Cultural planning process for Mapleton continues with public consultation

As part of the cultural planning process for Mapleton Township, a community wide forum was held on Feb. 19 at the Drayton Festival Theatre.

The evening began with a welcome from Mayor Neil Driscoll, who introduced council members, Mapleton Township employees and  county council representative, Gregg Davidson.

Greg Baeker, director of cultural development with Millier Dickinson Blais, the consulting firm hired by the township, ran through a power point presentation of the cultural plan for Mapleton Township.

 A municipal cultural plan includes five strategies; developing a shared vision and framework for action, anchoring a new mindset, integration of culture into planning and decision making, building of networks and capacity to realize opportunities and establishment of strategies to sustain community engagement.

Over the past four years more than 50 municipalities have developed municipal cultural plans. Minto, Wellington North and Centre Wellington are three in Wellington County.

Wellington County’s Economic Development Strategic Plan encourages county-wide cultural mapping and cultural master planning.

Cultural mapping is a systematic approach to identifying, recording, classifying and analyzing a community’s cultural resources. Cultural mapping supports planning and economic development, increases awareness of cultural resources for residents and visitors and supports networking and collaboration among cultural groups. Cultural mapping has identified 178 unique cultural resources within the Township.

Baeker indicated it is important that Mapleton Township invests time and energy into cultural planning, as cultural resources and amenities attract people and investment. Cultural resources and stories also define a community’s identity and sense of place.  These resources also generate employment in cultural industries and help connect culture, agriculture and culinary tourism.

Millier Dickinson Blais has engaged the community in two other activities prior to the community forum. Twenty stakeholders comprised of individual business owners, community organizations, municipal staff and council members  participated in telephone interviews. Over 100 individuals completed a cultural survey.

“As consultants we’ve worked on cultural plans in many smaller communities like Mapleton and we’ve never seen the level of interest and engagement in the planning process that we have in Mapleton. There have been more than 100 responses to the community survey which is remarkable in our experience for communities of Mapleton’s size,” Baeker said.

Baeker categorized the results from the surveys into good, bad and opportunities. Positive findings include a rural culture and identity which produces an appealing atmosphere and a slower pace. Mapleton Township contains diverse cultures mainly made up of Mennonite and Dutch heritage. The natural beauty of trails, rolling hills and Conestoga Lake ranked high in the survey results. Anchor to the cultural attractions was Drayton Festival Theatre. Community organizations from churches to social clubs are involved in the community. The township’s rich history, strong community spirit and farm-based events rounded out the good results.                         .

On the negative side, a lack of awareness of current cultural resources including programs, club events and local activities results in community members leaving Mapleton to access comparable resources. The consultants indicated a conflict exists “between Mapleton being a  cultural vibrant spot vs a farming spot.”

The consultants also indicated the “downtown is very quiet – not a retail town.”

Volunteers in the community are aging and are not being replaced by the next generation, the report indicates. Also, young people have no place to gather and experience culture together. Partnerships between businesses are hard to come by.

Expressed by many survey participants was the concern that the township is a bedroom community with not much to offer. Sporting activities are popular but do not cross promote with cultural events.

Opportunities arising from the survey’s findings include the need to profile the township’s assets and market them better to the community and visitors. It is important to “support  the Drayton Festival Theatre by offering wider complementary cultural resources and experiences.”

 An emphasis was placed on local food which involves work with local farmers to build bridges connecting agriculture with culturally-based activities. Making use of the youth centre to build youth-based actions for culture and community based development was stressed. A festivals and events strategy is needed to support existing events and encourage development of new events. An investment in culture is an investment in the quality of life, the report states.