Creating World’s First Strengths-based City
Cincinnati ideal place to start history-making, say citizens

Imagine a city so strengths-based even the street names reflect this. Imagine neighbourhoods referred to by their core gifts — this is the curiousity neighbourhood, and that’s the neighbourhood of peace.

These are some of the ideas Shannon Polly had in a recent brainstorming session on creating the world’s first strengths-based city.

Radical though it may all sound, she’s convinced there’s real potential in this idea, especially given where it first came to life — at a recent Appreciative Inquiry (AI) summit bringing Cincinnati citizens together to co-create a new future for their city.

Shannon, a Washington, D.C. consultant who attended the event, says Cincinnati is a “manageable-sized” city for something like this, with its population of around 300,000.

The fact that the VIA Institute on Character, a non-profit that “systematically explores what is best about human beings,” is based in the city also makes it a good fit.

But perhaps more than anything there’s just the fact that a core group of people attending the summit is already energized and committed to bringing this into being. That’s a different scenario than someone concocting the notion alone and then trying to drum up interest.

The team working on this is aspiring to host an AI summit in 2014 to launch the effort.

“Just being here with the people in this room and seeing the passion behind it and the commitment, especially for the post-summit follow-up, makes me think that it can actually happen,” Shannon tells Axiom News.

Ryan Niemiec is the education director for the VIA Institute on Character. He was also part of the group that came up with this notion, and agrees with Shannon that Cincinnati is a great place to launch this.

He envisions several champions in some of the city’s 52 neighbourhoods sparking change through their community, civic government, schools and businesses. These neighbourhoods could then become role models and mentors for the rest of the neighbourhoods, says Ryan.

“I love the idea where the city would be a role model for other cities,” he adds.

“Partly it’s just my hope for Cincinnati to keep improving and keep becoming stronger … but also thinking it can influence many other cities on a big scale.”

Creating a strengths-based city relates in some ways to another notion just coming to life worldwide under the inspiration of positive psychology thought leader Dr. Martin Seligman, which is to create well-being cities.

A city in California and one in Australia are each looking to bring the psychologist in to design what a well-being city would look like. Shannon sees overlap in these ideas, pointing to research that shows using one’s strengths leads to higher levels of well-being.

All of this combined can be a great boon to a call to action Martin has put out, which is to have 51 per cent of the world’s population flourishing by 2051.

As for what she sees when she envisions a strengths-based city, Shannon suggests news would be critical. She notes research shows the negative to positive ratio of news today is 27 to one. But positive psychologist and author of the book Positivity Barbara Fredrickson has found that a ratio for human flourishing is three to one in positive to negative input for individuals.

Strengths-based education and introducing positive psychology in education would also be part of the picture. Shannon notes this type of work is already underway in Australia and Pennsylvania, so there are models to consider.

Strengths-based government would also be critical. Positive policy is already being created in the U.K., she notes, and other government agencies have introduced AI worldwide as vehicles for achieving specific objectives.

And then there’s Shannon’s notion of renaming streets and coming to refer to neighbourhoods by their gifts, some of the ideas that sprang out when the group was letting their imaginations run wild, she notes.

“I think that’s part of the excitement at this point,” she says. “It’s that anything goes.”

— With files from Jennifer Neutel

We’d love to hear your feedback on this idea of creating the world’s first strengths-based city. Feel free to e-mail michelle(at), or call 800-294-0051, ext. 27.