Quality of Life is a term that means different things to different people and when it comes to community programs and amenities, often provided with support from the government, the discussion takes on a whole new tenor. Stillwater has often been left with more questions than answers about how to provide the types of things residents would say improve their quality of life.

Vibrant Stillwater, a community coalition that includes residents and local business and civic leaders, is an outgrowth of two previous citizen-led efforts that says it’s trying to move the discussion forward by developing a long-term vision for improving the vibrancy and quality of life in Stillwater.

Its goal is to identify a resident-inspired vision, get the community more involved in the process and make intentional decisions about development.

Vibrant Stillwater is guided by a steering committee that meets monthly on the fourth Friday of the month with a community coach from Vibrant Community Partners. Stillwater Medical Center provided initial funding for the process and further fundraising will support continued efforts.

The City of Stillwater is also working with Vibrant Community Partners for coaching on how to work with Vibrant Stillwater in a support role, interacting with the effort but not leading the process or significantly influencing it, City Manager Norman McNickle said.

He’s excited about the process because so many people are involved and there is a lot going on, he said.

It’s an effort that will benefit both residents and visitors, organizers say.

“COVID gave us time to really think about what we want for our city,” Vibrant Stillwater steering committee member Alan Lovelace said. “We have a lot of great things going on already, and we’re eager to build on that momentum and not let barriers keep us from progressing. The idea behind this coalition is to get everyone aligned and rowing in the same direction to make sure our Stillwater can be the community we want it to be.”

To determine what people think about various aspects of life in Stillwater, including employment opportunities, economic growth, education, confidence in local government and their overall quality of life, Vibrant Stillwater commissioned a survey conducted by national polling company Mason Dixon. The survey results will serve as a foundation for the organization’s efforts.

“QOL surveys provide an accurate look at the positives and the areas of opportunities in our community,” Jeremy Bale of Vibrant Stillwater said. “The goal is to uncover areas where we should be proud and to pick a couple key initiatives that will really drive quality of life improvements. Our hope is a call to action … Something that rises to the surface as a shared desire and identity or what we aspire toward.”

Vibrant Stillwater plans to create an online dashboard that tracks identified needs and achievements to provide transparency for the public, the organization said in an August press release.

Although Vibrant Stillwater is working with Vibrant Community Partners a consulting firm that has a road map it recommends for communities, Stillwater’s effort will be fluid and guided by a citizen-defined vision, opportunities as they arise and the willingness of people to join its efforts, organizers say. Communicating with and listening to residents is a top priority.

Vibrant Stillwater has been working with Quint Studer, a noted revitalization expert who has consulted with communities across the country. His road map includes elements like placemaking, the process of creating quality places where people want to live, work, and play; expanding small business training programs; increasing civic engagement and figuring out the best programming to create foot traffic in downtown areas.

Studer left his healthcare consulting business in 2016 to focus full-time on revitalization in his hometown of Pensalcola, Fla.

He’s the founder of Vibrant Community Partners, a consulting firm that coaches communities with the goal of helping them build a blueprint for achieving growth and excellence. He authored a book on the subject, “Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change is Reshaping America.” Vibrant Stillwater organizers recommend people interested in what they are doing read the book to get a feel for the vibrancy process and what is possible for Stillwater.

Studer and Vibrant Community Partner Coach Oakleigh Ryan will be in Stillwater Oct. 12 for a public town hall meeting at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Sheerar Center, 702 S. Duncan St.

They will present the community survey results along with some takeaways. 

“There’s so much opportunity for Stillwater,” Studer, said in a release from Vibrant Stillwater. “Small towns and medium-sized cities are really hot right now. There’s a lot of reverse migration. As more and more people are getting priced out of bigger cities, smaller places that have a good cost of living and allow for a great work-life balance are set to thrive. 

“That was true before 2020, but it’s especially true now that remote work is mainstream. Communities like Stillwater, that get the value of revitalization, are in the sweet spot.” 

At vibrantstillwater.com people can find a list of opportunities for getting involved and a place to provide feedback. They can also sign up for regular updates.

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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