20 Reasons To Be Inspired in 2020

Posted on January 2, 2020

Your Move

The Buzz w/ Sarah O’Brien, Change Agent

Book I can’t put down:

Just Enough Anxiety, The Hidden Driver of Business Success by Robert H. Rosen

Book I just can’t get into but won’t remove from the nightstand:

Neighborhoodby Emily Tallen

What I can’t stop playing over and over again:

The TED Interview: Yuval Noah Harari Reveals the Dangers Ahead

What I am designing for fun:

Church on the Porch party invitation to celebrate surviving my home renovation.

Why a Top 20?

It’s been just over a year since I left the public sector and have been working to affect greater change from outside the doors of City Hall. When I walked out, I believed that local government was in peril, cities were facing challenges of epic proportions and our neighborhoods were in crisis. However, this time last year I had no idea how much us “outsiders” were doing to change the status quo. I had no concept of the limitless amount of inspiration and stories of humanity that were happening all around me. I was too busy hiding bodies, attending meetings, managing staff, wondering what happened to my behind, and balancing political wills to pay attention to anything that wasn’t mission-critical. I couldn’t even find inspiration if it was disguised as a dead body.

We used to joke that as soon as we buried the body someone had dropped after the council meeting, someone would sneak in and throw ten more in the hall to be dealt with. As dutiful public servants, we kept digging graves so to speak. In hindsight had we slowed down enough to understand all of the problems, looked around for inspiration, or reached out for more help we might not have been digging so many graves. Had we been able to stop the onslaught of bodies or cure the cause of death we wouldn’t have had a need for as many graves. Now that I am on the outside it’s clear as mud. But in the trenches, I  couldn’t find my way out of the graveyard shift.

Local government leadership is not for the faint of heart. And of course, it’s not for those scared to bury bodies either (off the record.) You are all fighting with everything you have. You must leave your cities better than you found them. I want nothing more than to fight beside every one of you because we have to win. Our cities, our communities, our local governments need the best and brightest minds, the latest technological advances, access to the best data and plentiful resources, the most engaged citizens and inclusive cultures, and last but certainly not least collaborative partners. Our needs far outweigh our capacity.  The demands outnumber our resources.

And even though an officer may be showing up to my house after reading this blog, I believe in local government and the work that we do more so today than I ever did before. Why? Because local government isn’t in this alone. The experiences I had, words I  read, podcasts I heard, and people I learned from over the last twelve months continue to fuel my passion and drive my beliefs.  I have a new outlook on digging graves, I mean city building. There are so many thought-provoking stories, inspiring research projects, and unreasonable change agents out there today.  I am hashtag blessed with an expanded network of colleagues to commiserate with. I am better equipped with an arsenal of new stories to share. And my laptop so full of new reports, discoveries, and lessons that it crashed completely. With this newly acquired bounty of greatness acquired over the last year,  I know that my passion is endless and my beliefs stronger than ever. And rest assured there is so much more to be discovered. In a nutshell, there are gravediggers,  cemetery manuals, and a constant stream of mourners bringing flowers, ya’ll!

WANEO. My grandfather used to sign every single letter he wrote me that way, WANEO. We all need each other. You see local government can’t save us from ourselves. We can’t clean up the graveyard alone. To make sure that today’s engaging local government leaders are adequately equipped, intellectually stimulated, and better connected to those outside of the local government network I want you to be inspired. So I have created a top 20 reasons to be inspired in 2020 list. It is chock full of worthy content and provides hat tips to content creators. A  list designed to help motivate, empower, connect and enlighten at least one, maybe two, engaging local government leaders as you head into the new decade. So without further ado, here you are:

NUMBER 1: The world is full of unreasonable people.


And the best of them are out there helping to solve our most pressing challenges. Rest assured that the world’s BFP’s are being addressed by companies like the Unreasonable Group. 

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  George Bernard Shaw

NUMBER 2: Imagination isn’t just for kids

Dwell in Possibility


We have an entire “government” agency daring us to imagine, have you heard about the US Department of Arts & Culture.?

