Community Development

Making People Believe Again


When you are sleeping, someone on is dreaming.

Bicycle bells were invented in Bristol, which is also the former international home of clock making, and where the yellow cab concept was born.

Then came the 1950s, and the country shifted to suburbs.
To prepare for the growing population of cars, historic buildings were leveled. A strip mall was built. Parking lots grew. A 17-acre parking lot served as a stark reminder of how the wrong kind of development could bite a community.

Then the city purchased the parking lot, and three years ago enlisted my employer, Renaissance Downtown, to come up with a master plan to revitalize downtown Bristol, utilizing those 17 acres as the catalyst.

Renaissance produced a multi-resolution mixed-use plan that would create a destination, and provide enough critical mass of livability and activity to sustain retail on the ground level of the downtown area.

Things were looking bright, but we discovered rather quickly how defeated many people felt.

“The downtown is gone and it ain’t coming back!” I heard more than once. For Bristol to dust off and re-adjust its suspenders, we needed to help people believe again. But how?

Cue crowdsourced placemaking.

We launched a program where residents could propose ideas on, in-person meetups, and by contacting us directly. An amazing thing occurred. People joined in droves. When Bristol Rising held a campaign to see what the public wanted downtown, a piazza was the most popular idea. Then five inspired businesses chose to open up shop.

Recently, a young entrepreneur was thinking about opening a deli in a troubled downtown neighborhood. She decided 100 likes on would convince her. Two days, 108 likes, 414 Facebook likes, 7 tweets, and 2 Google mentions later, the entrepreneur is moving forward.

Here is what I’ve learned: Without openness, there is no true conversation. Without true conversation there is no respect. Without respect spirit cannot be fueled. Without spirit, there is no passion. Without passion, there is no energy. And without energy, there is no hope, investment, or change. 

Mark Walerysiak Jr. is the Community Liason of Bristol Rising.

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