The community of Helper City, Utah, and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) are being honored with Facilitation Impact Awards for revitalizing the city’s downtown through a grassroots-led plan designed with architects.
“Helper City’s story provides an important reminder of the power of grassroots city-building efforts,” says Joel Mills, senior director of the AIA Center for Communities by Design. “The entire community has participated in Helper City’s revitalization. We hope its story can inspire other communities facing similar challenges to engage their citizens directly in city-building efforts.”
In September 2017, Helper City hosted an AIA Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) to build a community-driven strategy for its downtown. Along with the SDAT architects, more than 200 residents participated in the process. In the first year of implementation efforts, the town of 2,000 mobilized dozens of volunteers in an effort that directly involved citizens in a series of hands-on projects. Activities have included redesigning public parks and other public spaces along Main Street, creating pop-up businesses in retail stores, restoring the riverfront, as well as other initiatives. The impact has been transformational; stimulating private investment and momentum for positive change. Helper City’s progress in one year of implementation is substantial, but additional work in addressing community needs remains.
The efforts are being honored by the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) with its Facilitation Impact Awards, which honors organizations that have used facilitation to achieve a measurable and positive impact.
“The plan created from the SDAT event is driving continuous improvement in Helper City,” says Helper City Mayor Lenis Peterman. “By giving voice to the community, we have also given it hope in creating a sustainable environment, which is respectful of our past, values our environmental assets and maximizes the opportunity for community engagement.”
The AIA’s SDAT program is a public service that works with localities around the country to create community-driven action plans that help them achieve public aspirations for the future. Complete details of the program are available online.
The SDAT program is currently accepting applications for 2019 charrettes. More information about the application process can be found on aia.org.