Reflecting on the 2020 Civic Innovation Force Fellowship
Becoming a Civic Innovation Force Fellow to the creation of our project, Fargo Walking Tours
I’m Emily Hopfauf, a landscape architecture student looking to pursue a career in community design and urban placemaking. I want to design healthy communities where people are excited to live, work, play, and engage. In the summer of 2020, I was selected as a Civic Innovation Force Fellow, through The Nice Center at North Dakota State University, which allowed me the time, resources, and support to follow through on a project I envisioned to enhance my community.
The pitch I submitted in my application to join the Civic Innovation Force, a fellowship opportunity for those passionate about community innovation, stemmed from the constant complaining that “there’s nothing to do here!” Is there nothing to do here, or would you be just as bored living in California or New York? As an avid traveler, I’ve always been fascinated by the question: Why aren’t we tourists in our own city? The traveling mindset encourages you to stop, look, walk more, ask questions, and try new things, but at home that sense of curiosity is lost. With my background studying urban design, I saw an opportunity to activate new frontiers of the urban landscape through an existing asset of Downtown Fargo—the art. Fargo already has initiatives to clean up alleys and bring in art. I wanted to bring people to the art. DeAnna Hurley, a fellow architecture student who grew up in a town that appreciated the arts, believed in a similar idea. We were selected as the inaugural Civic Innovation Force Fellows and asked if we would like to work on a joint project.
Why aren't we tourists in our own city?
Fargo Walking Tours was born of the vision to give people an activity, a way to stimulate their curiosity, and find new things to love about their city. To structure the project, we followed a design thinking tool called the Leap Kit which outlines four phases for a 90-day project—Discover, Prepare, Act, and Share.
We asked all our family and colleagues about walking tours they had been on and compared them. We asked people about hidden gems in Fargo and what they would want to learn more about. After compiling all our inspiration, we distilled a statement to guide and ground us: “By the end of Summer 2020, we are going to research and design an interactive digital tool that allows people to go on an art/history walking tour in the heart of Fargo. We want to involve the community in the development process to locate existing features and propose new elements.”
Before work even started on the project, we told people about Fargo Walking Tours.
Before work even started on the project, we told people about Fargo Walking Tours. We publicly asked for help on places like LinkedIn and were connected with local organizations like the Downtown Community Partnership which works on initiatives to improve downtown and support local businesses; Folkways, whose goal is to make Fargo the best place to live in the world; and the Historical Society of Clay County, who offered advice on creating tours and avenues for research. These discussions helped with the decision to create a mobile-friendly website with accessibility additions like audio and printable maps to accommodate the largest audience. Unfortunately, due to their attention being focused on the pandemic, the City of Fargo opted to not be actively involved with the Civic Innovation Force this summer, and we struggled to maintain communication with city officials.
Our goal was to include the knowledge and input of community members throughout the creation process of Fargo Walking Tours. This was difficult because of restricted access to the community. Many meetings and events, especially at the beginning of the summer, were cancelled. To combat this, our progress was transparent; all changes to the prototypes were made publicly. We relied on user experience forms, our community partners, and social media to distribute information about Fargo Walking Tours and followed comments and suggestions made on these platforms. While it would have been preferable to present in person more, such as the announcement we made one morning at One Million Cups, interaction through email and social media was possible with persistent communication.
On Saturday August 15 we held a launch event to celebrate Fargo Walking Tours. Booths were set up in two of the art alleys with gift cards, coupons, stickers, key chains, maps, and information to give away. 107 people pre-registered for the event, and we gave out information to an additional 100 curious passersby! I collaborated on two Geocaching Adventure Labs which followed the art tours and also went live on Aug 15. We had 19 attempts on the tours that first day! I was set up in Robert’s Alley across from a mural, and I asked everyone who took a picture of it if they were interested in seeing more art in Fargo. Everyone was surprised and excited to learn that there were 29 unique pieces within a half mile radius of where we stood. When I took a short break, I was pleased to see what looked like half the people on Broadway clutching tour maps.
As Fargo Walking Tours transitions to the stewardship of Folkways, my greatest hope is that people discover the tours. I hope that those who are bored may find this activity advertised somewhere, scan a QR code on the signage downtown, and go on a tour which helps them see their city in a new light and fights the “there’s nothing to do around here!” mindset one person at a time.