Creativity fuels needed change

Like a breath of fresh air, I felt energized, and ready to make a better community. Last Thurs?day I attended the annual Young Profes?sional?s Summit in Salina and I am happy I took a day away from work to do so.

Scheduling time out of my week to attend another meeting or professional development event can be scary for me. It usually means catch-up time on the weekend and it almost always ensures 50-plus e-mails in my inbox the next day.

It is always nice when you schedule time and it was worth it. I have no complaints after Thursday. Get?ting into everything from the summit would take up way too much space in this fine newspaper, so I?ll highlight the keynote speaker, someone I have admired from afar for some time: Jason Roberts.

Roberts is a cancer survivor, but that might just be a side note in his incredible journey to better his neighborhood and create better spaces in live.

From Oak Cliff, a neighborhood in Dallas, Roberts lived in what many felt was the ?bad part of Dallas? and wanted to make a difference in that perception.

He has.

Oak Cliff is now the ?biking neighborhood? and a fun place to hang out. There is an art gallery, coffee shop, and a friendly walking area that invites people to sit and hang out.

The transformation has been amazing. It started when Roberts decided to stop listening to folks telling him he couldn?t do something, sometimes even breaking some outdated laws, to make his point.

There was an old rundown area of town with several vacant buildings just rotting away and begging for a rebirth.

Roberts decided to turn this area into a ?Better Block? full of culture and life. He transformed the area, putting pop-up businesses in the vacant buildings, outdoor seating in many places and planting trees to create life. Then he invited the public to come see what he had done.

The old rundown area of town had new life, and people liked it. The city council and area government looked at their outdated laws and changed many of them to help turn what Roberts created into something that could be more permanent.

He has repeated the process in many places. Taking vacant lots and creating dog parks because ?it?s really just a fence,? according to Roberts, and taking leftover printing materials to create crosswalks.

While I don’t advocate anyone breaking the law, sometimes it does take something creative to show what can be done with our communities. Roberts didn’t transform Oak Cliff, and many other neighborhoods, on his own, but it was his vision to bring bike lanes, business and life back to his neighborhood that got things rolling.

What could a little vision do with our downtowns? Where could a little innovation, creativity and hard work put our towns in the future? Roberts answered those questions in his neighborhood, now we just need to see what we can do right here at home.

I would highly encourage anyone to check out Jason Roberts? TED Talk online. Just look up his name and ?Better Block? and it should pop up.

Inspiration only goes as far as action will take it. Let?s go make a better community.

Joey Young is the publisher of the Free Press. He can be reached at joey@hillsboro?freepress.com.