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Community ‘visioning’ gives Salisbury City Council, staff and residents a chance to dream together

SALISBURY — Before community leaders spent four hours talking, writing and debating their visions for Salisbury, Mayor Al Heggins reminded them of something: “We’re all in this together.”

“Whether we work here, live here, visit here — we’re in this together,” Heggins said.

With that, the naerly 60 people who had gathered Wednesday at the West End Plaza Event Center began a “visioning” process facilitated by Warren Miller of Fountainworks Facilitation and Management Consulting.

The first thing Miller asked was whether participants knew the people sitting around them.

When people began talking nervously, affirming his guess, he told them that three people from each table had to get up and move to a table with people they “may not know so well.”

“This is a great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends,” Miller said.

He then asked what they think makes Salisbury “Salisbury.”

After a few minutes of discussion, participants shouted out dozens of things, with “welcoming,” “hometown hospitality,” “diversity of thought,” and “deep black religious culture” being just a few.

Miller had Deputy City Clerk Emily Michael write all the suggestions on sticky notes and put them in one of four categories on a board — uses and activities, comfort and image, access and linkages, and sociability.

Miller said the data, as well as all the ideas that participants came up with during the session, would be compiled and given to the City Council.

Miller then moved participants toward thinking about the future of the city by asking what a person living in an ideal Salisbury in 2040 would look and act like.

“When we think about creating a vision for a community … it’s about people,” Miller said. “And it’s not about stuff, it’s not about buildings. It’s about the experience that you want people to have.”

Groups were asked to come up with a name for the person and to map out the person’s “journey” — whether it be a day or a lifetime.

One group created a 27-year-old black woman named Jaleah.

“She is an entrepreneur, an artist and a community storyteller,” said group participant Anthony Smith. “She was born and raised in Brenner Crossing, and she went to the Head Start program.”

Smith said Jaleah has access to capital, affordable health care and high-quality, affordable food.

He also said Jaleah benefits greatly from programs offered at the Rowan IDEA Center.

Other futuristic, idealized “personas” created by groups included a motorcycle-riding advocate for affordable housing and an arts-loving woman with no racial identity “because the need for that no longer exists” in 2040.

After every group had described its character, Miller asked everyone to write down three common themes they had heard repeated in the presentations.

Some of the themes people came up with included “diverse,” “inclusive,” “equitable,” “environmentally conscious,” “healthy,” and “thriving economy.”

Miller said that by listing the common themes they had noticed, participants had “painted a picture” of what they want their city to look like.

With that picture painted, participants were able to envision how their city government can help them achieve their goals.

Participants met several more times at their tables to come up with vision statements, mission statements and core values that reflected the themes they had heard in their previous discussions.

At the end of the visioning session, Miller asked everyone to leave the notes and charts they had worked on behind so the data could be compiled and analyzed for the City Council’s use.

Heggins said her goal — “and I think our council’s goal” — is to “stay true to the work that is being done here today” as the council contemplates updating its vision and mission statements.

The second day of the annual City Council retreat starts at 1 p.m. today in the West End Plaza Event Center.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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