Trading Places by Gerald F. Schnepf

We have often heard or used the expression -“let’s trade places.” We largely talk about it and fantasize as to what the switch or trade would be like, but we seldom follow through.

There is a renewed effort to practice the concept, not as individuals, but as communities. The idea has been structured and put into a creative program called First Impressions. Developed by the University of Wisconsin Extension, it is a program designed to aid community assessment and improvement.

The basic concept is that a team or task force from one community selects another community and agrees to trade teams. Under a structured procedure each team evaluates the visual and cultural qualities of the community. In addition they evaluate how the community cares for its public facilities, how the residents care for their property and how the business community treats its customers. It is like a “report card” for each community seen from fresh eyes.  Community evaluations include:

• Community Entrances

• Housing & Residential Areas

• Education, Health, Social and Emergency Services

• Local Economy

• Government / Public Services

• Recreation, Faith, Culture and Heritage

• General Observations

• Information from Community Residents

For each of us living in the same place for long periods of time we soon become blind to things around us. Each day on the trip downtown, to the store or to church we may pass very unattractive elements of our community and soon they disappear from our view as we avoid and disregard them.   With time those items that negatively impact our community disappear from our vision.

For newcomers or those that visit the area – the negative or unattractive elements that disappeared from site of the local residents tend to stand out. They form a negative and lasting impression of the community or neighborhood.  That is why the concept of a team from matching communities should consider trading places in order to receive a fresh outside view of the places where we live and work.

Communities interested in the concept should check out the First Impressions program and utilize the audit forms or checklists that will guide each community evaluation.

The Keep Iowa Beautiful “Hometown Pride” program works with clusters of communities that have a common interest by enhancing both their cultural and economic vitality. The community coach working with the communities utilizes the First Impressions program as one of the tools in our Hometown Pride toolbox of programs for communities.  Contact Keep Iowa Beautiful if you would like to explore the potential of the Hometown Pride program in your area.

For more specific information on the First Impressions program use the following web page: