Tax Bill Could Impact Charitable Giving

Bob Gorman

If San Francisco Detective “Dirty Harry” Callahan were now running a nonprofit, he might tell you the following:

    “I know what you’re thinking. Did the federal government just cut my taxes or did it eliminate my charitable deductions? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is how tax deductions will now be calculated by the most powerful country in the world, and a miscalculation could blow a hole in your family budget, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

    The likelihood of dismissing a valued donor as a “punk” is one reason Dirty Harry never took over the Bay City chapter of the United Way. But as frightening as it would be to have a nonprofit executive unholster a .44 magnum during campaign appeals, reading the reactions of nonprofit organizations to the recently passed Tax Bill is even more frightening.

    The National Council of Nonprofits, quoting the Joint Committee on Taxation, estimates that the new law will lead the public to reduce its charitable giving nationally by $13 billion a year, forcing nonprofits  to face bankruptcy or eliminate jobs for a quarter of a million people.

    United Way Worldwide CEO Brian Gallagher added, “Because of our reliance on middle-class donors, cumulatively, United Ways across the U.S. will face losses between $256 million to $455 million per year, significantly impacting their ability to help those who will now be in potentially greater need.”

    The new tax plan is indeed funky for a simple reason: While the federal government wants a majority of individuals to get a tax cut, the federal government can’t afford a reduction in how much tax is generated.

    Thus, the tax bill gives and takes away at the same time. You lose individual exemptions for yourself and children, but you’re allowed a larger amount (an increase from $12,700 to $24,000 for a couple) to deduct without the need to itemize. If you itemize, your property tax and state income tax deduction is capped at $10,000, but you can still write off all of your charitable giving.

    So the tax bill is a sweet deal for some and havoc for others.

    How will this all shake out for local nonprofits? My guess is: People who started the year with little interest in helping their neighbors won’t change; those who do care will continue to find ways to help.

    That’s because even before the tax bill was conceived, rapid changes in the economy, social media and community engagement habits were already forcing nonprofits to retool their messaging for fundraising appeals and diversifying their revenue streams.

    Consider how Amazon alone is hurting nonprofit support. The more we buy products online from a warehouse in Alabama, the more we erode the business base of our own community. And that erodes the support local businesses give to nonprofits.

    Meanwhile, more national businesses are following a now familiar marketing scheme: Buy their product, they sweetly suggest, and THEY will donate a portion of your payment to a nonprofit. What a deal… a charitable donation that doesn’t feel – or can be itemized — like a charitable donation! In reality it erodes the relationship between local citizens and local nonprofits.

    “Give, volunteer and advocate” is the mantra of the United Way as we always encourage charity to start at home. I believe caring citizens will not allow themselves to be deterred from that local mission, regardless of the outside agitations of both a dysfunctional federal government and distant businesses who see charity as just another tool to build a global monopoly.


    Larry Storie was aptly named as his life was indeed one long story of overcoming physical adversity with vim and vigor. But it was his vision for the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Jefferson County that he will be remembered for by staff, board members and other nonprofit leaders.

    Vision is indeed the right word. During decades of slowly losing the majority of his sight, Larry strove to find every new gadget to help him navigate a world going dark. In less than a year as the executive of the agency, he was making that vision become a reality and generating more and more community support, including increased financial help from the United Way of NNY.

    Larry died in December, another victim of the inexplicable disease of leukemia. Some strains give you a chance to recover with treatment. Other strains lead to death within days of detection, as was the case for Larry.

    Larry was a good friend of the United Way and we will miss him.

 

Bob Gorman is president and CEO of United Way of Northern New York. Contact him at bgorman@unitedway-nny.org or 315-788-5631.

Giving, Sharing, Makes Lives Better

Rande Richardson

BY: Rande Richardson
Nonprofit organizations across the country are looking at the implications of the tax reform bill on the work they do and those they serve, including operational and compliance issues, potential related state and local government changes and the impact of the increased standard deduction as it relates to charitable giving. Changes in laws that affect nonprofits have direct impact, and make a statement on how we view their role in our society and the value we place on them.

    At the same time we were hearing about tax reform, media retrospectives were reminding us of lives lived and lost. The year-end summaries honor those who have left an imprint on our world. It is in those moments that we have a heightened sense of the way others affect our lives and shape us. The most profound legacies are those that reach deep into our collective, human souls and the heart of our communities.

