Message from our President/CEO

Transformative Placemaking

Many people have told me that HeartLands Conservancy has a unique approach to conservation. We take special care to engage people in our work. We believe people deeply understand their communities and have the best solutions to address issues or seize opportunities. People have deep connections to the land and their communities, and we ensure their voices are a part of every effort we undertake.

We recently had the great fortune of a doctoral student who reached out to us about helping us analyze a need at the organization. We introduced Sarah Drury-Dothager to our Lots of Love program – an initiative we started back in 2015 in response to community-identified issues with vacant lots in their neighborhoods. With four sites under our belt, we asked Sarah to help us evaluate if the program meets its intended impact. There will be more information on this later, but as a part of the study, Sarah contacted volunteers, stakeholders, and others interested in the program to learn about their perceptions.

What stood out to us was that, overall, people liked the program; however, the most important aspect for them was the relationships and shared purpose people had in working on these lots. Ultimately, the lots of love program is about creating a space for the community, and some folks in our industry call this “placemaking.“

Placemaking is ongoing because you‘ve never really finished “making“ a place. All we do at HeartLands Conservancy is about place and the people who nurture, give and receive energy and love from a place.

When we genuinely nurture and love a place, it gives back to us. We see bees and butterflies return, and they pollinate our food and flowers for us. We see the wonders of fireflies light up the night sky and bring smiles to our faces. We see people smile and nod at each other on the trail. New flowers emerge as we remove invasive plants. Frogs return and croak for us (and eat bugs, too). People meet and get to know each other as they plant flowers and cut honeysuckle.

At HeartLands Conservancy, we believe in this place that is southwestern Illinois. From the rivers to the parks and trails to the communities, we think it all is beautiful and worthy of nurturing and love.

We‘ve dedicated this issue of Meanderings to parks. Parks are fantastic examples of placemaking. We do a lot of work in our region developing the vision and plan for parks, helping with managing natural resources in parks and trails, and creating better places for people overall. The next time you visit a park or trail, notice the nurturing, love, and energy that‘s given to that park or trail. I bet you‘ll notice a welcoming feeling. Perhaps a connection with others. I hope you‘ll see bees. I hope you‘ll feel compelled to stop and spend time just enjoying the space.

See you outside,

Mary Vandevord

President & CEO