The Food Truck Summit Pop-Up Event

A new idea that has been around for a long time is the pop-up. Pop-ups can be anything from a restaurant that is open once a month in an unlikely location or a small art fair that a few people organize once in a while. In the early 1990’s, a Rave was a kind of pop-up. Fast forward and today social activists are using the model to encourage behavioral change in communities worldwide.

I went to a meeting yesterday about pop-ups and prototyping at the DMC office. The meeting seemed to be oversubscribed as it was standing room only and held in the lobby of the DMC office downtown, but I think that just shows a high level of support for DMC trying to do something.

The usual suspects were there – downtown organizations and city functionaries, along with some DMC staff and a few outliers like me. The meeting invite came out on Wednesday afternoon and I was surprised so many people were able to show up on such short notice. I think that shows the power of DMC – people want to be involved, they want to participate. But there isn’t much going on that is accessible to the average person. That’s disappointing given the big run up to DMC and the “community engagement” that occurred as part of the planning process. I’m still not really sure what happened to all the community engagement and input. I think that the architects and planners that designed the DMC framework looked at it, but it’s hard to imagine that the outcome of all that input is a community desire for 5 star hotels, huge skyways, and tunnels.

So here we are, more than 3 years after DMC was announced, and what do we have to show for it? Speculative land values downtown, unprecedented foreign investment, escalating property taxes due to speculation, and more and more hotels being built and proposed.

I know that the City staff is working hard to respond to what DMC has created, and ultimately every penny spent on DMC in the public sector will go through the City Council’s approval process. I just think that DMC should be about those of us who already live here in Rochester. If we focus on employee and talent retention, won’t that also lead to easier recruitment? If we focus on what makes Rochester great for those of us that live here, won’t that entice more of our talented children to come back to Rochester after college? Wouldn’t a community that is great to live in also be a great place to visit?

So I think we are getting it wrong so far. This attention to huge hotels and big gathering spaces actually gets in the way of what we should be focused on – building on the small things that make us great.

Back to the pop-up concept. I love the idea of small scale ideas becoming a reality, testing how it worked, and then trying again or expanding to scale. I’m glad DMC seems to be interested in talking about this. The Center for Innovation at Mayo is using this model for health care delivery and they’d love to help expand the approach into the community. But who will do it? The existing organizations (with a few notable exceptions) in our community haven’t shown themselves to be innovators. There is a lot of turf protection going on. But there have been some small things that have happened in the last couple of years that shows that Rochester is already prototyping and innovating. For instance:

· Bobby Marinez founded Art Blitz, which takes the entire block between Historic Third Street, 5th Street SW, and Broadway and 1st Avenue, and converts the sidewalks, parking lots, and businesses into art galleries and performance spaces. He’s done it two years in a row and it’s fantastic. Bobby has gotten limited support for this project and hasn’t gotten the community recognition he deserves.

· The Rochester Farmers Market was named Minnesota’s best farmers market by the Star Tribune in 2014. We all know how great it is, but getting that kind of award is meaningful. There are many farmers markets across the state, and it makes sense that a place where farms and urban living are in close proximity produces the best marketplace. What really sets the Rochester Farmers Market apart is their approach – not just one big market on Saturdays, they are making small markets happen year round in a variety of locations, and they take food stamps. Driving innovation in a business that is literally thousands of years old is difficult, but they are doing it.

· Joey the Second Street Guy is one of my personal heroes. We live on 1st Street SW just down from Joey’s spot on Second, and when we are outside you can hear people honking at him all day. This is the simplest form of pop-up, isn’t it? One guy, a few Pepsis, and no shame, waving and encouraging people all day. His effort should inspire all to be more optimistic and happy with what we have.

· A good friend from my JM Coaching days and his wife bought TerraLoco, the running shoe and gear shop near ZZest. I know this was a big stretch for them, just like it is for most small business owners, and the returns, at least at first, are more about passion than profits. Josh and Tiff expanded their inventory and started hosting 5k races every week, all year. Obviously these races help their business, but it also helps the community to have more small scale events like this that can bring people together with shared interests.

All of these people and many more should be recognized for getting outside of the box to create new and inspiring events and interactions for the rest of us. None of them waited for someone else, or some organization, to give them permission. They just did what they thought would work, and it did. We need to continue to create a community that supports people taking risks to make our collective lives better. Don’t ask for permission – ask for forgiveness is a motto I’ve heard and I like it, especially when it comes to innovation. I encourage everyone to go out and try something new. You aren’t alone – we are all pulling for you, and whether you are successful or not, you can count on yourself and others learning from the effort.