In response to a question pertaining to an historical comparison for the current state of the Route 66 community and the various endeavors to bring diverse elements together for the common good, I quipped that the challenges faced by the Continental Congress came to mind. Did I mention that the fellow I was speaking with had a distinctly British accent?
On a more serious note, the Route 66 community has reached a most interesting impasse. The international fascination and popularity of Route 66 is growing exponentially. The multifaceted endeavors of entrepreneurs to profit from that popularity are only limited by the imagination.
Meanwhile, the need to educate people about the roads history, the importance of blending preservation with meeting the projected needs of future enthusiasts, and the opportunities to utilize this resurgent interest as a catalyst for community development or redevelopment is unprecedented. In response, a wide array of grass roots initiatives ranging from establishment of Route 66 associations internationally to Ron Hart’s expansive Route 66 Chamber of Commerce website, from Kumar Patel’s media presence to development of Route 66 themed events in communities large and small are transforming the landscape while working to meet the needs and fill a void.
From its inception Route 66 was never able to evolve fast enough to meet the rapidly developing transportation needs of the country. Likewise with these grassroots efforts and the rapidly changing needs of the Route 66 community.
In spite of tremendous successes made manifest in the rebirth of Galena, Kansas, the transformation of Pontiac, Illinois, or the preservation of the Chain of Rocks Bridge, fragmented initiatives can only result in fragmented success.
Michael Wallis of the Route 66 Alliance refers to Route 66 as a linear community. Expanding on this analogy, each city, town, and village along the Route 66 corridor then becomes a quirky, colorful, unique neighborhood in that community.
The future preservation and development of Route 66 hinges on our ability as a community to link individual and community initiatives into an unbreakable chain that stretches from Santa Monica to Chicago. It is imperative that we move beyond myopic focus on events or developments as a local issue if Route 66 and its unique culture are to be preserved for future generations.
https://youtube.googleapis.com/v/x_P_U5tW29c&source=udsThe 2013 Route 66 International Festival in Joplin is one example of how to foster a unified sense of community as well as community purpose. Rather than simply utilize the event to showcase the attributes of that one city to an international audience, resources were pooled and the focus was expanded to include Carthage, Webb City, and Galena in Kansas.
The two day Route 66 Crossroads of the Past and Future Conference in Kingman during the 2014 Route 66 International Festival would be another excellent example. Diverse interests represented by individuals that are often in disagreement temporarily put aside differences to provide an international audience with a multi dimensional portrait of the entire Route 66 community.
Ed Klein of Route 66 World provided expertise derived from real world business experience. Representatives from state Route 66 associations presented an overview of issues and developments on their section of the highway. Representatives European Route 66 associations such as Dries Bessels provided important insight into the Route 66 community from an international perspective.
Important people associated with the electric vehicle community presented a vision of the future. They also provided the Route 66 community with invaluable information about how to tap into this emerging market.
In addition to expanding our focus, it is imperative we utilize all existent resources. It is also imperative that we as a community maintain respective dialogue in regard to the evaluation of potential opportunities.
Several years ago Rutgers University, in conjunction with World Monuments Fund, released an expansive Route 66 economic impact report that proved to be invaluable developmental tool. Last November a symposium in Anaheim facilitated by this organization fostered unprecedented opportunities for bringing diverse elements of the Route 66 community together for discussion, and the building of cooperative partnerships.
This conference also sparked some very constructive debate, as well as non constructive diatribes that muted and even negated some of the benefits derived from the event. Now, World Monuments Fund, and the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program has followed through on their promises and announced development of a steering community.
As with the Anaheim conference, this has sparked healthy debate and discussion within the Route 66 community as well as inflammatory discourse that is either void of fact, or that is premature in its evaluation.
An excellent example of the latter are claims that the steering committee is merely the latest manifestation of a Route 66 clique bent on excluding those who have differing opinions. As I was selected to serve on this steering committee, my first course of action was to evaluate what the matrix of the committee was.
In their own words, “A steering committee has now been formed to represent key affinity groups (e.g., tourism, business, transportation, preservation, economic development, and advocacy); geographic regions; public/private interests; and sector knowledge.”
It was not devised to include or exclude any state or international Route 66 association nor was it devised to dominate any aspect of future developments. Apparently a primary purpose is to evaluate the road in its entirety, and devise a proposal for building a Route 66 community capable of meeting future needs.
My personal suggestion at this juncture is to move forward with local and private initiatives but with a focus on how these developments can benefit neighboring communities, and the Route 66 community as a whole.
Next, as noted on numerous occasions, provide input as well as assistance in development of the event in Edwardsville next October. In so doing ask yourself how this event can be utilized to further foster development of a unified sense of community.
Then, evaluate contributions or offers of assistance from the World Monuments Fund, the Route 66 Alliance, the National Historic Route 66 Federation or any other organization based on track record, facts, and the potential benefit to the community as a whole.
As I have received a number of inquiries pertaining to the Steering Committee, this is the list of participants that I received.
Route 66: The Road Ahead
Deputy District Director, California Department of Transportation
San Bernardino, CA
National Park Service (retired)
Professor, University of New Mexico
Facilitator, Route 66 Archives and Research Collaboration
Executive Director, Arizona Route 66 All American Road/Rte 66 Assoc.
Deputy SHPO, Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office
“My personal suggestion at this juncture is to move forward with local and private initiatives but with a focus on how these developments can benefit neighboring communities, and the Route 66 community as a whole.
Next, as noted on numerous occasions, provide input as well as assistance in development of the event in Edwardsville next October. In so doing ask yourself how this event can be utilized to further foster development of a unified sense of community.”
I completely agree with this sentiment. It is also exactly why I will continue to pursue a Route 66 Festival for Downtown Los Angeles at the original terminus. I believe that such a festival will open the door to the road to a large swath of Angelinos that otherwise may not have been aware of the road. There is an opportunity here for us to reach out to a whole new array of people, open their minds, and have them open their car doors and take a trip on the Mother Road. Such a festival and such a result could send people to Groom and Galena, and all across AZUSA (A to Z in the USA).