Misunderstanding and misinformation about the World Monuments Fund Route 66 symposium in November sparked some heated discussions among enthusiasts and business owners. However, these very conversations created an increasing awareness about the need to craft a unified Route 66 community, and spawned quite a few interesting projects.
The first step in creating a functional coalition that is beneficial rather than divisive is to change the perception of Route 66. Instead of seeing it as a highway think of it as a city and instead of seeing individual communities along that highway, try altering the perception by thinking of those towns as quirky neighborhoods in that city.
Now, rather than reinventing the wheel lets examine the various components already in place. There are currently two organizations that in theory serve as national representatives – National Historic Route 66 Federation and the Route 66 Alliance.
The conference ignited discussions, and proposals at the conference to recreate something like the original U.S. Highway 66 Association, sparked an immediate announcement that these two organizations were talking of merger. No further details are available.
Lacking the lengthy track record of success of one organization, or the celebrity association with the other, is the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce. This entity quietly flies under the radar but as you can see from the website, there is a concerted effort to fill the chamber of commerce role.
Social media and similar outlets are an increasingly important component in this development. On Facebook there are numerous examples of grass roots endeavors and the potential fruit of such projects; Route 66 Business Network, Route 66 Electric Car Club, Route 66 World, are a few examples.
In addition, scattered all over the Internet are various websites that attempt to fill the void and the need caused by lack of a unified and cohesive leadership. As an example, consider Sell 66 Stuff, a brilliant concept conceived and initiated by Carolyn Hasenfratz.
Even though each of these endeavors fill a needed role in the Route 66 community, there are still huge gaps.
How does a community utilize Route 66 as a catalyst for development?What innovative programs have been developed to harness the resurgent interest in Route 66 as a catalyst for community development?
How do you locate a Route 66 “celebrity” to add promotional appeal for your event? How do you create an event that isn’t hampered by, or that doesn’t hamper, another Route 66 event in the area?
How do you use an event to build a partnership with neighboring communities? How can tour groups or an individual planning an adventure tie an event to their trip?
In essence, providing this information and these contacts was the primary reason for the Anaheim conference. So, even if a similar conference were to become an annual event, and the information was disseminated by attendees, how do we apply and coordinate the resultant development?
At this time, the Route 66 International Festival is largely an individual community endeavor. If we were to have a unified coalition of state Route 66 associations participate in development of the Route 66 International Festival, what could be accomplished? If we were to tie a conference similar to that held in Anaheim with the Route 66 International Festival, what would be the results and potential benefits?
Lets take this line of thought one step further. What if the annual Route 66 International Festival developed within established content parameters? What if it was truly international with an identical festival, linked electronically, occurring simultaneously in a foreign city?
Okay, the components are in place. There is agreement on the need. There is an immediate need for unification to address important issues pertaining to the future of Route 66. We even have a common goal in the forthcoming Route 66 centennial.
So, how do we proceed?