    There are diverse ways others touch us and leave their mark but there is a common theme. As a society and as individuals, the greatest meaning comes from that which makes us uniquely human. Throughout our lifetimes, the things that become the fabric of our culture and heritage are the expressions of the essence of our humanity.

    Each December, the Kennedy Center recognizes those whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America. The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize celebrates the work of artists whose careers reflect lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. There are numerous other awards that we bestow that affirm the values and ideals we hold most dear. It is through these that we celebrate and uphold what matters most to us.

    What this has to do with nonprofits? When I hear acronyms such as NPOs, NGOs and NFPs to generalize the nonprofit community, I cringe. When I see legislation enacted that devalues charitable investment and its role in our country, I am disheartened. Somehow, in the generalization of “nonprofit,” something gets lost in the translation. If you take the time to think about the way nonprofit organizations have become part of all of our lives, you realize that they are simply a formal expression of our humanness. They embody the values and beliefs that make us human. They represent the best in the human spirit that demands that living life by simply existing is not enough.

    Our nonprofit organizations are a primary mechanism through which we make a difference in the lives of others and express our values. They are the way our own lives are made more enriched and fulfilled. Their importance goes beyond a classification.

    Our community’s nonprofit organizations not only provide a tangible link to the golden rule, they also are the way we sustain things government and the private sector should not or cannot alone provide.

    It is natural to generalize when we place groups in a sector. In doing so, however, we must not lose sight of what the sector actually is. In a world where over-generalization happens too often, we should pause and see nonprofits as an extension of our human existence and our love for the things that make life worth living.

    As long as there are good people in our world, those organizations providing the most value will find the support needed to continue. If you found a way to make a difference in 2017, congratulations. You already know how it feels to experience something so fundamentally human.

    Use 2018 to find more opportunities to express what matters most to you. It is in this way, that nonprofit organizations quickly become more than a sector, more than an acronym. They are an essential part of our lives, they are worthy of our care and nurturing. Ultimately, they are a clear reflection of ourselves. When you look back on the retrospective of your own life, may it have had meaningful moments that are consistent with the core of the beliefs and values that our nonprofit organizations embody.

    So what are nonprofits really? They offer us opportunities to surround ourselves with things that really matter, and, in the end, help ensure that we have more happiness and fewer regrets through this transitory experience called life. Giving, sharing, volunteering and working for a better world makes our lives better, tax deduction or not.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.

Arts Play Role in Community’s Vibrancy

Rande Richardson

During the holiday season we are especially aware of the important role the arts play in the vibrancy of our communities. You surely have a yuletide carol or two that reaches deep within you and touches you in a way nothing else can. While, rightly so, much focus is placed on nonprofits that serve basic human needs, supporting, sustaining and nurturing our arts and cultural nonprofits must remain in our focus. They are an important enhancement to quality of life and bring us closer together within communities and across communities.

    I recently attended two nonprofit-sponsored arts performances over a weekend. Not once did I think about the political affiliation of the performers or the audience. Not once did I care to think in what ways we were different. At both, there was a multi-generational element. This all speaks to the fundamental human enjoyment of the arts and the way they touch, move and inspire us. The arts are a great unifier with a universal language.

    We are fortunate to have opportunities to enjoy varied expressions of the arts. We have second-to-none, live symphonic experiences provided by the Orchestra of Northern New York. We have both participation and performance through local theatre groups. Arts organizations introduce and develop a love and appreciation among children and youth. Stage Notes and Watertown Musicales combine both youth arts engagement and purposeful civic mindedness. 

    Throughout the year, nonprofit organizations and events such as the Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund at the Clayton Opera House, Thousand Islands Piano Competition, Community Performance Series, Ogdensburg Command Performances, Norwood Village Green Concert Series, Clifton-Fine Summer Arts Series, Disabled Persons Action Organization and Trinity Concert Series and others bring programming that we would be a lesser community without. Volunteer groups such as Northern Choral Society, the Clayton Community Band and the Sackets Harbor Vocal Ensemble offer especially memorable moments. Local schools bring their students together to produce amazing musicals and concerts. There are other arts organizations, including within our north country colleges and universities, venues for all the various expressions of the arts and humanities.

