Large-scale projects can seem overwhelming, with enough moving parts and phases that it feels intimidating or daunting to know where to even begin. A pre-development partnership with experienced planners, architects, engineers, funding specialists, and technical assistance providers eases this by breaking project work down into manageable steps. From project priorities to funding to standards and checkpoints, pre-development work allows a community to tackle a project through an organized, cohesive process.
Focusing a community on where they agree rather than where they disagree provides the project with a shared vision of its outcome. While not everyone will agree on every detail, compiling a list of shared values for the community gives the project and its various outcomes a set of goalposts to strive toward. In short, it gives the mission a mission statement.
When working with the Rosebud Sioux tribe, we helped to create a Keya Wakpala Waíçageyapi Master Plan, which included a series of community engagement meetings and collection of community surveys to define the larger vision, values, and goals.
This survey allowed community members a chance to rate different priorities for project outcomes, including potential inclusions such as “community garden” and “bus stops”. While most would agree both are valuable as an end-feature, time and budget constraints necessitate the narrowing down of priorities to a manageable set of features.
It’s important to note this list of potential end-features also included undesirable project outcomes such as “gangs” and “junk cars/trailers” as it’s just as important to keep in mind the outcomes the group is working together to avoid. This information gathered helped Rosebud Sioux make decisions about project priorities and allowed preparations for Phase 2 work to be made.
These results become the driving documents throughout the project, serving to re-center project goals during times of conflict and indecision. By allowing all interested community members the chance to voice what’s important to them, it also increases the early buy-in and sense of ownership of the project, as once you see some of your vision contained in the overall project plan, you become an advocate for the project as a whole.
With a shared vision from a motivated community, the project has some early momentum but there’s much to do to continue toward a successful outcome. It’s important not to stall out by mishandling the next steps so a partnership with an organization who does this work regularly continues to be an accelerant to success. Beyond pre-development experts at Blue Star, there are a variety of third-party non-profits who already work with and have great knowledge of government organizations and funding for the type of project you’re working on. By incorporating Blue Star’s previous relationship with these partners – such a ICF International, Habitat for Humanity, or Enterprise Community Partners, among others – much of the work of identifying funding opportunities is already completed, sending you on a faster path. The quicker you can do the early identification work, the earlier you can begin to get to your specific project details. These organizations also have their own set of quality standards that will assist in project goalposts.
Blue Star is experienced in working with these groups and understand the type of project documentation they require. A professional, data-rich presentation displaying pre-development work toward broad community involvement is a powerful tool to outside organizations who can connect you to available support and funding. They should include demographic information for the community, including topics like history, poverty statistics, and an overview of the current development in place.
Data is one of the most important currencies there is in project success. The more data collected, the less unknowns or variables there are that can unravel or delay project development. Data-driven plans have more stability and elicit more confidence when presented throughout the project. Decision-making becomes easier and cooperation increases.
Blue Star was brought in to create a master plan for the Pawhuska Indian Village, a sovereign land of the Osage Nation. The Village lacked capacity to implement strategies for housing and economic development. Blue Star’s staff of planners, architects, engineers, funding specialists, and technical assistance providers worked with the local community and tribal governmental entities to address multiple challenges identified by the Village. They included Inadequate zoning, building code regulations, reduced levels of Bureau of Indian Affairs assistance in recent years, abandoned buildings and many undeveloped residential lots spread across the Village’s 120 acres of trust land (tribal) holdings.
Blue Star’s team helped to streamline funding and education for tribal members who have wanted to build homes and start businesses in the Village. They also worked to modernize infrastructure, including mitigating frequent flooding using a new storm water management system, and increasing access to broadband Internet, which had impeded expansion of housing and economic development efforts.
Blue Star President Scott Moore y Medina describes the partnership, “We’re not here to kick the can down the road and keep the status quo. We’re here to walk down the road, hand-in-hand, to a brighter outcome.”
Working nation-to-nation in partnership such as these allow us to offer our deeper understanding of the communities we serve, all with unique cultures, histories, and skills to contribute to projects to tell their stories. It was through this greater level of community involvement that the mural at the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe’s George Hawkins Memorial Treatment Center came to life.
George Hawkins Memorial Treatment Center, Draft
In the approach to the renovation and expansion of the center, the Design Team led by Blue Star worked to understand how the existing building was failing to meet the needs of patients and staff, what improvements were required by code, and how holistic healing should manifest for the people seeking recovery and a new life at this facility. Multiple stakeholders participated in a conceptual design process that began with a dialogue about tribal identity, cultural values, and the vision for the project based on that identity and those values.
This "first step" was crucial in helping the design-build team understand the culture, people, and place in the words and hearts of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people themselves. This also allowed a culturally responsive design to be brought to life that inspires healing and teaches the culture to those who may have become disconnected from their identity as Native American people.
The completed project represents a rare collaborative effort between Indigenous-minded designers, engineers, local medicine people and cultural wisdom keepers as well as general construction practitioners. The results of this coming together includes a "medicine mural", the building’s centerpiece and an active part of recovery and healing programs offered at the George Hawkins Memorial Treatment Center. The mural – designed by Cheyenne Chief and Cultural Artist, Gordon Yellowman, Sr. – features a round medicine wheel window that faces to the east, representing the dawning of a new day. Radiating out from there are sun rays washing over an abstracted Cheyenne and Arapaho village landscape near rivers and prairies, representing the ancestral ties back to the people and places – the backbone of the Nation.
George Hawkins Memorial Treatment Center, Completed
Moore y Medina sums up his passion for pre-development work. “We have a service heart. In the end, all this pre-development work is with the goal to improve the lives of very worthy individuals who just want what’s best for their community and its future.”