Smelling like a rose (or begonia)

Village comes together to beautify business corridors

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By Tom Holmes

Back in the day, people who grew up on farms would comment on someone turning a bad situation into a good one by saying, "He fell into a pile of manure but came out smelling like a rose."

Those old timers might say the same thing about what happened to make Madison Street and Roosevelt Road bloom and flower again this year.

The pile of manure we're in right now is of course the COVID-19 pandemic, one result of which has been a revenue shortfall for the village. Among the difficult decisions the village council made to get closer to a balanced budget was to not fund the planting of flowers along Forest Park's two main business corridors this year.

Everyone in the village seemed to feel the loss, because the flowers have been a source of pride for residents, an enhancement of the community's small-town charm for business owners and a burnishing of Forest Park's image for elected officials.

Here's how various stakeholders came together.

In early June, Dan Watts of Forest Park Bank and Bridget Lane, a business consultant, were attending a Chamber of Commerce economic development committee meeting and sharing their disappointment that there would be no flowers on Madison Street and Roosevelt Road. Watts got the idea that when the village government is unable to meet a need, maybe all of the stakeholders in the community can come together and make something happen.

Rob McAdam was at that meeting, caught the vision and said that his landscaping business would see if there were any flowers left with the wholesalers. Laurie Kokenes, the chamber's director, responded by sending out an email blast on June 11 communicating the idea and seeing if anyone would offer to help finance the program.

Within eight days, McAdam Landscaping had ordered over 2,000 flowers and drawn up what they call a "recipe" for how to arrange them, 44 businesses or individuals had offered to donate money and the public works department had planted the flowers.

After watching how the community responded, Lane said, "The beauty of Forest Park is its small-town character and the way our residents, businesses and government work together. It [comes from] an energetic spirit that marshals needed resources to improve the community. Seems like the essence of a small town."

Another way of putting it is that the community had large reserves of social capital.  Entrepreneurs will tell you that businesses which survive hard times like the one we are in presently often do so because they've stored up capital —  money in the bank — which allows them to pay the bills while riding out the storm.

Social capital comes in the form of relationships, competence, experience and trust. 

For example, Pat Braniff, who is employed by the public works department, has been planting flowers for the village for over 20 years. He and his assistant Steve Knysch relied on their years of experience to immediately spring into action when their boss John Doss gave them the go ahead. 

"Steve and I have a two-man system," said Braniff. "I prepared all of the pots by weeding them and topping off the soil. I then planted a canna lilly as the centerpiece and sweet potato vines which you see cascading over the pots like a waterfall. Then Steve would come behind where I have been and fill the pots in with begonias."

What is remarkable is that the duo finished planting the big display in Constitution Court, 30 sets of two pots on Madison Street and 12 sets of three pots on Roosevelt Road in such a short time.

Included in the 44 persons or organizations which funded the project were Farmington Foods, which is classified as industrial, organizations like Girl Scout Troop #45774, businesses like Everett Wealth Solutions and residents like the Bromett Family. 

Watts compared the multi-faceted partnership which made the flowers bloom to cooking rather than baking. 

"The baking recipe," he said, "needs to be accurate while the cooking can vary depending on resources and tastes. Businesses are supporters of community (residents) events when profit is available, and businesses look to the community for support when sales are down (i.e. buying local or ordering take out when in-store sales were prohibited). Like cooking, each ingredient cannot overwhelm the other. Too much government; bad for business. Too little government; bad for residents."

Commissioner Ryan Nero praised the flower project saying, "I campaigned with the slogan Unity in the commUNITY. Nothing makes me happier than seeing this in action!"

Chamber Director Kokenes said, "We're in this together isn't just some slogan we throw around. It personifies what Forest Park is all about."

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