A change in attitude.
In 2013, Huntington, West Virginia successfully participated in the America in Bloom contest. Prior to entering the contest, residents in Huntington had led some grassroots efforts toward beautification of their town, but the contest was truly a catalyst for increased efforts and stronger community involvement. The fact that judges were coming and that there was a looming deadline motivated the City residents. Also, there’s no denying it—people love to compete.
How did they do it?
Local champions Lisa Riley and Tom Bell of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority took the reins to prepare for the contest and garner support within the community. Efforts initially started in focused areas such as the downtown but they extended it city wide for the contest. It took a whole year of planning, and for Lisa and Tom, during the three months before the judges arrived their work on Huntington in Bloom “was like a full time job!”
They focused not only on planting flowers, but also securing that all areas of town were well maintained and landscaped and that streets were litter-free and scrubbed of graffiti. Huntington in Bloom also partnered with local organizations such as the Coalition for the Homeless who provided workers to help with maintenance such as watering flowers in the spring and summer. Marshall University, The Healing Place, Mountain State Centers for Independent Living, and several service clubs organized litter pickups throughout the year. Lisa and Tom also visited other cities and researched past winners of America in Bloom to get a solid idea of what a winning beautification project looked like.
Huntington in Bloom funds their efforts primarily through donations from local businesses as well as individuals. In fact, since their efforts were so successful with the summer street decorations, the City has put them “in charge” of fall and Christmas decorations this year for which the City will help with expenses.
The secret to success
According to Tom and Lisa, the biggest benefit of competing in the America in Bloom program was the change in attitude of Huntington residents toward beautification and how to impact their city—it’s called pride. Before the contest, several grassroots organizations were working to make change, but now, under the under the collective umbrella of Huntington in Bloom, the organization boasts a network of 173 volunteers and growing. A group of former Huntington residents recently came back for a 10-year high school reunion and were extremely impressed to see the city so changed—for the better.
While Lisa and Tom realize that the America in Bloom program might not be the best fit for towns with fewer resources, because it is costly and takes a significant amount of time and energy, they do have a few insights to share for other communities who want to engage in successful beautification projects. They discovered that the number one secret to a successful program is to have two or three passionate people at the core, who then draw in another 8 to 12 people. A cohesive, committed steering committee is essential to not only short-term success but also sustainability. It’s also important to recognize that beautification means more than just planting flowers, and that the overall impression of the town—viewing it from an outsider’s perspective—is key.