    We recognize the importance of the arts, not only to fulfill something fundamentally human, but also in the way they indirectly support our local economies. Nationally, the arts contribute a large share to the country’s gross domestic product. Locally, there are many who benefit indirectly from arts and cultural opportunities. People being recruited to relocate here often ask what types of entertainment options are offered. Increasingly, arts programs are tied to involving children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the elderly, the developmentally disabled, at-risk youth, and numerous arts in healthcare programs. Just recently the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council awarded a grant to launch a music therapy program for those dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Many would agree the arts are not an add-on; they are not just nice things to have around. In many ways, they reach into a special place of the heart, soul and mind. They represent the best things of our human existence. We must do all we can to make these opportunities both accessible and appealing. Each year, although the Community Foundation makes substantial investments in the arts, we pay special attention to those that are provided free of charge to people of all ages across the vast geography of our region. The Orchestra of Northern New York this season is offering free admission to  those 17 and under. The annual concert in Thompson Park is fully underwritten, and Sackets Concerts on the Waterfront Series is open to the public.

    I hope you have had the opportunity to be exposed to the arts in ways that have enhanced your life. If you’re able, consider supporting the arts and nonprofit organizations that bring them to our communities. Fill the seats, show your appreciation, bring your children. We never want to live in a community without the special something the arts offer us. Through the will of the people, may they continue to unite us to sustain them and sustain ourselves to better face the many challenges life presents. In this way, it will help make our days, and those of our friends and neighbors, more merry and bright during the holidays and all year long.

 

Nonprofits Not Place for Political Gamesmanship

MEME PROVIDED BY BOB GORMAN Watertown City Council candidate created this meme in his opposition to ACR Health’s syringe exchange office. In it he also falsely accused City Councilman Steve Jennings of selecting the location.

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ESPRI Taking Shape in Helping Reduce Area Poverty

Eric J. Hesse, right, New York State Division of Veterans Affairs director, earlier this year met with community advocates during a training session for the Watertown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. Hesse, a retired colonel who spent 10 of his 26 years in the military at Fort Drum, outlined the state’s role in helping the local ESPRI effort. Meeting with him were task force chairs, left to right, Kevin Hill, Workforce Development, Krystin LaBarge, Education, Carolyn Mantle, Education vice chair, John Bonventre, Transportation, and Angie King, Housing.

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The Philanthropist in all of Us

Rande Richardson

Philanthropy is a major part of what defines America. In the north country, philanthropy has enhanced our communities. Do you consider yourself a philanthropist? When the Community Foundation embarked on the concept of developing a philanthropy center, inspired from a similar model in Central New York, a friend’s response was: “I love the idea, but I wish you would call it something else.”

    For someone who has spent a significant time striving to make service to the place you live increasingly inviting, inclusive and diverse, I was taken aback, perhaps even a bit offended. I quickly realized that somewhere along the line, the word “philanthropy” had lost its true meaning in the Greek origin of the word: “love of humankind.”

    Make no mistake, there are wonderfully generous people who have the ability to give financially in support of philanthropy, and our communities are phenomenally better for it. I am fortunate to witness it nearly every day. Financial resources can and have accomplished great things; however, money alone does not define philanthropy. Without other elements of philanthropy, the impact is never as great nor as sustainable.

    Theoretically, everyone has the ability to love their fellow human beings. It is as simple as using any of your resources to make life better for other people. Time, energy, ideas and advocacy are something anyone can share. In fact, many north country citizens have already done this, and have for hundreds of years. Some of our region’s greatest institutions, programs, and nonprofit organizations were made possible because of philanthropy in all of its forms.

    Have you ever volunteered for a community organization or effort? Have you taken time to help someone without a thought of receiving something in return? Have you ever given blood? Have you been a volunteer coach or mentor? Have you provided support or encouragement to someone when they’ve experienced a difficulty or a loss? If so, you are a philanthropist.
    So, by definition the opportunity to be a philanthropist is available to all of us. At the Community Foundation, we’ve encouraged more people to participate through programs that have helped inspire children, youth and younger generations. We’ve created mechanisms that provide people of all means a seat at the table for community change. It has resonated. We’ve grown. We have philanthropists that never thought they could be, seeing the meaningful impact they never thought they could have. Together, we’ve created more opportunities for caring more, loving more, sharing more and helping others more through giving in all of its forms.

