In late 2010, Mesa, Arizona, was at a crossroads, and we needed to decide how we were going to deal with both our current financial challenges and our future. Were we going to be in survival mode or growth mode? In January 2011, Mayor Scott Smith introduced a tool to put us in growth mode. iMesa issued a call to action for residents to engage in a process—imagine, invest, improve—to "Build a Better Mesa."
Part of the iMesa strategy is to use technology to engage residents like never before. iMesa uses an online crowdsourcing tool, web, social media, and mobile apps to collect fresh ideas and stimulate discussions. Residents go to www.imesa.mesaaz.gov to submit, vote, and comment on ideas to transform the community. This allows residents to take an active role in the future of the city and serves as a gauge of the priorities of Mesa residents.
Recognizing that face-to-face interaction is still an important part of citizen engagement, public meetings are held to gather additional feedback from members of the public who are not as active online.
Some ideas are simple and can be implemented right away, while others take time, funding, and planning to accomplish. One idea was to find a new home for HeatSync Labs, which had grown out of its space in another community, and the City of Mesa took notice. The city found available properties, and a few months later, HeatSync Labs opened on Main Street in the heart of downtown Mesa.
Now, the most popular idea on iMesa is to save the historic Buckhorn Baths. The Buckhorn Baths is a hotel and mineral bath spa used by spring training athletes and movie stars in the 1950s and ‘60s. The hotel closed in 1999 and is number one on the Society for Commercial Archeology’s top 10 list of endangered roadside places.
The collected ideas are referred to the iMesa Resident Steering Committee, which recommends ideas that have the potential to be transformative, meaningful, and extraordinary to the Mesa City Council.
After collecting project ideas and gathering input from the community for more than a year, the Mesa City Council agreed to forward a $70 million bond package of projects to voters, which passed on November 6, 2012. The projects include a variety of new and renovated recreational assets, such as youth and adult sports fields, open turf areas, playgrounds, trails, museum resources, and an aquatics facility.
Each project in the bond packagehad been through the iMesa process, beginning as an idea from the community and working its way through the iMesa Resident Steering Committee, City of Mesa staff for feasibility, advisory boards for recommendations, and many public meetings to collect feedback from residents.
Remember the Buckhorn Baths? Well, included in the bond package is a project to begin working with the landowners and community preservation leaders to identify opportunities to reuse the Buckhorn Baths site.
Throughout the process, iMesa has become a brand for Mesa’s future. From an iMesa flashmob and public service announcements to booths at community events and business cards, the iMesa message to imagine, invest, and improve has become our mantra and part of our culture.
We challenged our residents to imagine a better community, invest in that community, and improve our community. We hope to build on this success by utilizing the iMesa process to develop more ideas for great projects in the future.
Marc Heirshberg, CPRP, is Director of Mesa, Arizona's Parks, Recreation, and Commercial Facilities (email@example.com).