“Imagination is our birthright: everyone owns this power and everything created must first be imagined. But too often, we’re persuaded to believe our voices don’t count or that the future is determined by a powerful few. In these times, social imagination is a radical act, restoring personal and collective agency, shifting dominant narratives, and affirming that all of us make the future. When we have the audacity to dream in public, when we begin to unleash imagination and turn it into action, we can move the world. ” 

NUMBER 3: Fred Rogers and kindness are big again

Fred Rogers

“Fred was a man with a vision, and his vision was of the public square, a place full of strangers, transformed by love and kindness into something like a neighborhood. That vision depended on civility, on strangers feeling welcome in the public square, and so civility couldn’t be debatable. It couldn’t be subject to politics but rather had to be the very basis of politics, along with everything else worthwhile.”

NUMBER 4: Relationships Matter

Relational Activism

The Stanford Social Innovation Review is at the forefront of social change and guess what? People are too.  In this October 2019 article relational activism meets division head-on. 

“But if kindness, emotions, and human relationships are “the blind spot in public policy”—as a three-year project by the Carnegie Trust emphasized—then relational activism fills in the blanks by starting change at the most basic, fundamental level. Compassionate, humane relationships help achieve positive change in the worlds we can touch. That change propels wider social change when the aggregate of individual actions is collectively added together and felt.

NUMBER 5: Transportation has new E’s

And they are value-driven and designed to tear down silos.   The private sector firm Toole Design Group outlined these new values: Ethics, Equity, and Empathy to replace the old transportation values introduced in 1925. (Engineering, Education, and Enforcement.)

The New E’s

NUMBER 6: Block Parties are back!

And cities are bringing ways to celebrate this tradition directly to the people. We love the Sugar Cube in Sugarland, Texas.


NUMBER 7: Old Coot’s give free advice

Old Coot
Brady, TX World Championship Goat Cook Off had their own Old Coot’s Advice Booth in 2019

Stories about old men setting up advice booths at farmer’s markets show how much today’s society seeks different avenues of communication and interaction. We used to interact with a much more diverse set of humans. I think that exposure to diversity helps expose us and hopefully connect us to ideas and principles we may not regularly encounter. Advice seekers have fulfilled an innate desire to share with someone a piece of their life, or a struggle, with someone outside of their circle.  I think that’s tremendous, don’t you?

NUMBER 8: The only certainty is uncertainty, and that’s ok

“The approach, in which multiple possible future scenarios are considered, makes planning nimbler and more flexible, and less set in stone. Because there’s one thing that’ll be certain for cities many years from now, and that’s uncertainty.”

The To-Do List for Cities 20 Years From Now

NUMBER 9: Porch Sitting is a proven community building method

Church on the Porch
What Morning Buzzer Sarah O’Brien is designing for fun

“In fact, in the mid-1800s, landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing suggested the porch was the essence of what made a home American, as opposed to British. A house without a front porch,” he proclaimed, “is as insignificant as a book without a title page.” For the next century, Americans never omitted the title page, using porches for napping and storytelling and card playing, lightning-bug spotting and watermelon-seed spitting, guitar-strumming over the bass line of crickets and the jingle of ice cream trucks, launching pads for kids with towels tied as capes. And all the while, porches served as the original neighborhood watch.”

Excerpt from “Refuge and Prospect: the Front Porch, Public Square a CNU Journal

NUMBER 10: Burning Man is an eligible expense 

“In that sense, the single greatest lesson Burning Man can impart to other cities may not be anything physical. It’s the collaborative process of planning and design. “The reason citizens care more in a place like Black Rock City than they might in their own communities is because they have some skin in the game,” says Mitchell. “They have a way to participate. They are asked for their feedback. They get to see what’s happening and then make the city real. We empower them to make the city what it is.”
City of Dust, Governing.com

“In that sense, the single greatest lesson Burning Man can impart to other cities may not be anything physical. It’s the collaborative process of planning and design. “The reason citizens care more in a place like Black Rock City than they might in their own communities is because they have some skin in the game,” says Mitchell. “They have a way to participate. They are asked for their feedback. They get to see what’s happening and then make the city real. We empower them to make the city what it is.”