    I believe that by practicing philanthropy in the way we want to shape our community and our world, we lead happier, healthier lives. We must inspire and nurture the ability for everyone to know they’ve done something to make their community a better place for others, and themselves. Time, energy and ideas are things everyone with some skill or talent can share, and have the joy in giving them.

    We all have a stake in the failure or success of community philanthropy. I challenge you to be thoughtful, intentional and deliberate in the way you affect humankind, looking to do it in more stewarded, lasting ways. Be confident that you’ve got what it takes to use your life to fulfill the true meaning of the word in support of the things you are most passionate about

    So who gets to call themselves philanthropist? It is a concept and a title that is accessible to everyone. It is important to embrace the broadening “democratization” of philanthropy, widening the playing field, and send the message that we must continue our focus on giving in all ways, including volunteerism and nonprofit service and leadership as well as monetary. Without the passion and resources devoted to philanthropy, not only would our communities be less vibrant, so would each of our lives. The next time you hear the word philanthropy, I hope you see yourself, your family, your children and your friends as the catalysts for real change.

    Our time on this earth is relatively short. That should not stop us from aspiring to have our impact be enduring. Now that I think of it, being a center for philanthropy (in all the ways it is expressed) is exactly the right name, for the right cause, at exactly the right time.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.

Youth Philanthropy Council Program Successful

Rande Richardson

By: Rande Richardson

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” –Aristotle

Now in its eighth year, the Northern New York Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council program continues to thrive as more and more high school students learn about the north country’s nonprofit organizations and the way they impact the lives of us all. In addition to the way it helps engage the next generation within their communities, it also helps provide valuable insight into what way they want to make their mark and change the world. This is on top of the $20,000 in grants they will award this June.

    We also get a glimpse into the way they prioritize and make decisions. We see what resonates with them and what types of organizations they feel provide the most value, and those they don’t. Nonprofit organizations should take note as they will eventually need to effectively engage future generations to remain relevant and supported.  

    For some time, we have sought a way to begin engaging even younger students. As the end of the school year approaches, an initiative is being prepared to be launched when school resumes in September. Targeted at middle school students, this new giving challenge program will be a precursor to the current Youth Philanthropy Program and will help spark an increased awareness of, and interest in, the work of area organizations.

    The Community Foundation and Stage Notes Performance with a Purpose, who share similar objectives, will join forces for good, empowering area middle school students to identify the way they would like to see their communities enhanced. Stage Notes will dedicate $5,000 of their show proceeds this summer, combined with $5,000 from the Community Foundation. By the time we enter the season of gratitude and giving in November and December, a total of $10,000 will be awarded to area nonprofit organizations.

    Students will compete for multiple, various grant awards.  Although specific details will be forthcoming, the challenge will involve two major components. Seventh- and eighth-graders will be asked to write about what “community” means to them— their definition of community and what elements help make the place they live strong and vibrant. The students must then explain which nonprofit organizations they believe can best support their vision for their community in areas of both basic human needs and overall enhancement of quality of life. The winning students will visit the organizations, personally present their gifts and see with their own eyes how their sharing and caring makes a difference, recognizing that the generosity of others has made it possible.

    We hope this program encourages families to think about what others do to make the place they live better and the role they can play in encouraging it, today. As a society, we believe in the importance of educating the mind, and both the Community Foundation and Stage Notes want to continue to encourage fostering educating the heart.

    There is no better way to involve youth in making a difference than allowing them to be a part of the decision making process. We also reinforce that we are a community together and we need good citizens to perpetuate making that community the best it can be.

    Sure, the grants themselves will have a direct positive effect on nonprofit organizations and the work they do, but it is even more exciting to think about the long-term multiplier effect of encouraging this type of thought at a young age. We look forward to sharing the results with you.

    One way or another, our children’s vision for our community will become our vision for the community. These types of meaningful experiences will help provide inspiration throughout life and refine a more deliberate approach. We all have a responsibility to help ensure the community they inherit is one we all would wish for them so the phrase “good enough”  is never used for the place they spend their lives. We know summer vacation is just around the corner, but you can understand why we’re already excited to get back to school!

