Catalyst Interview Series: Dr. Joshua Newman
KCCI Tallahassee: Describe your past involvement with KCCI.
Dr. Josh Newman: I was a member of the Cultivate Cascades team that worked with local government, firms and community groups to develop various amenities within Cascades Park. Since the project’s start in 2011, our group was active for almost three years working to make Cascades Park the best it could be. During that time we planned, conducted research, fundraised, advocated and even physically installed amenities such as the Discovery playscape and the Cascades Amphitheater.
KCCI: Tell me about the mission behind Cultivate Cascades.
JN: I don’t know if we started out with a single mission, per se. But as a group we shared a common set of values and a great desire to make Tallahassee a better place. We all worked from different definitions of what “better” might look like for Tallahassee, but as a group we were dedicated to making Cascades the “game changer” we all knew it could be.
What was special about our group, I believe, was that despite our different backgrounds and skills, each member of the team was a key stakeholder in the success of the project. We all believed from the start that our respective skills could play an active role in bringing the project to fruition. Each individual had their own personal focus, whether it was providing better services and amenities to the members of the community, boosting economic development or strengthening the sense of place in Tallahassee. As a result, we were able to create very meaningful ties to the project and became invested in its success.
KCCI: What did you learn throughout the course of this project?
JN: I was new to Tallahassee when I joined KCCI and the Cultivate Cascades group, having just moved to town from New Zealand. So I learned A LOT. I learned a lot about Tallahassee, how things get done in this city and how much room there is for citizens to have a say in what goes on. I came to know some of the city’s very best and brightest people, from community advocates to city leaders to business executives. Through our research, I got to meet elementary school students, neighborhood association presidents, community artists, activists and CEOs, dentists, lobbyists, and fellow academics. In so doing, I got to meet Tallahassee and to recognize that this is a place where people share a deep passion for making it great.
KCCI: What comes to mind when you see Cascades Park today?
JN: Shock. I’m still quite shocked at how well the project turned out. Hundreds of city, county, and private sector people put years of their lives into the project, and I don’t suspect many people imagined it could turn out as well as it has. I remember the first time our KCCI group visited the site; it was mud, refuse, and waste—lots of bulldozers, hardhats, and overturned boulders. I never could have dreamed it would be such a vibrant, beautiful space that now serves as a point of pride for citizens throughout the city.
KCCI: In your opinion, how has Cultivate Cascades made an impact on the Tallahassee community?
JN: It is easy to point to the awards or the external praise our city has received (All-America City), and connect that to the small part Cultivate Cascades played in its development. But I like to measure its success in the everyday conversations about Cascades Park or on a Sunday afternoon watching my kids climb on tree stumps. I think Cultivate Cascades provides a model for how to give community members a sense of ownership over development projects that might make our city a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
KCCI: What are some of your favorite spots in Tallahassee?
JN: Midtown, FSU campus, Tom Brown Park and (obviously) Cascades Park.
KCCI: Who should consider becoming a Catalyst?
JN: Anyone who has an interest in putting his or her stamp on Tallahassee; who believes that citizenship is more than paying taxes and voting—it is all about being actively involved in making this city the place you want it to be.