.
She reports that early feedback shows a lot of interest in more bike trails.
“We really want to know what the community’s priorities are,” said Williams. “In addition to providing input through interactive polls and challenge questions, through the prioritization game people will have the opportunity to invest $1,000,000 virtual dollars towards their vision for Northern Kentucky. We think it will be a great way to not only see what’s important to them, but for them to see the impact those dollars can have, depending on how they are allocated.”
Vision 2015 representatives will also be out in the region collecting community feedback at a variety of events over the course of the campaign.
Executive Director Bill Scheyer emphasizes that the Vision 2015 is a “shared public plan that represents the region’s priorities,” that identifies action steps to achieve common goals and finding creative solutions to the region’s economic and social challenges.
He urges everyone to help spread the word so that the next strategic plan for the region has the buy-in that will make it even more exciting, viable, doable – and ambitious – than its predecessors.
That would in itself be truly remarkable. But Northern Kentucky has already proven it can dream big and achieve much when people who care about the region are willing to pull the heavy load together – in a forward direction.
Judy Clabes is editor and publisher of KyForward and former, long-time editor of The Kentucky Post. She knows first-hand what a great place Northern Kentucky is to live and work.