From Mike McCurry’s “Talk of the Town” column in The Clarendon Courier May 14, 2015
Parked on the Benches
The headline read, “Town recognized as most welcoming community in the country.” How did they do it? What was the key that unlocked their success?
It all started five years ago, when an initiative put forth by a few civic-minded people in Clarendon Hills changed the course of history for their small town. These local folks decided to implement an idea … a creative concept that would eventually transform a normal suburban town into what is known all over the world today as “The Welcoming Village.”
It was a simple idea, but it caught on like wildfire. Today, when you drive around this small town, you’ll notice that almost every block has something that’s unique to this particular place: benches in the front yards. Set just off the sidewalk, these attractive benches make a simple statement to the passers-by and neighbors: they are welcome to sit, relax and enjoy a conversation.
Something special happened after the benches started popping up. While it was hard to define, it was easy to recognize. Soon after the benches appeared, you could see a change in the attitudes and pace of the day around town. People began to slow down and take time to get to know each other, and many even started introducing themselves to strangers.
As familiarity for the phenomenon grew, the entire village seemed to join in. The result was similar to the community trends you see in some other towns: in some places, when the light is on, for instance, people know to stop over. And in some neighborhoods, people bring their lawn chairs over when the garage door is up.
Here in Clarendon Hills, the organizers of this initiative offered a plan to keep the project simple, keeping the benches looking similar enough that they contributed to the overall welcoming brand. After all, any valuable brand demands conformity. Thus, three different styles of benches were offered, as well as three hardscape options: bricks, stone and mulch.
In the first month of that very first summer, 20 houses on the south side of the tracks got their benches installed. The second month saw another 20 installed on the north side. The next summer, 80 were installed around town. The benches became a sort of a status symbol to homeowners who wanted theirs to be one of the welcoming homes. And as you know, the rest is history.
Of course, as you may have guessed by now, this history is one that’s entirely made up.
Sadly, this isn’t a story of Clarendon Hills’ past, but rather a fictional story set in the future. Is it made up? Sure … but something like this could come true, right?
Today, Clarendon Hills is known as a town of volunteers. But perhaps it’s time for a rebranding! How about “The Welcoming Village”? Who’s interested? All it would take is some civic-minded residents who wanted to step forward in service and start something great. And if there’s one thing I know about this town, it’s that we’re blessed to have plenty of those.
Are you one of them?
Mike is a Clarendon Hills resident; husband; Indian Princes; Indian Guide Dad; a Coach; an “old” football player and a real estate broker. Mike’s columns are usually crafted about the buzz in and around the area. It sometimes has a spin on real estate or cultural information, highlight a new business or announce school happenings. He might include a “get-to-know” about some of our interesting residents and even a little about history. Whatever it is, it is sure to be about the “Talk of the Town”. Mike McCurry has been selling real estate in the western suburbs for over 25 years and his office is located at 5 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills, IL 60514 His blog can be found at mikemccurryhomesblog.wordpress.com 630-325-2800 or visit his website at www.mmccurry.com