I've spent much of the past week embroiled in intellectual debates with my colleagues in urban sociology and related fields. So this story in today's El Paso Times couldn't have come at a better time. It reminds me that what's really important is what's happening on the ground in real communities. A much smarter thinker that me once said (and I paraphrase): The point is not to interpret the world, the point is to change it. I want to send a personal note of gratitude to Joyce Wilson, Angela Mora (pictured here), and our energetic team of change-agents in El Paso, and especially to my own incredible RFCG team: Rod Frantz, Amanda Styron, David Miller and Lou Musante, who are the force behind our contribution to this effort. As we expand these efforts at community transformation, Veronica Escobar, one of the young visionary leaders we met in El Paso, will be helping us in future initiatives around the country as well as continuing to make change happen in New Texico.
"Economic development isn't just about attracting companies; it's also about attracting and keeping talented people, and that takes a creative city.... A group of 31 El Pasoans has taken Florida's theories to heart, and with the help of the Richard Florida Creativity Group, based in Washington D.C., are trying to find ways to tap into this area's creativity to improve the quality of life here and to stimulate economic growth. The El Paso group is part of the New Texico Creative Cities Leadership Project... El Paso and Tacoma, Wash., are the first cities to be part of Florida's Creative Cities Leadership Project. Last week, Florida's company announced the start of similar projects in Tallahassee, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., and Duluth-Superior, Minn.
For more information on the New Texico project, click here.
"The El Paso-Juárez region is poised to attract many companies from the northern U.S. and southern Mexico. To make the most of this potential, the region needs to think about how it will support the people who do and will live (here)." The project is aimed at giving El Paso the "tools and knowledge it needs to build a stronger economy that is authentic to this region and sustainable," he said....
El Paso City Manager Joyce Wilson said the New Texico project is "an economic development and quality-of-life project." "I hope it develops an awareness in the community of the creative assets we have here. ... We have a lot of creativity in this community that if we harness and release, can empower the citizens to do great things for our city." Mora, the Texico project coordinator, said the project is like a lab to test Florida's theories. The plan is to make the project long-term, with some participants leaving and some new ones entering each year, she said. The project's 31-member class came up with six initiatives during a brainstorming session with Florida to focus on his "3 T's of economic development," Mora said.
The initiatives: a soon-to-begin El Paso-Juárez Binational Arts & Culture District design competition; a Border Canvas project to bring an attention-grabbing public art project here by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who most recently did "The Gates" in Central Park in New York, or by area artists; ecotourism development and promotion; a Binational Technology Alliance; a mentoring program for all ages of people; and an idea-support network to provide resources for people with innovative project ideas....
During a two-day workshop with Florida last September, the Texico project participants were told this area "should capitalize on being one of the largest binational borders in the world," Wong said. That's why she's heading the committee organizing the El Paso-Juárez Binational Arts & Cultural District design competition. "We are taking about a 30-block area from the El Paso Museum of Art to the Museo Historico in Juárez and giving" teams of university students and other nonprofessionals the "challenge of developing this area" into an arts and cultural district, Wong said. The competition is scheduled to open Thursday, and entries are due May 14. The winning team will get $7,500, and two finalists will get $2,500 each.
The teams could come up with a number of concepts -- from urban design schemes to proposals for a festival -- Wong said. The winning concept will be presented at a public forum and then, along with other ideas that "look doable," will be given to government officials in El Paso and Juárez, she said.
Stephen Ingle, 33, co-founder and art director for Creative Kids, an El Paso art education organization, and a project participant, said, "We have a lot of creative juices flowing (here), but we haven't focused on a lot of initiatives" to showcase El Paso and Juárez. "Austin didn't become Austin until it took advantage of what it had." Ingle is overseeing the Border Canvas initiative, which, he said, is aimed at using art to "show the tolerance between El Paso and Juárez" and bring an economic boost to the area. Ingle's committee has sent a proposal to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who have gained international attention with their environmental art projects, to do a project here, he said. But if that doesn't materialize, the committee wants to get area artists to do some large public art project, perhaps using the international bridges, the Rio Grande or the mountains, Ingle said.
El Paso County Commissioner Veronica Escobar, 37, another project participant, is overseeing its ecotourism initiative. "My pitch to the group was El Paso has such a great geography and unique environment. Instead of figuring out ways to make this a tourism center through a roller coaster" or other things, "we should build on the assets we have." That includes rock climbing, mountain and street biking, and river and arroyo walks, she said. Escobar's committee plans to work with organizations already staging recreational and outdoor activities to develop and promote outdoor events and build an ecotourism structure, Escobar said.
Peter Cooper, chief technology officer for the El Paso County government, is heading the project's Binational Technology Alliance. It's focused on identifying and assisting efforts to attract high-tech companies to El Paso, he said....
Elizabeth Dahl, executive director of the Children's Miracle Network in El Paso, is heading the project's T3 (T cubed) Mentoring Program initiative, which, she said, is aimed at setting up a mentoring program to help people on both sides of the border with education and personal and professional development. It's a way to "increase the talent base and retain people in our community," she said.
West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd is overseeing the project's New Texico network initiative, which, she said in a written statement, may be a "loose association of people in the area" that would connect people with great ideas to the resources needed to carry them out. "This region breeds great ideas. But a great idea often needs talent and money and time and resources to really make it grow and have an impact," Byrd wrote. Byrd said she doesn't know whether Florida's theories answer all the questions about how to grow a city's economy, "but I certainly think he is onto something," she wrote. "I think there is a role for the traditional economic development activities, but if we really want to get it done as a city, we need a great Downtown, we need great parks," and other quality of life things, she wrote.
But Florida in his book also notes that attracting creative class workers to a city isn't simply done with "bike trails, music scenes and other amenities. "Building broad creative ecosystems that mobilize the creative talents of many is a complex, multifaceted activity. We are only beginning to understand how do do it. It will take a long time and many local experiments."
New Texico Creative Cities Leadership Project Initiatives
El Paso-Juárez Binational Arts & Cultural District Design Competition: Open to teams of university students and other nonprofessionals worldwide to come up with concepts for an arts and cultural district stretching along a 30-block area from the El Paso Museum of Art to the Museo Historico in Juárez. The competition is to open Thursday, with entries due May 14. The winning team will get $7,500 and two finalists will get $2,500 each.
Border Canvas: Bring public art project here by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who have drawn international attention with public environmental art projects, or do a big public art project with area artists, possibly using the international bridges, Rio Grande, or mountains.
T3 (T cubed) Mentoring Program: Getting mentors to help people of all ages on both sides of the border with education and personal and professional development.
Ecotourism: To further develop and promote outdoor activities tied to El"Paso's mountains, river and other natural features and build an ecotourism structure.
Binational Technology Alliance: Provide enabling tools, training and infrastructure to support the growth of technology-based populations and industries in the region.
New Texico network: Association of people who would provide resources to help people with ideas for innovative businesses or projects to carry them out.