World of Working Poor Misunderstood

Bob Gorman

The late Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a millionaire many times over, lived in the same house on the north side of Pittsburgh from the 1930s until his death in 1988.
     That seemingly insignificant fact is actually an example of a very significant point made in the book “Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam.
     Children in America today don’t experience the same variety of life—and views—as children did decades ago because they no longer live around families of different economic standing. Anybody living today in the same economic stratosphere Rooney conquered years ago would never live in the same neighborhood for 50 years, surrounded by an increasing number of unknown neighbors who can only afford to live where property values are declining.
     Through voices and statistics, Putnam shows how we have become a nation of economically segregated communities. The world of the impoverished and the working poor is all around, but it is misunderstood and misinterpreted by those well off because often our only interactions – if there are any at all – are through the service industry. We only speak when you take my dinner order or when you show me in which aisle I can find light bulbs.
     If asked, we can give myriad examples of how the world has changed dramatically over the last 30 years because of the digital revolution. We get our money out of an ATM, our music out of a phone, our weather forecast out of an app. Communication isn’t the same; sports aren’t the same; medicine isn’t the same, education is not the same.
     But with poverty, many of us are guilty of thinking the same things we thought 30 years ago. Such as, poverty can be ended overnight, if only: 1) People would stop being lazy and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and 2) Government would stop giving away so much welfare.
     Except there is this: The economic decline of the U.S. since the 1980s has ensured that more people do not have the wherewithal to be self-sufficient. The ability for thousands of north country citizens to create sufficient wealth—such as that produced on assembly lines at Air Brake, General Motors and a myriad other businesses in the north country— has disappeared.
     With the loss of stable, 40-hour-a-week jobs that included health insurance and pensions, thousands of people under the age of 40 have entered a job market that bears no relationship to the world their parents entered. Meanwhile, the ability to hand down financial support from one generation to the next is eroding as well.
     And that trend will continue, as outlined in the book “Humans Need Not Apply” by Jerry Kaplan, who has been at the epicenter of the creation of “artificial intelligence” for the last 40 years.
     While government crows loudest when employment is highest, business is most profitable when it employs the fewest people possible. And artificial intelligence – from the airline and concert tickets you buy online today to the driverless vehicle you will buy/rent in a few years – is eliminating one job after another, particularly those that the working poor are most able to do.
     (Just to be fair, Kaplan points out that artificial intelligence will eventually be providing the majority of initial medical diagnoses and routine legal work, knocking off a lot of jobs in medicine and law too.)
     This is producing one massive conundrum: Government is trying to move those in poverty and the working poor toward jobs that are being eliminated by artificial intelligence.
     Right now around 100 citizens in Watertown are taking part in a program that is trying to find local answers to that very issue. The Watertown/Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) is one of 16 such studies going on in New York that are giving communities an opportunity to receive state funds if they can develop a plan to make more people self-sufficient.
     Locally the program is being administered by the United Way of NNY and directed by former YMCA
     Executive Director Peter Schmitt. Dozens of meetings are being held to discuss four primary areas: housing, transportation, education and workforce development.
     With continued progress, a road map for Watertown will be submitted to the state this summer and programs will be funded and begin soon after.
     There is no guarantee that anything can be done to reduce poverty in Watertown. But as Putnam and Kaplan show us, doing nothing will allow the problem to become worse.

People’s Will Propels Nonprofits

Rande Richardson

Nonprofit organizations across the north country provide services and enhancements to our quality of life that government can’t, won’t or shouldn’t provide or for-profit entities can’t offer without losing money. There are additional various constraints on nonprofits that create challenges to what we desire to have them reliably do to build strong communities for us all.

     That is why nonprofit organizations must raise funds, plain and simple. When communities believe an organization’s work and mission is important and valuable, they respond positively. Most of our area nonprofits successfully exist because the will of the people had demanded it and inspired a type of sacrifice that ensures that their ability to continue to make a difference is maintained.             

     For nearly half of my life I have been fortunate to help raise funds for causes I believe in. The region is blessed with many who have done the same for various projects, initiatives, programs and organizations. Anyone who has asked someone for money knows that the emotions range from elation and joy to terror, rejection and defeat. I often look for shining examples of citizen philanthropy to motivate and sustain me. There is one I keep going back to that deeply touches me each time I see it.

     A few years ago, CBS News told the story of young Myles Eckert. Nine-year-old Myles found a $20 bill in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Maumee, Ohio. While his first thought was to buy a video game with his surprise find, he quickly changed his mind.

     Myles’ father, Army Sgt. Andy Eckert, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq just five weeks after Myles was born. So, when he spotted a uniformed Lt. Col Frank Daily in that restaurant that day, he was reminded of the father he never knew. Something within him compelled Myles to forgo the video game to give a gift that was greater than himself and so much more than $20.

