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A Note From Our Executive Director: Looking Back on 2016

Pomegranate Center’s expertise is to link places with constructive engagement of their users. Our placemaking focus is on outdoor social spaces, parks designed around community ideas and realized in a “barn-raising” spirit with many hands. We’ve completed over 50 such gathering places, each a classroom where we learned new lessons. Now, these teaching have coalesced into our well-tested Pomegranate Method that we are offering to new partners.

Here is an overview of the past year showing the variety of applications for our approach.  

 

Working With Government Agencies

In addition to voting, people practice democracy by being involved with local and regional projects: roads, parks, libraries, homeless shelters, etc. This year, we worked with government agencies at home and abroad:

Kelly Heintz utilizes the Pomegranate Method to lead a community engagement meeting.
Kelly Heintz utilizes the Pomegranate Method to lead a community engagement meeting.

We trained and mentored King County Parks staff who successfully used our approach on their projects. Kelly Heintz, of King County’s Natural Lands Program, said of her training, “After King County Parks learned the Pomegranate Method of community engagement, I used the techniques in two instances and was very pleased with the process. In both cases, implementing the techniques made for a very smooth process where community members felt like they had a real opportunity to learn about the project’s ins and outs and were therefore able to offer constructive ideas.”   

In Auckland, New Zealand, I led training for the staff of the Community Empowered Communities, a department of City Council, and demonstrated our approach to different neighborhoods dealing with real, specific improvements. You can read more about these trainings here.

 

Transforming Schools

The land surrounding schools are as much learning spaces as the classrooms within them. Children absorb everything, from classroom lessons to the textures and shapes of their environment. So transforming hard, impervious playground with plants, natural materials, and art makes a lot of sense.  

The plan for the Highland Park Elementary's playground emphasizes natural play.
The plan for the Highland Park Elementary’s playground emphasizes natural play.

This year, we collaborated with Outdoor Classroom Design and Earthplay to create a community-based plan for the Highland Park Elementary School’s new playground. Read more about our innovative designs and incorporation of community engagement into those designs here.

We also assisted the Milton-Freewater School District in Oregon to pass a school bond–the first in decades–by engaging many community members in envisioning the future school and its benefit to the entire community, not just the children.

 

Planning Across Differences

During the final planning meeting of the year, community members came together to collectively name their top goals for the region.
During the final planning meeting of the year, community members came together to collectively name their top goals for the region.

Our working premise is that our differences are the greatest untapped resource and that complex local and regional projects require an open mind and willingness to learn from each other. In 2016, a consortium of non-profits from the Blue Mountain Region in Eastern Washington led by a community council contacted us to convene community conversations in order to develop a vision of the future and identify regional priorities. Over 800 people selected five regional goals: access to education, strong and diverse economy,  health, care for nature, and safety.

They have agreed that throughout the work moving these goals forward, values of continued civic engagement and commitment to diversity will be upheld. Action groups were formed to drive these goals forward and Pomegranate Center will offer trainings to ensure ongoing collaboration and productivity. You can read more about the most recent meeting in the Union Bulletin.

 

Process as Reconciliation

We were also invited to meet with the leaders of the Lowe Elwha Klallam Tribe to help them develop a plan for transforming an 18-acre ancestral site, Tse-whit-zen. In 1913, tribal members were removed from their ancestral village that dates back at least 2,700 years to build the Big Mill that, at the time, was the largest in the country. The site saw many industrial uses over the century. In 2003, human remains and artifacts were uncovered, proving that the site was one of the oldest and largest tribal villages. For the full story on the Tse-whit-zen, please read a great book by Lynda V. Mapes called Breaking Ground.  

Aerial view of Tse-whit-zen. Photo courtesy Matthew Coates.
Aerial view of Tse-whit-zen. Photo courtesy Matthew Coates.

The tribe regained the control of the land, carefully reburied more than 360 remains, uncovered thousands of artifacts, and started to make plans for the site’s future. This is when Pomegranate Center came in. The project is as much about healing the past as it is about looking toward the future. Following our model, we consulted with tribal elders, leaders, and members to develop a direction that is now moving into the design phase.

 

Looking Forward

What struck me the most in the last year is how many people are now aware that the familiar, default way we engage with each other is no longer working. There are now more individuals and organizations willing to try new approaches to community engagement. Tired of constant negativity and confrontation, more of us recognize that investing in new methods is essential.  

Along with many others, we at Pomegranate Center believe that collaborative practices have become foundational and that we will need to increase our ability to learn from each other and together craft goals for the future. Our 30 years of experience is now demanded by more people in different parts of the world. We look forward to offering our skills to assist many new partners. 2017 promises to be an interesting year.

–Milenko Matanovic, December 2016