Megan Butler’s Goodbye Letter
Four and a half years ago, I started at Riverfront Fort Wayne with this goal written on a torn sheet of steno paper which hung over my desk: “Riverfront as agora.”
In ancient Greek cities, the agora was the town center. Much more than a park or a mall or a gathering place, it was all three. It was the center of all civic life. You went to the agora to shop, eat, attend a festival, listen to a political speech, visit with friends, or have a philosophical debate. Ancient Greece gifted us with some of the most monumental human cultural accomplishments to date, but arguably most important was the creation of political philosophy and the notion that good ideas were born out of discussion with your fellow citizens. The philosophies that inform our modern democracy, civic ideals, and democratic virtues come from cities that were designed to birth them—cities that allowed citizens from all backgrounds to interact, share experiences, and talk.
I knew that my task would be hard. I knew that it would be exhausting. I knew that it would test my commitment to a higher vision. Riverfront more than delivered on all three. But still, I had that goal written on that fading piece of paper.
Somehow, through it all, Promenade Park (only the first phase of Riverfront development) became the melting pot for our city and the hundreds of thousands of people who call it home. Thoughtful design, strategic operational decisions, a strong team culture among Riverfront staff, and a sense of fearlessness permeated every aspect of our work. Everything from the placement of lines in concrete to the wording on signage to the staff practice of warmly welcoming every person in the park contributes to a space that just feels different. When you enter Promenade Park, anything feels possible—for yourself, your family, and your community. Boundaries seem to disappear. That is on purpose.
Having seen some very hard times in my own life, including experiencing homelessness, I know what it means to feel like you don’t belong. Like you don’t have a right to exist in a place. This feeling (and my penchant for reminding myself of that feeling) has pushed me to remember the value in my experiences and bring them to the table to inform decisions. Far from taking away my right to exist, my pain cements my right to exist. Everyone in our community should feel that way. If nothing else, you have a right to exist and be seen (and loved) as you are. That is why Promenade Park was created. Our rivers and the spaces beside them are yours—no matter who you are.
When you show up as you are, you enrich the community. Some of my most important life lessons were learned in that park but only when stripping away all assumptions, judgments, and fears. Once you’re able to sit down and talk to strangers (yes, I said that), you will see what you are capable of. The strongest power you have is the ability to love your neighbor, no matter what they look like or sound like, where they come from, or what they believe in. You have the ability to know and see and love, as long as you put your phone down and listen more than you speak. As long as you share more than you take.
I have loved my time practicing these lessons and sharing them with others—the amazing Riverfront staff, my two wonderful sons, and the incredible people that populate our community. Now, I hope to continue living these philosophies as the Grant Administrator for the City of Fort Wayne. I have seen and experienced what good governance can do for our community and am excited to continue that in my new role.
I cannot wait to see what’s in store for Riverfront, Promenade Park, and our rivers. Please remember that they belong to you and they are made better for your being here.
RECENT BLOG POSTS
Get the latest news about Riverfront Fort Wayne.