                Myles wrapped the $20 with a note that read: “Dear Soldier, my Dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service,” signed, Myles Eckert, a Gold Star Kid. Not only did that gift forever affect Lt. Col. Daily, as the story became known, others were motivated to do the same. Individuals, organizations and businesses came forward, wanting to be part of the example Myles set. As requested by the Eckert family, gifts were directed toward Snowball Express, a nonprofit initiative providing support to children who have lost a parent during military service.

                On the way home from Cracker Barrel that day, Myles asked his Mom if he could visit his Dad. The image of Myles, and his footprints in the snowy cemetery, hugging his father’s gravestone with an American flag in the foreground, is one that is permanently etched in my mind. I am continually grateful that he showed us how a gift of kindness can not only help others but can inspire many more to do the same. In so doing, we are also reminded to keep our hearts and minds open to supporting each other and the organizations that help ensure the same spirit is perpetuated. Myles gave a gift much larger than $20. He showed us how it’s done.

                The Community Foundation feels strongly that part of its mission is to introduce concepts of civic responsibility, not as a mandate, but as part of the joy of a fulfilling life. In addition to its Youth Philanthropy program, which targets high school students, there are plans underway to explore engaging elementary and middle school students in similar ways. It will help nurture the kind of thinking that has helped make our region great. It will help sustain the nonprofit organizations as reliable providers of useful community programs and services. It will determine what type of community we have, and what values and traditions we uphold. As we all look inward and consider, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Myles very clearly helped answer that question.

RANDE RICHARDSON is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org. 

The Key to Downtown Revitalization?

Brooke Rouse

A vibrant downtown is on the top of nearly every community’s wish list; how to get there is the question. Livability is a word used in planning that refers to the aspects of a community that improve quality of life. If livability is high, people will want to live, work and play in the community and are invested and committed to its future. Factors include both built and natural elements, “economic prosperity, social stability and equality, educational opportunity and cultural, entertainment and recreation possibilities” as defined by the Partners for Livable Communities.

     A review of several “top rated downtowns” reveal some common threads, often referencing locations that have experienced the common theme of peripheral development draining downtowns, and a new surge of interest in bringing people and business back to the historic commercial centers. Of greatest importance is that a community has a vision statement. Ideally the vision statement is then translated into a comprehensive plan that includes action items and key stakeholders and partners. That vision will direct the priority, investment and character of some of the other elements noted here as “keys to livability.”

     Land Use and Zoning: Communities are diligently reviewing their zoning and land use laws to ensure they are updated and in line with the current vision for the community. Often the comprehensive plan may identify what the “downtown” is, which may be a certain area or street other than the Main Street. Many municipalities are operating off of old and sometimes irrelevant or counterproductive laws.

     Pedestrian Friendly: Access and safety for cyclists and walkers is a top priority in increasing downtown vitality. Widening streets, widening and connecting sidewalks and paths, installation and strategic placement of light posts and bike racks, along with beautification features such as landscaping and public art all entice more people, and families, to come and spend time in the downtown. Reduced noise and pollution, combined with increased public spaces for outdoor dining and music are defining “hip” downtowns.

     Private – Public Partnerships: Successful communities have mechanisms in place for residents to contribute financially to the success of the community, whether it is for a civic or commercial project. These financial “holdings” may be in the form of a crowd sourcing campaign, partnership with a bank or foundation, or as a part of the municipal government. Public funds are necessary (or encouraged) to leverage almost any grant opportunity through state and private foundations and are critical to move projects forward.

     Arts, Entertainment and the Creative Class: Top downtowns always include a number of things to entertain people…a key to quality of life. Identifying, supporting and leveraging art and culture; museums, venues, and events will ensure residents and visitors are enjoying their community. Additionally, what has been referred to as the creative class (by Livability.com and others) includes engaging and finding a meaningful place for artists, innovators, researchers and technology experts to work and share their work.

     These are some of the key Livability Factors. What do you see in your community? What are you missing? Why do live there and why do you consider leaving? These are all good questions for conversation in your community. In 2017, get engaged, join a committee, run for public office, start a private enterprise! Communities will thrive when populations are steady (growing), healthy and happy!

BROOKE ROUSE is president and CEO of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at brooke@slcchamber.org.