Sunday, October 22, 2006


You heard about the trip to Madison, right? Do you know anything about the history of these trips? Well, what follows is the short history of such trips and how we got to Madison. Why should you care, you ask? Glad you asked! I think our community should know how these things happen and the role many dedicated people played. So how did it happen?

In 1984, a group from Lexington, KY called the Public Private Partnership visited Chapel Hill to see what was happening here. In the fall of 1985, a group from our community paid Lexington a return visit. A trip to Princeton, NJ followed, and after that trip, the group incorporated a Public Private Partnership in Orange County.

Later trips took community members to Champaign-Urbana, IL, Boulder, CO, Charlotte, NC, Bloomington, IN, and Ann Arbor, MI. Participants indicated that each trip was beneficial and provided opportunities to learn what others were doing about tensions between growth and preservation, town-gown relations, downtown revitalization, and the arts.

After the November 1997 trip to Ann Arbor, another trip seemed to take a backseat to the pressures of time and circumstance. In 2003, Howard Lee chaired the Council on a Sustainable Community under the auspices of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. One of the recommendations from the group led to the establishment of the Chamber’s Foundation for a Sustainable Community to advance the triple bottom line of economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

The new Foundation and the Chamber established the Community Leadership Council (CLC) to fill the void left by the demise of the Public Private Partnership. So, in April 2005, the new Council held its first meeting and made a commitment to plan and execute another inter-city visit. It was clear that all at that meeting thought that we could benefit from a trip to another community that has wrestled with similar challenges

By June of 2005, the Inter-City Visit Committee chaired by Scott Maitland (proprietor of Top of the Hill) slogged their way through a list of potential sites to recommend to the CLC. From this process, Madison emerged as the next destination. When Robert Dowling (executive director, Orange County Housing and Land Trust) and Scott Maitland became the CLC co-chairs, Maitland turned the trip planning committee over to Mariana Fiorentino, the president of Terra Nova Global Properties.

Fiorentino brought to the task a wealth of experience in meeting planning and management. Her committee, the Viking Travel Agency, and the Chamber staff managed the myriad details necessary to make the trip a success, including making an advance coordination trip, setting up the agenda and group sessions, and obtaining speakers.

Her committee, the Foundation, and the Chamber were concerned about charges of “elitism” and high cost. Those desiring to go to Madison included representatives from the local governments, UNC, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. To ensure that representatives of nonprofit organizations could participate, another committee solicited scholarship money. These scholarship dollars reduced the cost to recipients by 71%. What resulted was a group of people who represented our community in a wide range of activities and interests.

When I asked Robert Dowling for his assessment, he said that the trip exceeded his expectations. He saw it as a learning opportunity for our community, as well as a chance to build the relationships that are so critical to our future. What future? Carolina North, of course. Dowling saw Carolina North as a major influence on the future of our community and it’s important to do it well. “Bringing together people who hold a variety of positions — both in the community and towards Carolina North, can only help the process,” he said.

I asked Chamber executive director Aaron Nelson the same question. Nelson offered that from his vantage point, what impressed him was seeing people build relationships of understanding and trust. He thinks that the trip will enhance the future tenor of the community conversation. He also was impressed with the wealth of talent and commitment that he saw in the trip participants.

One of the things that especially impressed Chair Fiorentino (and me) was the Chamber staff. “It would be hard to find more sincere, high-energy professionals who work with such efficiency, good humor, and responsiveness,” she said. They made it possible to focus on what we were in Madison for and participants not be concerned with the details.

I’m glad I went to Madison. I think that we as a community will benefit because of the trip. I think that what we saw in Madison stimulated some ideas and different ways to think about things here. I also believe that as we work to meet the challenges ahead of us, you can bet that many of the major actors will have been among the 102 in Madison and on other trips. These are good thing.

Fred Black is a Chapel Hill resident who is interested and involved in a variety of community activities and organizations. Readers can contact him at or c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 106 Mallette St., Chapel Hill, NC 27616

No comments: