Why do we do Inter-City Visits?

After getting my haircut this week (at the same place since my junior year of college), I ran into Al Bowers of Al’s Burger Shack. I wished him a happy one-year-in-business birthday and he asked me what I was up to.  I told him we were about to take a hundred people to Athens, Georgia.  And he asked, why were we going to do that? Good question, Al. 

In 1985, a group of engaged community leaders called the Public Private Partnership (PPP), organized our community’s first Inter-City Visit to Lexington, Kentucky, spurred by a visit from leadership from the Bluegrass State the previous year. Since that first trip to Lexington, our community has traveled to eight other college communities, including Boulder, Princeton, Champaign-Urbana, Madison, and Ann Arbor.

In 2012, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to help plan and staff a trip to Bloomington, Indiana.  In planning for the trip, we were asked a lot of questions.  Did we pick it because of the basketball connection? Or “wait, you’re going to Bloomington, Illinois, right?”  But the most important questions posed were from a then OP editor (and founder) Ruby Sinreich.  She asked about how we were going to make the trip accessible to all people – not just people whose workplace could pick up the tab – and how we were going to make the trip valuable for those that didn’t board the plane to another state, but still had a vested interest in the progress of our community. 

I will make the same commitment now as we prepare to leave for Athens, Georgia, as I did to Ruby over a cup of coffee at Jessee’s.  I believe these inter-city visits can have value for those that don’t go on the trip and that we bring home a lot more lessons learned than we do souvenirs. 

Here’s what I think we brought back from Bloomington:

  • We got a LOT of content from our speakers on topics ranging from town & gown collaboration to innovation in government.  You can view all the presentations online.  And how did we bring these messages back?  Well, both Orange and Monroe County media covered the trip pretty well. 
  • Durham Tech has created a new program allowing students to take classes at Durham Tech while living on North Carolina Central’s campus.  As reported in the Herald Sun, “The program is modeled after the dual enrollment residential program between Indiana University at Bloomington and Ivy Tech Community College called ‘Hoosier Link,’ which Durham Tech President Bill Ingram saw firsthand during a 2012 trip to Bloomington.”

So maybe the only Athens you really know anything about is the one that has ancient ruins and hosted the Olympic Games (most recently in 2004).  Well, a planning committee helped us realize we have a lot we can learn from the home of the ’Dawgs versus the home of Delphyne, Demeter, and Dionysus.

Here’s how you can follow along at home -- while we’re in Athens (Georgia, not Greece):

  • We just reviewed the agenda with our nearly 100 trip participants.  Learn more about what we’ll be doing over September 21-23 by viewing our Orientation slidedeck
  • And then here’s a real specific idea: Get involved in the development and implementation of the downtown master plan.  On the way to Athens, we’re stopping in upstate S.C. to learn more about Greenville’s downtown which is nationally renowned.  Athens, who is home to SEC football and the birthplace of R.E.M. and the B-52’s, still doesn’t rest on its laurels and works to keep their downtown vibrant.  Check out the downtown master plans for Greenville, Athens, and then Chapel Hill (still in draft form) and convey your vision for downtown.  

Though there are many ways for non-travelers to engage, we still can work to “increase the ROI” as Ruby put it.  Hope you’ll add your ideas in the comments.

I had an opportunity to ask Al what did he think we should bring back from Athens.  He discussed how they hosted game day and more town-gown collaboration.  I agreed with him 110% and said that I was looking forward to bringing back 100 people energized to work to improve our community.  He told me to bring them to the restaurant.

Anyone want to meet me for a burger



Not sure I'd brag about getting a haircut as the same place as Al, but otherwise a great post.  Thank you, Kristen, for all you do for our community and being able to make this happen for those who can go.

ps - I'm having lunch at Al's tomorrow with one of your other participants.  Look forward to hearing more when y'all get back.

Inter-City Visits are a great way to bring back new ideas and improvements to the area. I am excited to hear that Chapel Hill and Carrboro are interested in creating cultural arts and entertainment districts after the visit to Bloomington, Indiana. An arts district would add a great deal of culture and a sense of community for our local residents. An interesting idea to consider in Athens would be the AthFest they have every year. It’s similar to Fall Fest that we have here at UNC-CH, but instead of vendors and campus organizations, it is primarily a music and arts festival dedicated to promoting the Athens music scene. 


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