When asked to describe the impact that America in Bloom can have on a city, I often suggest the organization’s role is one to help the city effect change. I can cite the impact we’ve had on more than 200 cities in 38 states through the annual National Awards Program. These efforts have affected the lives of more than 23 million citizens living in the involved cities, as well as countless others who have visited these communities.
In addition, I can argue that the nearly 300 America in Bloom Start-up Kits that we’ve mailed in the last year alone are helping people to explore what AIB might mean for their cities. Or we might discuss the over 7,000 copies of our new “Discover the Surprising Side of Plants” brochure that have been distributed, further spreading our message about the power of plants and the impact they can make.
For those less moved by numbers, I often focus on the changes our organization has inspired in the lives of the people touched, for we have truly affected the lives of the citizens in the communities that have adopted the program.
Volunteerism has to be at the top of the list. In community after community, we are told that America in Bloom has inspired citizens to turn up, roll up their sleeves and contribute countless hours for the public good. In some cities, this has evolved into a standing volunteer corps that can be called on to help with programs beyond AIB. Volunteer efforts often involve youth, as schools sometimes challenge students to contribute a certain minimum number of hours toward community improvement efforts. And the youth often inspire adults to volunteer. Recorded efforts include not only the planting and maintenance of flowers and plants, but the building and restoration of whole parks, the collection of litter and the painting of disused structures.
Transformation also occurs. Sometimes the recommendations of our judges provide enough impetus to alter the attitudes and the fortunes of citizens and cities alike. It is amazing, but the power of the outside visitors’ comments often provides the stimulus needed. We can cite examples where buildings have been demolished and rebuilt, or where buildings have been remodeled or rehabilitated to provide housing for new residents. Being aware of one’s surroundings frequently can lead to being aware of one’s fellow man. Conservation, litter abatement, green spaces, wastewater treatment and recycling programs can lead to appreciation of the environment. Appreciation of the environment can help focus attention on the people affected.
Focus on the people can help to create bonds that lead to even greater involvement and an appreciation for the contributions of others. A big benefit of many cities’ America in Bloom efforts has to be rejuvenation. Cities that plant trees and flowers, shrubs, turf and other groundcovers really can change the whole perspective of townspeople and visitors alike. With America in Bloom, the city has rolled out the welcome mat. Visitors immediately notice the vibrancy radiating from the city, its businesses and its residents. Tourism increases. The tax base improves due to increased sales tax revenues. People socialize more. People are generally happier.
When adopted by a city, America in Bloom can become truly inspirational. While we have often seen results from a single AIB interaction, we have seen tremendous growth when a city has institutionalized the America in Bloom program over time with a sustained effort.
Cities have seen measureable improvements in property values as green spaces are developed, as properties are rehabilitated and as citizens unify for the common good. Businesses are attracted, residential turnover stabilizes, wages rise and the average citizen truly bonds with his city. This is America in Bloom’s story.
This is why we talk of planting pride in our communities. And we welcome your involvement and your support.
The America in Bloom Symposium will take place Sept. 19-21 in Orlando. The annual event is a great way for cities to learn about the program and would be a great way for any green industry professional – landscapers, grower, nurseryman or retailer – to learn how to get your city involved. To learn more about the awards symposium, and to download your own participation kit today, visit www.americainbloom.org.
The author is market research manager for Ball Horticultural Co. and serves as president of the board of directors of America in Bloom.