The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) works with cities and towns across the state to incorporate elements of the humanities into community planning processes. Through a partnership between PHC and the Orton Family Foundation, participating communities are using Orton's Community Heart & Soul® method as a framework.
In early 2017 a group of Easton residents launched a Heart & Soul project called Engage Easton, aiming ultimately to bridge the social divide between the city's vibrant downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods.
The group built a team of community leaders and residents. Together they
- Held a series of focus groups in the West Ward neighborhood in order to gather data on what matters most to those who live there.
- Identified senior citizens and Spanish-speaking residents as priority groups to reach through increased engagement.
- Outlined a number of community projects to focus on in 2018.
At the end of 2017, Engage Easton decided not to use the Community Heart & Soul framework moving forward. The group is pursuing other sources of funding to complete the activities and projects they began planning through Heart & Soul.
"Heart & Soul encouraged us to better understand the diversity of our community, and to reach out to groups that were underrepresented in some of the recent engagement efforts," said one team member. "It also reinforced the idea that outreach and engagement should be continually evaluated against the make-up of the community and that we need to consciously strive for inclusion over passive/unintentional exclusion."
“The engagement process and its training sessions have taught us several valuable lessons," added team leader Tina Roseberry, who is also director of planning and zoning for the City of Easton. "There are so many creative ways to gather people for a common cause; people just want to be heard and understood; and there are a lot of people who care about the Easton community.”
The Easton Community
Easton, founded in 1752, is a beautiful, historic city nestled at the confluence of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, midway between New York City and Philadelphia. Easton's downtown district is booming with new businesses, restaurants, arts programming and civic activity, and has become a destination for over 450,000 visitors per year. In fact, in 2015 the Easton Main Street Initiative was named the best performing Main Street program in the state by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center.
The area is home of Crayola Crayons, Lafayette College, the National Canal Museum, The Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor; and historic landmarks such as Bachmann Publick House and Centre Square. With its historic attractions and vibrant downtown, Easton is an exciting blend of colonial charm and modern flair.
Though the City of Easton is by population (26,500) a small city, its location brings with it big-city challenges and opportunities. Although the past decade has seen tremendous transformation, some neighborhoods have been facing critical issues including housing affordability, low household incomes, skill deficiencies for the current job market, and an aging housing stock. The City of Easton believes that these issues reflect an urgent need for a planning approach that deepens engagement and commitment to the neighborhoods.