After their careful process of learning, imagining, testing and revising, the ideas of each Raising Places team have now launched into the world! But rather than jump straight into full-scale implementation, their first step took the form of small-scale pilots. A pilot is a test run of the concept with real people, in real time, and in a real context. Though it’s real, it’s also small – with the goal of continuing to gather data about the potential impact of the idea without the baggage of high risk and high costs. Pilots offered the structure for the design teams to dig into the details, engage potential partners, and gain important learnings before scaling up.

North Side Shuttle

In Minneapolis, the design team aligned around the concept of a North Side Shuttle--a free ride for passengers that would circulate between several of the assets on and around the Plymouth Avenue Corridor, including the newly-opened grocery store, the county resource hub, and the light rail station. However, they didn’t know if people would trust a free shuttle, what stops it should make, and how frequently it needed to run. And so, after renting a bus, hiring a driver and meeting with local business owners, they ran the shuttle for three consecutive Wednesdays, with volunteers taking shifts marketing the bus and talking with riders.

The North Side Shuttle pulls up at the local grocery store on its first piloting day (left); the team gathers for a group shot on the first piloting day, including Raising Places design team member Makeda Zulu-Gillespie, second from left (right)

The pilot was successful for many reasons. First, running the shuttle for multiple days helped skeptical residents to move past their suspicion. The first pilot day only had a handful of riders, but by the third pilot day, the bus was much more crowded. Second, the pilot catalyzed demand for this service from both riders and business owners. Many riders felt it opened up access to a wonderful set of resources that felt formerly inaccessible to them. And the bus stop sites realized the benefits of increased customers and utilization of their offerings, such as computer classes for seniors. Finally, the pilot was tangible and positive enough to garner some excellent local press, which will help accelerate its journey to implementation.

Lodge Grass Renewal Initiative

In Valley of the Chiefs, the design team knew two things were certain: one, their town needed some major land rehabilitation, and two, solutions would only be effective if they were part of a communal effort. So they decided to pilot a concept called the Lodge Grass Renewal Initiative, a “home, property and public space renewal initiative that organizes community volunteers with a skilled crew.” But they needed to test out how to decide which lot to renovate, who might participate and how to give all participants meaningful jobs in order to get the most done in one weekend. They chose a lot that belonged to some elders who were planning on purchasing a new pre-fab house, gathered shovels and heavy equipment, and gathered volunteers to bring food.

Renovation work happened on a snowy winter weekend in Montana, as Raising Places design team member and town mayor Quincy Dabney runs the construction equipment (left); after the lot was renewed and the new home was delivered, the design team posted a sign making the progress more visible (right)

This trial run of the renewal initiative was immensely uplifting for the team. By working alongside residents, they built relationships and forged bonds of trust. By working outside in the open, in a very small town, they showed many more residents that visible change was afoot. They also demonstrated their commitment by working on a very cold and snowy weekend! Finally, after the lot was cleared and the new house was in, the team posted a small yard sign saying “Together we are raising Lodge Grass.” Their plan is to post these signs in each location that they renovate, and have already done this at their second pilot location, an empty lot that they turned into a simple natural park.

Police & Community Speaker Series

In Hudson, the design team sought to create a space for shared learning, communication, and accountability between residents and the local police department. Building upon the existing asset of monthly Police Committee Meetings, they envisioned a speaker series that could bring together police, community leaders, residents and youth around identified topic areas. The team faced several key questions: What type of speaker would be effective in presenting to both a police and resident audience? What topics would be appropriate to focus on? Will people even want to participate? To answer these questions and learn more about this idea, the team piloted the first event, with the police chief from another city in the region as the featured speaker.

Albany Police Chief Robert Sears presented at the speaker series pilot in Hudson (left); the event was attended by community residents, including members of the Raising Places design team (left to right) Kamal Johnson, Jabin Ahmed, Jennifer Stockmeier, Joan Hunt and Nick Zachos (right).

This small-scale test was a helpful step as the team worked to increase buy-in and support for this new idea. The chief of police, members of local government, and community residents were in attendance, demonstrating that there is community interest for this type of forum. The guest chief spoke about a new program he and his staff are implementing to support children who experience traumatic incidents, and the event inspired the Hudson chief to share that his department will be working toward formalizing and building upon their current work in this area. Other important stakeholders have also expressed support for Hudson implementing the Handle with Care program, and there's potential for the initiative to scale across the county!

Home Revitalization Program

In North Wilkesboro, the team’s research into affordable rental housing identified the cost of repairs as a key barrier to landlords maintaining their property. So the team conceived of a low-interest loan program to assist owners in making repairs and updates to their properties in the town. As they dug into the details, the team needed to figure out who could serve as the administrator of the loan, how much money could be requested and for what work, what the application process would include, and most importantly, if landlords would be interested in participating. Partnering with a local nonprofit organization willing to serve as the lending agency, the team developed an application process and terms, and identified a local landlord to receive the pilot loan. He plans to repair a bathroom in a rental home, including flooring, subflooring, and new fixtures.

Raising Places design team member Julia Turpin disburses the pilot loan to the landlord.

The team’s work with this pilot has served to raise awareness of the issue and tangibly demonstrate the potential for a revolving fund solution. Inspired by the idea, the town is considering what role it could play in administering or supporting loans as part of its ongoing work for affordable, safe, and healthy housing. By working through many of the finer details through a small-scale pilot (such as application questions and loan terms), the team can share their learnings to offer a strong foundation for future partners to scale the idea.

Across all of the communities, small-scale pilots have helped increase momentum and local support by being visible, tangible demonstrations of the ideas in action. But we won’t pretend all this comes easy – pilots take energy, determination, and sometimes good old manual labor to make it from idea to reality. The ideas that persevere though stand as proof that a different future is possible, inspiring skeptics and dreamers alike.