We are celebrating BIG! Our first ever City Shapers cohort has nearly completed the 2-year
When the City of Bowling Green first approached us, they came with one glaring challenge: the
housing crisis. In those early days, we had a lot of conversations to shift the priority away from
fixing and instead towards peeling back the layers to understanding the unique complexities
driving homelessness in their city.
Phase 1: Assessment
The first phase of the City Shapers curriculum is Assessment. In this process, the cohort made
some important discoveries. (1) Bowling Green is a compassionate and generous city! There
are a plethora of people, institutions and resources that are committed to alleviating poverty.
However, the long-term impacts are disproportionate. (2) There was a relational disconnect
between service providers, people and place. (3) There was much more to learn.
One of the fundamental flaws in the work of addressing poverty is the assumption that more or
better programs/resources/services are the solution. However, the vulnerabilities of poverty and
the possibilities of rising above it are about place. Poverty is undone when places thrive.
In a thriving community the residents experience a deep, life-giving connection to their place, to
the environment – both built and natural – that surrounds them. This connectivity is also about
the way streets connect to blocks, blocks to neighborhoods, and neighborhoods to the city. This
ecosystem of people, places, and systems should form a healthy and integrated whole.
Therefore, City Shapers of Bowling Green has gone well beyond looking at one or two ‘poverty
statistics’ in search of a program to improve them. Through careful assessment, the cohort also
discovered that there were three distinct neighborhoods that seemed to be floundering more so
than others. Engaging the expertise of neighbors, City Shapers began building a bridge to cross
over the relational gap and were able to gain a deeper understanding of the previously hidden
forces driving chronic material poverty in these places. Kudos for accomplishing this feat in the
midst of a global pandemic!
Phase 2: Alignment
Now that the cohort had identified the specific social, structural and economic challenges at the
root of these neighborhoods, they were ready to enter into the second phase of the curriculum,
Alignment of People and Purpose. The key element for alignment is collaboration. City Shapers
Bowling Green was tasked with co-creating a shared vision with their neighbors for reweaving
the fabric of these places so all people would have a chance to thrive.
In December 2021, a deadly tornado swept across the City of Bowling Green. The hardest-hit
neighborhood just happened to be one on which the cohort was focused. In the aftermath, the
cohort saw the challenges of charity that didn’t emerge from relationships. Donations poured in
and waves of people came to help. However, much of the crisis-relief offered wasn’t what the
disaster survivors really needed. It was a call for practical application of what the cohort had
been learning and how to leverage their value of connectivity.
Phase 3: Activation
The disaster expedited the final phase of the City Shapers process, Activation. In agreement
with their neighbors, the cohort made the decision to divide and conquer. While they wanted to
implement a more meaningful crisis response, they also didn’t want to stop the work they had
begun. Hence, the addition of a Long Term Recovery Group to address the devastating effects
of the tornado and the formation of a Community Steering Team to continue planning strategies
for activating their neighborhood development initiatives. Bowling Green’s exemplary strength
and resilience is commendable!
On an extended timeline due to the COVID pandemic and natural disaster, Bowling Green is on
a powerful trajectory. They have a healthier and more comprehensive disaster plan. Neighbors
contributed to the creation of a food cooperative to supply fresh food at an affordable price. The
co-op is run largely by employees from the neighborhood. As a resettlement community, they
have established an international walk-in center, a place for immigrants and refugees to gather
and celebrate life and their cultures. New housing is under way through Habitat for Humanity,
neighbors and many more development-minded community partners.
The Next Chapter in Bowling Green
While this is just a sampling of what lies on the horizon for Bowling Green, these various groups
are meeting regularly and tailoring their plans as circumstances change. They are committed to
continuing the deep and patient work of holistic neighborhood development and we are honored to share this experience. When you join City Shapers, you can see the same level of strategic
place-based development work come to life in your neighborhoods.
The Lupton Center is READY to launch at least 1 more City Shapers cohort before the end of
2022. Reach out to us today if you want to be the one filling that spot.