I often take my grandson to Erie to ride our mountain bikes together. I am intrigued by how the citizens and staff of the Town has been very successful at creating an activated citizen workforce to build real projects. The projects I’m familiar with accomplish what most people seem to want today: They form “social centers” for young and old. How does Erie do that? What makes them special?
Erie has been able to mobilize a multi-generational workforce that “gets it”. This simply means the ability to understand the kind of recreational venues that really appeal to today’s Coloradoan: walking, mountain biking, and interestingly dogs (today’s greatest social ice-breaker). Erie seems to understand that what most people look for in recreation is an activity that allows them to choose between solitude and gathering. In Colorado, finding solitude is fairly easy – abundant trails and open space, land and space to spread out. What’s harder is helping people overcome our modern reticence towards creating social connection. It has become a lot easier to hide in our house behind our TV, computer and family than to join the greater community. Between bikes, trails, and most of all dogs, Erie gets it. Their proactive town and citizenry involvement is one to be proud of. This is a community to emulate.
The largely citizen built Sunrise Ridge Bike Skills Trail for example, offers differing levels of terrain. The degree of difficulty ranges from paved ADA walks, to real single track challenge. Even though my grandson felt challenged on one green part of the trail, he wasn’t daunted by it. On the other hand, only half of my road bicycle team was comfortable going down a “blue” section of the trail the first time. All the trails are visible from each other. That is true multi-generational play at best. The trails that climb from town traverses the overlooking hillside above Erie. These trails are useable by almost anybody, and have amazing front range views. They are walk, bike, and dog friendly. They are highly used and loved. You’ll encounter enough trail crossings that you’re likely to meet your neighbors. That’s what’s really important.
Why are dogs so important, and why are they such a great addition to today’s social/recreational places? Try this: Go up to somebody in a park sometime and tell them you’re just here to meet people…that might not go over so great, right! Try this instead: Go up to someone and ask about their cute dog…it is the modern safe conversation starter. People do not go to dog parks for the dogs; yes the dogs are benefitted, but the real reason is because there will be other people there. And they are easier to meet! Unlike with previous generations dogs have become part of our families. Their jobs went from herder and hunter to lap and love. And now they are the great social introduction.
Erie’s first dog park, the Boneyard at Reliance Park, just opened this week. This is just another example of how the staff and the citizens of a town got together and created just the right thing for our time. My colleagues at Design Concepts helped create the conceptual design for the park. It made us feel a part of the citizen-empowered force in Erie. We love to help with the genesis for real social change. More importantly, we have always regarded park and schoolyard design as creating places where community building happens. Anyone would be really happy to be a part of this kind of project.
Erie seems to be taking all of the right steps in building community:
- Work together with citizens and government.
- Listen to the input that only citizens can bring.
- Focus on building projects that incorporate the input and skills of townspeople.
- Build professional level improvements
- Take part in the socially conscious choices being designed and built.