How to get the city to break the rules for you

A woman carries a recycled chair purchased at Junque Fest surrounded by a diverse crowd

How a city led the city council to change the rules and allowed a new event to flourish. Photo via Deb Brown.

By Deb Brown

When I was director of the Webster City, Iowa Chamber of Commerce, one of our big events was the Junquefest, a three-day event where sellers come to town and sell all kinds of junque.

We wanted to close the streets and let the vendors park their trailers near their kiosks. It was illegal, but we went before the city council and asked if we could do it just for this event. The two previous years, we organized this event in the park and without authorized trailers. We asked some suppliers to create a set on site, which looked like a small store. Now we had an example of how they did it before and the relevance of having trailers on site. The board said yes.

Our pilot was still officially against the rules, but by allowing this small step, the board got good information on how it would work if he changed the rules.

Bring people to your side in advance

In another example, our farmer's market is now downtown on a side street just off the main street. They wanted to close the streets Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Again, this is against the rules. People at the farmer's market first lined up their ducks, then went to town to break the rules.

There were two businesses on the street that they wanted to close. People from the farmer's market talked to people about coffee and they thought it was a good idea. It was too much. More people are buying coffee. The other place across the street is a hair salon that has customers to serve on Saturday mornings. The salon owner has worked with another company that has parking nearby to allow its customers to park there on Saturday mornings.

Since the two companies involved had already agreed, it was easier for the board to say yes to a rule change.

How to do this in your city

Find a small pilot project as a test, before asking for a big rule change. Then you have evidence to report to the board.

When doing your test in the real world, make sure the board is invited. There is nothing like the practical experience of being there to help them make a positive decision!

Go ahead and talk to anyone who will be affected by your plans. Don't let them be surprised by a report or a post on Facebook.

We have partnered with SaveYour.Town to bring you a video with more than 8 practical ways to make your idea a reality, no matter what "rules lovers" say. Learn more about it at: SaveYour.Town Against the Rules

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About Deb Brown

Deb Brown comes from a farm outside of Geneva, Iowa, population 141. Her heart is in sharing opportunities for small towns. Deb travels a lot, hitting the roads when possible and chatting with locals, sharing stories from other small towns and cheering on everyone who will listen. She is co-founder of and owner of Building Possibility.

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