NUMBER 11: You can change the world

The secret to affecting world change and ridding hatred from society is simple.

“If all the worlds children were taught Cultural Anthropology at the age of 6… ..the next generation would grow up immune against the ignorance that leads to prejudice and intolerance.” – Simon Anholt

NUMBER 12: Being neighborly is cool again

Borrow the sugar
Go borrow some sugar.

Borrowing things from our neighbors strengthens democracy.

“We’ve drifted away from the neighborly activities that inculcate civic and democratic engagement and understanding. We’re home alone, baking by ourselves. Go borrow some sugar.”

 – YesMagazine.org

NUMBER 13: There is always time to stop and smell the roses

10 Ways to Change How You Interact with Your City is a real thing.


10 Ways to Change How you Interact with Your City

NUMBER 14: Little Bitty is the new big

Organizations like the Incremental Development Alliance are helping us rebuild our cities, diversify housing supply, and close the wealth gap all while proving that it’s alright to be little bitty.

NUMBER 15: Your city needs you to have a drink at the bar

Revitalize, or Die believes this pub matters
Order your own #divebarsmatter shirt online

Our friends at Revitalize, or Die put it so eloquently. Who could argue with them?

“So much of our focus has shifted to youth sports and the endeavors of our children that we seem to neglect the importance of adult socialization. It matters that adults get together, it matters so much. I believe we have all suffered as community members for the diminishment of the role the neighborhood bar plays in our lives. We need to get together and spend time with one another. Adults need to have a life outside of their jobs and homes. We need to get to know one another and experience the sense of being a part of something larger than ourselves.”

NUMBER 16: You can KonMari anything you want

Marie Kondo Guide to City Building
Does that board member spark joy?

If it doesn’t spark joy, thank it for its service, and then let it go.  This goes for development and board management. I also tied it into historic preservation this summer.

NUMBER 17: Collaboration is King

Collaboration is King
City, Nation, Place is just one organization redefining how to work together for the common good

Organizations like City, Nation, Place are redefining what collaboration is and showing us that collective impact can be achieved on the world stage.

NUMBER 18: Collective Impact isn’t just for institutions 

And has  been documented in great detail through real-life case studies of urban excellence, the Rudy Brunner Awards.  This program recognizes transformative urban places distinguished by their economic and social contributions to America’s cities. Founded in 1986 by architect Simeon Bruner, the award promotes innovative thinking about the built environment by celebrating and sharing the stories of creative and inspiring urban development.

NUMBER 19: The academics are hard at work on our behalf

UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose is rethinking how public value is created, nurtured and evaluated.

Value defined.



NUMBER 20: Curse words aren’t offensive

Alright, I am sneaking one of my own in here in hopes that someone can tell me who decided which words were going to be labeled as curse words? I am curious as to why certain words offend certain people? I understand that curse words offend folks, but only because they think they should be offended. I am yet to hear a compelling reason why those pesky, yet useful, four-letter words offend anyone. Just because someone decided they were to be dubbed “bad words,” sometime last century, doesn’t mean that they are actually harmful or offensive, does it? I am more offended by actions like apathy and believe prejudice has done way more harm than most curse words I use regularly. However, it is more taboo to curse in public then to be apathetic. And heaven forbid if you accidentally let one slip from the dias somewhere.  (Not that I know from personal experience)  Okay, clearly it’s time for me to sign off.  2019 and this list are a wrap.

As 2020 gets underway, my wishes for my fellow ELGL members are many. Dream bigger and create more. Believe harder than you doubt. Learn something and share something new every day. Know true kindness and experience more empathy.  Disagree with your neighbors and agree with total strangers. Think abundantly but develop scarcely. Don’t be afraid to break the rules and please be unreasonable.  And above all else, throw away old habits and forget everything you learned about digging graves.

And after ten years throw it away and start all over. How long have curse words been around?











Sarah O’Brien


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