WIND POINT — Installing water and sewer lines. Maintaining a good school system. Solving crimes.
Any number of weighty issues have required leaders in the seven Racine County communities east of Interstate 94 to balance their own interests with those of the area. Results have been mixed.
Kate Foster would like you to know Racine County is not unique in facing those types of challenges.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
“Racine is classic,” said Foster, the University of Maine-Farmington president and expert in local government and regional decision making. “You’re not wrestling with something others have never seen before.”
Foster kicked off a three-part series, called Resilient Communities, on Wednesday at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, 33 E. Four Mile Road. The initiative seeks to bring together all eastern Racine County communities — Caledonia, Elmwood Park, Mount Pleasant, North Bay, Racine, Sturtevant and Wind Point — to mull the future of the region and foster more conversations and collaboration.
A full house of about 120 people heard Foster talk about the concept of “resilience,” how leaders can approach their issues and how the Racine area compares to the rest of the country.
Build on strength
Foster presented a system of measuring a region’s capacity to bounce back from a crisis, whether it be a sudden event or a chronic one. The system included a swath of variables related to income, education, poverty, affordability and other factors.
Racine ranked in the middle of the pack compared to other regions, and particularly high in civic engagement, according to analysis Foster presented.
While careful to note she had no sure-fire ways to improve collaboration among communities in the Racine area, Foster implored officials to have breakfast together to build relationships, develop regional leaders and build on the area’s strengths.
“You need some champions who feel good about this place, who look at it and say ‘this place is full of opportunity,’ “ Foster said in an interview before the presentation.
“So I come in and I say: Do you know how many places would kill for a waterfront? You have an art museum, good library system ... build on strength.”
Wednesday’s briefing was the first of three planned at Wingspread. Rob Henken, president of the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum, and Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, are scheduled to speak on the next two Wednesdays.
When it’s over, officials plan to meet one on one with community groups and governing bodies.
“We hope leaders will accept our open invitation to come to Wingspread, come to the table in spirit of cooperation to explore the possibilities and determine what can and must be done now,” said Ashley Staeck, program officer at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread.
Jean Jacobson, the Norway town chairman and former Racine County executive, said the region has proven it can accomplish big goals, noting officials’ work to get water and sewer out to Interstate 94 after some 30 years of discussions.
“It was a fun project. A lot of gnashing of teeth, but it got done after two years,” Jacobson said during a question-and-answer session.
Mike Frontier, a Racine Unified School Board member, said during the Q&A that participants need a sense of urgency about working together better.
“We’re running out of time here. We need to work together to make this collaboration happen,” Frontier said.
The remaining Resilient Communities events are at capacity, but residents can join the discussion online by watching a livestream at Facebook.com/TJFWingspread. During question-and-answer sessions, a moderator will take questions posed online and ask them on users’ behalf.