Create a New Park in Your Neighborhood?
Feature Story ...
Fort Myers, Fla.
Here's how a group of students, The Monday Group, saved a 2,500-acre swamp from developers and how you can turn open spaces into public places, parks, gardens -- whatever YOU decide.
Monday Group's Surefire To Do List ... For Action!
Names, names, names. Start a petition, collect signatures, get a measure on the local ballot. The students proposed that Lee County buy the land and preserve it as a park.
Plan, plan, plan. Make a presentation to the powers that be with a report on the benefits of your proposal. Their commission voted to put the referendum on the ballot.
Support, support, support. Distribute fact sheets, go door-to-door for votes, write letters to the editor. They rallied support and conducted interviews on the importance of preserving the swamp.
Follow up and follow up. Stick with it until the plan becomes a reality. Their referendum passed by the largest margin of any tax measure in the county's history, but there was no staff to plan the park. The class dedicated another year to provide technical assistance to the city.
Sound too easy? Your fourth-grade teacher was right -- It's all in the homework! If you want to turn a vacant lot into a community garden or put a stop sign on your corner, you won't pass go until you pick up some information cards.
Who owns that lot you want to clean? Who decides where the stop signs go? To find out, go directly to the "Bureau of Information," the land of public records.
How To ...
Set Ground Rules for navigating in the bureaucracy swamp. Your guides: Teachers Laura Church and Rick Tully of the Monday Group.
- Know the code. Talk politely, thank sincerely, and follow up on requests. Bureaucrats can be rigid -- but they aren't idiots.
- Be curious. Ask questions and be upfront about your interests. Keep asking.
- Follow your eyes ... and ears. You might find information that you didn't know you wanted.
- Be respectful. The people in these departments are experts. Use their expertise to help you.
- Patience, patience, patience. You may be referred to 15 people before you find what you want. Persistence pays.
- When you get the information you need, don't forget to thank a teacher!
The Monday Group
Lee County Schools
2055 Central Ave.
Fort Myers, FL 33901
A Class Act -- The Monday Group
Since 1969, the students of the Monday Group -- an environmental education class in Fort Myers, Fla. -- have learned that there's more to politics than protest, and more to a class project than a paper.
Fifteen years ago, the class led a citywide crusade to save the 2,500-acre Six-Mile Cypress Swamp from developers, and then helped city planners develop a master plan for the area.
Each year, Monday Group students pick a new project to work on, and quickly find out that knowledge isn't just homework -- it's power. "It's not just walk around carrying picket signs and things like that," Tully says. "We go through the democratic process." To save the swamp, the students mounted a petition drive, put together a plan for county officials, and led a public education campaign that convinced voters to preserve the area.
Another Monday Group is working on saving another swamp, but the members always return to the Cypress -- chest-deep -- to remind them of what a small group (meeting even just once a week!) can accomplish.