‘How we build Matters’09/07/2021 12:31AM ● By Steven Hoffman
Kennett Square, the one square mile where the borough’s residents live, work, and enjoy walking, dining, shopping, and spending time with friends and family, is full of opportunity and possibility. Through the decades, the town has grown, thrived, and declined. It’s been revitalized and is coming back into its own again as a diverse community with a deep respect for its history, a strong sense of community, and bright optimism for its future. Part of Kennett Square’s strength is that it’s not an island. The town thrives in the midst of a region with a stable economy and a forward- thinking approach to land stewardship, an area renowned for its beautiful landscapes and world- class institutions.
“Kennett Square is at a pivotal moment in its development, and how we build matters,” explained Historic Kennett Square executive director Bo Wright. “Because Kennett Square has done many things well, and revitalized large parts of our community successfully, more people want to be part of our community. This growth pressure creates challenges. Many people are thrilled by the growth, but some are not. It’s important to proceed thoughtfully, to maintain the historic character and social cohesion that make Kennett Square unique. We have an exciting opportunity to build a kind of model community—a beautiful and sustainable community where every citizen can belong and prosper.”
For any municipality to do this successfully, Wright said, requires careful stewardship of its raw materials. “Think of a business—a business takes raw materials and adds labor and know-how to create a product. An entrepreneur needs to know the costs of materials and labor, and ultimately the market value of the product, in order to see whether they will be successful or not. Municipalities are quite similar—their raw material is the land within their borders, and their product is their tax base which they need to survive and prosper. The problem is—and this isn’t an attack on any municipalities—most cities and towns don’t know whether they are successful or whether they have a sustainable “business.” The Borough of Kennett Square has 640 acres, so what is the value per acre of that land? More importantly, which style of development has the highest value per acre, and thus contributes most to the community? These are all hugely important questions for a town to be able to answer in order be financially sustainable.”
Wright continued, ““The Borough is only one square mile. This is such a finite resource that it compels us to think really carefully and creatively about how we balance competing demands in our community—for now and for the future. We need to be able to provide housing, recreation, and resources for every resident, and also make sound financial stewardship decisions so the municipality can continue to provide services and maintain all of the necessary infrastructure for
generations to come. How we build matters. Our built environment has a direct impact on everything from our financial sustainability to our quality of life.”
To help everyone in our community understand the challenges and possibilities that lie ahead for Kennett Square, Historic Kennett Square and several community partners, including Square Roots Collective, are launching the 2021–22 Kennett Square Speaker Series, “How We Build Matters.”
“Through this series, we’ll be bringing some of the nation’s leading thinkers and experts here to Kennett Square to help us learn about what it takes to build great—and sustainable—communities,” Wright said. “This idea of sustainability in its broadest sense—including fiscal sustainability in addition to environmental sustainability—is critical to consider. The diverse slate of speakers will be looking at this idea of sustainability from different angles and helping us think through how we can build an equitable community, in which people are socially connected and where everyone can afford to live.”
The goal of the series as a whole and of each event is to bring expertise and fresh perspective to the possibilities for Kennett’s future. “We hope that when people see and hear about new ideas that have worked in other places, the dialogue will be transformed, community members will be inspired, and difficult change will become easier.” Wright also noted that Historic Kennett Square is working on plans to interpret these presentations live so that Spanish-speaking members of the community will be able to participate fully as well.
Wright himself will kick off the KSQ Speaker Series on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the American Legion Hall. He will set the context for the rest of the series and the speakers from around the country who will make up the slate for the 2021–22 talks. Although he’s now a local, Wright brings national experience to his work here. He came to Historic Kennett Square from Strong Towns, an organization that supports people advocating for smart, sustainable growth in towns and cities across the U.S. and Canada. Through his work with Strong Towns, Wright travelled extensively with the organization’s founder and president, Chuck Marohn.
“Visiting hundreds of cities and towns around the country, talking with leaders and concerned citizens, and seeing the good, bad, and the ugly firsthand was an invaluable education,” Wright said. “I’ve enjoyed walking through revitalized communities and seeing projects that have helped people to thrive and brought wealth to their communities. I’ve also witnessed the fallout from various kinds of detrimental development patterns that destroy a community’s character and create unsolvable problems for residents.”
In his presentation on Sept. 28, “How We Build Matters: Building a Sustainable Community in Kennett Square,” Wright will explain how the community’s various strengths will help Kennett Square successfully meet some of the challenges it faces at this critical moment. “As in any community, there are differences of opinion, and change can be hard,” he said. “But it’s really important for everyone to have a voice and work together to build a vision for what we want our community to be. The Kennett Square Speaker Series will help us to establish a common understanding and language so we can do this work together and achieve our shared goal—a beautiful and sustainable community where every citizen can belong and prosper.”
The next event, planned for early November will focus on building a livable communities for all ages. “How we build matters for everyone—from the youngest to the oldest community members,” said Wright. “A livable community that works for every generation offers a range of housing options for all ages and situations and is financial resilient, with design that’s human scale, walkable, and fosters connection instead of isolation.”
“Bo Wright’s presentation on Sept. 28 is the perfect way to kick off this exciting new Speaker Series,” said Historic Kennett Square board chair Bob Norris. “Bo’s an impressive person who has brought a lot to our community and steered Historic Kennett Square through the pandemic with a focus on helping our small businesses survive, elevating the Kennett Square experience for residents and visitors through placemaking projects like Christmas in Kennett and Kennett Blooms, and bringing both vision and experience from around the country to our discussions about economic development in Kennett Square and the surrounding area,” Norris said. “I’m looking forward to Bo’s presentation on Sept. 28 and to engaging with these ideas as a community throughout this excellent Speaker Series. The caliber of speakers that we’ll be bringing in throughout the series speaks for itself, and I hope everyone will join us to be part of these important conversations about ensuring a vibrant future for the community we love.”